A LOCAL man has hit out at plans by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council for the redevelopment of Dunfane Playing Fields.
An eight week consultation is currently active which will give residents and all interested parties a chance to voice their opinions on the proposals which will see houses built on the site as well as a 3G pitch.
However, Kevin McCrudden, a member of Dunclug Youth Forum said the plans amount to a loss of free, open, green space in the north end of the town.
He told the Guardian this was the only shared space in this area and that summer schemes and youth projects would regularly avail of the playing fields,
Mr McCrudden said council had previously made a £300,000 commitment to the upgrading of the playing fields and associated facilities but despite minor works being carried out, no major work had been undertaken.
A sum of this money was used to redecorate and improve the pavilion and changing rooms as well as rectifying drainage issues as the pitch had previously been unfit for purpose due to being waterlogged.
However, the plans put out for public consultation are a far cry from what local residents and users of the playing fields believed would be happening.
Residents living in and around the area had leaflets delivered through their letterboxes from council explaining that “The Department for Communities has offered Council £300,000 to deliver this project.
“We would then be required to contribute a further £300,000 which had originally been allocated to refurbish Dunfane’s changing pavilion.
“If we proceed with this initiative the external funding must be spent by March 2019 and therefore your thoughts and views on this way forward are urgently sought.”
During a council meeting held in July, it was revealed that, after engaging with the Planning Service, council identified that approximately 32 housing units could be provided on the Dunfane site.
This would be combined with a better path network, a 3G pitch and additional facilities for the community.
The playing fields area is bordered by a number of existing, established housing developments, including Dunfane Crescent, Beech Drive, Ash Park, Spruce Park, Deramore, Herbison Park and Herbison Fields.
A report on the matter was circulated to councillors which described how in 2008/9 Ballymena Borough Council had considered potential options to develop areas of unused land around the pitches at Dunfane.
This was put on hold following the downturn in the economic climate and its construction industry. The Dunfane Pavilion was continuing to deteriorate in terms of its condition and under the Ballymena Capital Funding Scheme, council had allocated £300k to renovate and refurbish the pavilion.
In late 2016 it came to officers' attention that the local St Patrick's College and St Brigid's Primary School were seeking to redevelop existing pitches within their school grounds to a modern 3G surface accompanied with flood lighting.
The schools were not in a position to fund the whole project and had approached council with a view to making a contribution towards the cost.
During conversations with the school it was indicated that any upgrade to the school facilities would also bring then into a condition whereby they would be available for community use.
The existing changing facilities associated with St Patrick's High School would be available for use in connection with the 3G facility.
It therefore became apparent that, rather than putting additional money into refurbishing the existing pavilion at Dunfane, it would be more advantageous for council to work in partnership with the school to create a situation whereby the local school, council and the local community could achieve a more cost effective solution and better use of assets.
Instead of putting £300k into a new changing pavilion at Dunfane, it would be more advantageous to put that level of funding into upgrading the pitch provision at St Patrick's High School.
The existing two grass pitches at Dunfane currently have no flood lighting and it is normal practice to view the provision of a 3G facility as the equivalent to six grass pitches.
The money generated from the proposed housing development could be reinvested into upgrading facilities within the local school and within the existing site at Dunfane.
The suggested path network through the Dunfane site and to the rear of the school can be upgraded to provide linkages for residents in the Brigadie, Dunfane and Hugomont areas.
The existing pitches within the Dunfane development can remain as both open space for community use having additional enhancement with a small children's play area and a rubberised surface for a kick about area.
Independent councillor Paul Maguire is objecting to the way in which the situation has been handled.
Councillor Maguire said that he supports Mr McCrudden and the whole community who are on the brink of losing a green space.
He said that a significant drainage scheme had been completed in the area, creating a sand based grass pitch.
An upgrade and redecoration of what had previously been “totally inadequate” changing rooms and shower facilities had been undertaken but this was solely as an interim measure.
TUV alderman Stewart McDonald said the plans would amount to the loss of another football pitch in the Ballymena area.
He commented that there are not enough pitches as it is.
He fears that this will result in a locked, gated facility, thus taking away from what is currently an open, free space available to all.
He said the land was being sold for houses which inevitably will lead to the loss of a shared space.
A spokesperson from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: ““Residents and sports clubs are currently being invited to have their say on plans to breathe new life into community sports, leisure and play facilities in the Dunfane area of Ballymena.
“Local citizens have been encouraged to take part in an eight-week consultation on the proposed redevelopment of Dunfane Playing Fields.
“A public drop-in information session will take place at Ballymena North Business and Recreation Centre on Tuesday, December 4 between 4pm and 8pm.
“We would also encourage all stakeholders to have their say by completing the online survey by 5pm on Friday, January 18 2019.
“To take part in the consultation or to find out more, please visit council’s website.
“We believe this is a fantastic opportunity for the area and its residents and a much more prudent use of public money through the collaboration of the school and council to the advantage of all.”.