The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said that farmers still have serious reservations over the plans to re-locate the North’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to Ballykelly, Co. Derry.

UFU President Ian Marshall said that while there will potentially be an economic boost for the Ballykelly area, there are still some obvious downsides – the first and most significant being the cost of the project.

“Recently the Minister confirmed that this cost has already increased from £41m to £45m and this is even before a single brick has been laid,” he said.

“The Union has always supported the creation of jobs in rural areas but has consistently questioned the appropriateness of spending a large amount of money on a single re-location project when there is already an existing network of DARD Direct Offices throughout Northern Ireland which could be used.

“Especially given the current economic climate and at a time when DARD has had to slash nearly 15% of its 2015-2016 budget with the likelihood of more cuts in the future,” the UFU President continued.

Marshall also said that the impact on DARD staff cannot be over looked.

He also said that while it is encouraging that there is interest across the civil service to work at the Ballykelly location, the Union’s concern is that many of DARD’s existing, experienced, and qualified staff may not be in a position to move as they have based their families in the vicinity of the current DARD HQ at Dundonald House.

“There is a serious risk that DARD will lose a wealth of expertise, which will jeopardise the standard of service farmers receive,” Marshall said.

The UFU President also said that the most important thing for our members is that DARD is able to deliver an excellent front-line service in terms of advising farmers, and the many different schemes and projects which operate within the agriculture sector are fairly and efficiently administered.