N. Ireland Politics

Department of Agriculture's Ballykelly HQ: Most staff opposed to move to new base

The Shackleton army barracks site Image copyright BTW Shiels
Image caption The building is to be constructed on the site of the former Shackleton army barracks

Most staff at the headquarters of a government department do not want to move to a new County Londonderry base, the assembly has been told.

During question time, the minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen, said the "majority of current headquarter staff don't want to relocate" to the proposed new building at Ballykelly.

But she said a survey across the civil service showed "significant levels of interest" in taking up jobs at the £20m facility.

Building work on it is due to start in September with the first of 600 staff moving in 2018.

Image copyright DARD
Image caption The aim of the move is to decentralise hundreds of civil service jobs outside of Belfast

Questions have been asked about the cost-effectiveness of the move.

Concerns have also been raised about whether key staff would be willing to relocate from Belfast.

Ms McIlveen said there needed to be a balance between the benefits of the transfer and the retention of key skills.

The minister said she was "acutely aware" of the need for continuity of service to the farming community.

Image caption Ms McIlveen said there needed to be a balance between the benefits of the transfer and the retention of key skills

She said she was considering a "detailed staffing plan" on who might move to Ballykelly and when.

"I want to reflect further on the plans at this stage to see what suits the long-term needs of my department whilst ensuring the new site is a success," she said.

Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party said a senior official had said it could be 2029 before the move was complete and asked whether the minister could give a guarantee that there would not be an impact.

The minister said she was "considering various options" around the transition and there could be options to "broaden the remit of Ballykelly".

She said those were discussions she would need to have with her executive colleagues.

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