The MOD has announced that it will be selling off the Abercorn Barracks site as part of the overall Ballyrkinler army camp.
This announcement was part of a national announcement of rationalising military resources and in Northern Ireland, the Abercorn Barracks is one of three sites earmarked for “decommissioning”.
An MOD spokesperson said: “It is planned to dispose of Abercorn Barracks by 2018. This site had been used by 2nd Rifles who subsequently moved to Lisburn. Basically, we have a number of options on the table at the moment. There are 200 homes at Abercorn of varying sizes that will be disposed of. But the swimming pool, gymnasium and other facilities may be demolished. We have a range of options and will be considering these carefully.
“The Ballykinler site is only partially being disposed of. The rifle range for example will continue to be used and other areas by military personnel for training purposes. This part of Ballykinler site is quite heavily utilised at the moment by the military. Because of this, it limits exactly what the Abercorn site can really be used for. However, having said that, there is open space there that could be developed into, for example, a modern sports’ field with playing pitches, pavilion etc.
“The MOD will be liaising closely with interested parties who wish to express an interest in the Abercorn Barracks site, but again we would stress that given part of Ballykinler will continue as a military training venue, the options are somewhat limited as to what the Abercorn site can be used for.”
Niall Addis, Chairman of the Ballykinler Community Association, welcomed the announcement but said there was much needs to be put in place to ensure a positive outcome for the Ballykinler community and the wider South Down.
He said: “Our association has spent countless hours already in trying to ensure that we get a good deal from the MOD. We are certainly coming to position where something significant is going to happen and we need to ensure the outcomes are positive.
“There may be around 200 homes existing but a large number have already been demolished by the MOD. The Abercorn Barracks are on the north side of the base, and I understand that the MOD plans to keep the other side active with its firing range and training facilities etc.
“It is too much to expect that the MOD will allow families to come into this area and have considerable freedom near this military facility for a number of reasons. There is also the noise from the firing range to consider too which could be a serious drawback to setting up private styled housing.
“So the Council and the community association and other bodies need to form a group to bring matters forward as best they can. The clock is ticking. I can remember in the RAF Bishopscourt situation, workmen were actually working on improving the accommodation while the closure was ongoing.
“I don’t expect the MOD to make things too complicated. Their interests will no doubt be paramount, but we do have to argue the case for our community and the wider area. I would hope they do not demolish the community facilities as this is an important part of the infrastructure.”
Downpatrick SDLP Councillor Dermot Curran, who has worked closely with the Ballykinler Community Association in recent years, said the announcement by the MOD “was an opportunity not to be missed.”
He added: “Ballykinler camp has a range of excellent facilities that could be used for the economic and social benefit of the the South Down area.
“However, I think we need to be much clearer on what the MOD is in fact disposing of. Is it the whole site or just part of it?
“I do know that the MOD has been bringing military personnel over from England recently to train there, but we do need a clearer picture as to what could be on offer.
“Releasing the Ballyrkinler site back to the community could create a wide range of opportunities and could be the making of Ballykinler as a community. The current site has a wide range of top class facilities such as a 25-metre swimming pool, a gymnasium, a golf course and plenty of accommodation which could be used for visitors or residents alike, if the MOD pass this on.
“There are shops there, a post office and other useful premises. It could be a major development in South Down. Sport’s clubs particularly could benefit from this site and it may be the answer to finding a site to create a modern grass playing field for soccer and other sports and gradually move from the more constricted Dunleath Park site. The development of the current sports’ strategy for the Council may need to take cognisance of this.
“The Irish rugby team even trainee there last year, and it could still be an opportunity to keep the rifle range for local gun clubs. Visiting sports’ and social clubs could use Ballykinler as a base. We need to develop a vision for this site now and get a strategic team moving on it.
“Overall, there will be many benefits to South Down if the site is released and hopefully the Council can get ownership of it or a properly set up body. We certainly don’t want to see a re-run of what happened at Bishopscourt RAF in the early 1990’s.”
Councillor Garth Craig, leader of the DUP delegation on Newry Mourne and Down District Council, said: “I would like to make the following comments regarding the MOD’s plans to dispose of the Ballyrkinler site.
“My first preference would have been for the MOD to have earmarked this site for one of its areas of ‘military expertise’. However, if this is not going to happen, then I would like to see the public benefit from the facilities which the site has to offer.
“In many ways Ballykinler has been a forgotten community despite its beautiful location. I would like to see mixed development on the site including housing, community facilities and small business development.
“A lot of the required infrastructure already exists on site. There is still a need for affordable social housing in the District and it would be such a shame to simply tumble good housing already on the site. I will be requesting Council to work with other agencies including NIHE, Housing Associations and the community to see how best the site could be developed.”