Members of the local community have come together to form a group to lobby Lisburn politicians on local issues.
The group, Love Lagan Valley Community Forum, was the brainchild of local woman Tracy Mearns, who said she wanted to get to know the councillors better and effect change in the city.
Tracy, who is determined that the group will be a positive place, explained: “In the run up to the election, I was fed up with people saying they didn’t know who to vote for or what these politicians do.
“Before the election I sent out a list of questions to the candidates so that I could make a decision. When there was such a low turnout at the election I thought we should get to know the councillors before the next council election.”
The group will ask one councillor each month to answer some questions about themselves and their views, which will be uploaded to the group’s Facebook page.
“This month we have Councillor Johnny McCarthy featured on the Facebook page,” explained Tracy.
Each month the group will focus on a different issue, whether that be health or education or the economy. This month the group are voicing their concerns over the state of the retail industry in Lisburn.
Tracy, who herself used to work in the retail sector, said she wants to see life brought back into the city centre.
“Last year I took photographs of shops that were empty in the city centre and this week the same shops were still empty,” continued Tracy. “Something needs to be done to create a buzz about the city.”
Tracy had hoped that the council would allow the group to raise issues at the monthly meeting. However, Lisburn City Council has said that this is not possible.
“While the Council is encouraged and supportive of any new Group that is set up for the good of Lisburn and Castlereagh it is simply not possible to allocate such a slot in this manner,” said a council spokesperson.
“As the majority of the business of the council meeting is to consider the recommendations from its committees structures, and given the fact that the council works with hundreds of groups across the city, for reasons of fairness and timeliness it would not be feasible to accommodate such a request from a single group over other groups working in the area.
“All council meetings are open to the public to attend and residents are able and indeed encouraged to contact any elected member to raise issues on their behalf.”
However, members of the group are hoping to meet with Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson to discuss their concerns and they have also received support from Lisburn’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Alexander Redpath.
“I actively follow Love Lagan Valley Community Forum and think it is a really valuable tool to keep in touch with my constituents,” said Mr Redpath. “If the forum want to engage with the Council I would be happy to meet them at any time and if they want items raised at council meetings I am happy to discuss this with them to see where I can help.
“I really welcome the enthusiasm the forum has shown towards engaging with the council.”
“It’s a great example of the power of social media to bring communities together.”