Down District Sinn Fein leader Cllr Stephen Burns arranged a meeting for MLA Chris Hazzard at Down District Council this week at the new headquarters on the Ardglass Road with the Ulster Farmers Union-backed ‘Down District Farmers for Renewable Energy’.
The meeting focused on Economic opportunities in rural development though diversification and reducing farm costs though developing on-farm energy resources.
Chairperson Alan Montgomery of Killough opened the meeting by expressing thanks to MLA Chris Hazzard for making time to come and listen to the problems of local farmers across a wide swathe of Down District. Chris Hazzard is a member of the Agricultural Committee at Stormont.
Local farmers highlighted rising costs of energy, and how they were under pressure to reduce their ‘carbon footprint’ from the big UK retail multiples that buy their produce. However they were unable to get connection to the electricity grid as South Down is being left out of the overall drive to upgrade the grid across N.I. under the ‘Single Market’ programme and requested Chris Hazzard to facilitate meetings with NIE.
MLA Chris Hazzard said “I will be asking questions in Stormont as to why the South Down area is being left out of the grid development programme. This has serious implications for the development of both Agriculture and Commerce generally in South Down. This focus on development in other parts of N.Ireland at our expense is mirrored in our roads infrastructure. I attended meeting in London recently, and prospective developers were able to tell me about the lack of a Ballynahinch by-pass, the A5 and point up chronic traffic problems in Downpatrick. We need a new approach to development in South Down, we have been fobbed off for too long”
Cllr Stephen Burns said “Sinn Fein will be having a meeting with planners at Rathkelter House in the near future, and will address the issues raised by local farmers. It is not acceptable for senior planners to refuse to meet local farming leaders and Sinn Fein will vigorously pursue this matter.”
MLA Chris Hazzard said “DDFFRE farmers have some exciting ideas in the area of energy storage and distribution, and I would encourage this group to apply to the both DARD rural development funds and to the East Boarder Region group as their ideas are clearly important to the development of the all-Island grid. I also intend to organize a meeting with Minister for Agriculture Michelle O’Neill with these enterprising Lecale farmers. They deserve our support.”