Ritchie Opposes MOD Proposal To Demolish Homes At Ballykinler Army Camp

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) are considering demolishing up to 200 homes on the Ballykinler army base in County Down.

In a report by Kevin Magee on BBC let Friday, local residents and politicians gathered to exhort the MOD not to clear the Ballykinler site. Many have been refurbished as late as 2008. Some are four bedroom homes and others have garages.

Whilst calls for the MOD to sell the homes are coming thick and fast, it appears that demolition is just one option available to the MOD who have at this moment remained tight lipped.

Ballykinlar has a long history of military training going back a hundred years. US scout cars are pictured  training at Ballykinlar during World War 2.
Ballykinlar has a long history of military training going back a hundred years. US scout cars are pictured training at Ballykinlar during World War 2. What lies ahead now for this army base?

When one considers the after effects on the Ballyhornan / Bishopscourt area with a rapid pull out of the MOD from RAF Bishopscourt in 1990 and selling homes privately with considerable social and environmental negative impacts, the MOD and indeed local politicians and residents will be cautious of a re-run of the RAF Bishopscourt evacuation which is still causing very significant issue for local residents. The MOD has long since washed its hands of any involvement.

Ritchie Says Ballykinler Houses Must Not Be Demolished

South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has urged Ministry of Defence to ensure that the 199 empty houses at Ballykinler army camp are not demolished. Ms Ritchie has said that the houses would be better used to provide affordable housing for the local community at a time when housing waiting lists are growing and people are struggling to get on the property ladder.

Margaret Ritchie said: “I am deeply angry that the MOD would even consider demolition of such quality housing when this housing could be put on the open market or when the facility exists for these houses to be made available for social housing.

“There are over 21,000 people in urgent housing stress in Northern Ireland and such housing provision would be ideal for this sector in providing benefit to our local community. There are also many people in the local Ballykinler and wider Lecale area who are desperate for an opportunity to get onto the first rung of the housing ladder.

“Housing at Ballykinler would also assist the case for the development of the community facility at the former Kindle Primary School which is situated just beside the gates of the Army base.

“Arguments about interference from the nearby training range are largely spurious when army families lived at this location for years, and housing has also existed in Ballykinler village just beside the camp without incident.

“Precedent already exists for the use of MOD housing for the local community at Ballykelly, Mahon Road, Portadown and Pond Park in Lisburn. As a former Minister for Housing in Northern Ireland, I was directly involved in such housing provision. In fact, I met senior Army personnel in Ballykinler some years ago and they indicated that they wanted to explore the option of providing social and affordable housing for that site within the wider community. Funding options with the European Investment Bank should also be explored for this project.

“I have requested an urgent meeting with Armed Forces Minister Mike Penning to explore this option, to ensure that demolition of such housing does not take place and that all options are explored for the local community”.

Reilly Calls For New Battalion To Be Quartered At Ballykinlar

Mourne’s Councillor Henry Reilly, who served at Ballykinlar with the Royal Irish Regiment, explained there are a number of possible scenarios that the base could be used for. He said: “The present police training centre at Gariville will be closing for works for a few years and they will be moving to the Abercorn Barracks at Ballyrkinler.

“The MOD will retain the billets adjacent to the Abercorn barracks for general use. It would be difficult to change the camp into a private residential centre as the rifle range, which is one of the best in the country, will remain, and it would not be suitable to house people near it.

dn_screen‘Interestingly too there is an Area of Special Scientific Interest at the back of the camp and this adds to its uniqueness. I believe that Ballykinlar could also be used to house soldiers who served in the forces. Many suffer from serious stress illnesses and they experience high rates of suicide.

“These vulnerable ex-servicemen, many of these are actually homeless, could be housed at Ballykinlar. It is a beautiful therapeutic environment and  certainly one of the most scenic of all the MOD properties.

“But I do believe too that the base could house a new army battalion which would be quite a positive move by the MOD. I think ultimately this would be the best solution.

“The MoD has a £46bn annual budget yet Northern Ireland seems to be getting the thin end of the wedge with a lot of the regiments being moved to the Home Counties. At Ballykinlar, there is a fantastic swimming pool and a gymnasium, and this again adds to the attractiveness of the site for many different purposes including health rehabilitation for former servicemen.”