3.1 Spatial Characteristics

3.1.1The Mid and East Antrim area is beautiful, welcoming, industrious and unique.  As a Council, we benefit from an excellent location on the edge of the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area and have good links to Larne and Belfast ports and Belfast International and City airports.  There are also strong linkages with south-west Scotland and the Trans-European Networks (TENs) Route from Cork through Dublin and Belfast to Cairnryan in Scotland.

3.1.2Our position on the Causeway Coastal Route and our wealth of heritage assets provides the foundations for a vibrant tourism industry, high quality living environments and a sense of place.  These diverse assets include Carrickfergus Castle and Marina, the Garron Plateau, the Gobbins, Slemish mountain and Lough Beg/Lower Bann river corridor.

3.1.3Our population is largely urban, with 60% concentrated in the three main towns of Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne and the remaining 40% located in small towns, villages, small settlements and the open countryside.

3.2 Neighbouring Councils

3.2.1Our Borough extends to 1,045 km2 and shares a common land boundary with three Council areas: Mid Ulster District Council, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

Map 3.1 Our neighbouring Council Areas

3.3 Population and Society

3.3.1According to census figures, our population increased by 6.5% between 2001 and 2011 from 127,101 to 135,338. The total estimated population currently stands at 139,070 with projections of an increase of 2.2% by 2030 to a total of 142,114. 

3.3.2Our population is ageing. In 2015 18.1% of the population in Mid and East Antrim was aged 65 and over.  By 2030 it is projected that this figure will have increased to 24%. The growing number of elderly is a key factor in a declining average household size.  The average household size is expected to fall from 2.47 in 2011 to 2.37 by 2030.  The LDP will take account of the implications of these trends, for example in the delivery of appropriate housing in areas accessible to health and community services. 

3.3.3The number of citizens aged between 0-15 years is expected to fall by 7% between 2016 and 2030.  This reduction may have implications for the provision of education facilities in some areas.  The number of households within the Borough has increased by 10.6% from 49,095 in 2001 to 54,314 in 2011.  There has been a slight decrease (1.7%) in the number of households within the main towns and a slight increase in the number of households within villages (1.1%) and the countryside (0.8%). 

3.3.4The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2017 (NIMDM) is a spatial measure of local level inequalities based on multiple indicators. Indicators include, income, employment, health and disability, education, skills and training, access to services, living environment and crime and disorder.  The NIMDM identifies three Super Output Areas (SOA) in the Borough which are within the 100 most deprived in Northern Ireland: Northland in Carrickfergus and Ballee and Moat in Ballymena.

3.3.5The 2011 Census shows that almost 41% of our residents have no or low qualifications.  Education has an important role to play in sustaining Mid and East Antrim as a vibrant economy, as highly skilled people will be needed to take advantage of opportunities, particularly in newly emerging sectors. 

3.3.6In 2011 owner occupiers accounted for just under two thirds of all housing which is a slight decrease since the turn of the century.  There has been a steady increase in the private rented sector with 12.7% of homes rented privately.  The social rented sector accounts for 12.7% of the housing market and there has been a slight increase in the amount of vacant stock across the Borough.

3.4 Economy

3.4.1In 2017, there were 52,100 jobs in Mid and East Antrim with 71% of the Borough’s working age population in employment (compared to the NI average of 69%) (Source – NISRA Labour Force Survey Annual Report 2017).  The Borough has a highly productive workforce with work based productivity (GVA) almost double the NI average (£63,136 per head vs. £36,225 per head).  In 2015, there were 4,530 registered businesses in Mid and East Antrim, this had risen to 4,735 by 2017 (7% of NI businesses).  The Borough has a diverse business demography, with 29% of businesses within the Agriculture sector compared to the NI average of 25%.  Manufacturing is also a key employer accounting for approximately 20% of all jobs within the Industrial sector, compared to the NI average of 11%.

3.4.2In 2017, there were 337 businesses per 10,000 working population in Mid and East Antrim, lower than both NI and the UK. However, between 2016 and 2017, business births increased in Mid and East Antrim by 23% - the second highest rate in NI.  Micro-businesses, employing less than 10 people, play an important role in the Borough’s economy with much of their labour and materials coming from the local market.  Micro-businesses account for 90% of the overall share of businesses in the Borough in terms of size.  There has been significant investment from companies who recognise the benefits of the Mid and East Antrim’s strategic location and highly skilled workforce.  These include Wrightbus, Moy Park, Ryobi and Caterpillar.

3.4.3Mid and East Antrim’s economy is focused on the three main towns.  Ballymena has a large town centre and benefits from a diverse range of retail units, formats and sizes and has good representation from independent retailers as well as national multiples.  Larne is renowned as a premier port, and is recognised by the RDS as a ‘Regional Gateway’.  It also has a relatively good retail sector having a high concentration of small units comprising independent retailers and service uses. Carrickfergus town centre is distinctive in terms of its historic environment including the castle, St. Nicholas’ Church and town walls.  This, combined with its coastal location and marina offers significant tourism potential.

3.4.4Tourism is a key sector of our local economy.  Attractions such as coastal paths, spa hotels and castles contributed to a total visitor spend of almost £51m in 2018 and provide 4,395 tourism jobs. The location of key tourism assets such as Carrickfergus Castle and the Gobbins cliff path on the Causeway coast route along our coastline offers potential for significant and sustained tourism growth.  

3.4.5Our countryside is an important resource for the mineral and agriculture sectors.  Our Borough has always enjoyed a rich mining history, from the mining of iron ore in the early 19th Century to today’s regionally important salt mine at Carrickfergus. Quarries in the area contribute an estimated £15.1 million per annum, with aggregate used as road base, concrete aggregate, railroad ballast, filter stone and many other purposes. In 2018 83,048 hectares of land were being farmed contributing 3,619 jobs to the local economy.

3.5 Environment

3.5.1Our natural environment is made up of a diverse range of scenic landscapes, stunning coastlines and impressive vistas.  It is also home to a range of habitats, wildlife and species.  The Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) includes some 370 square kilometres within the Borough of Mid and East Antrim.  It includes areas of extensive upland moorland, secluded glens, rugged coastline and the iconic landmark of Slemish Mountain.  Sites of nature conservation importance are spread throughout the Borough and are designated for protection according to their status as international, national and local sites. 

3.5.2Our historic environment and built heritage includes buildings of historic architectural significance, historic monuments and archaeological, military and industrial heritage.  We have more than 162 scheduled monuments, eight State Care Monuments, 18 Historic Parks, 600 Listed Buildings and one Area of Special Archaeological Interest at Knockdhu.  In addition, there are five Areas of Townscape Character and five Conservation Areas which contribute to the distinct character and quality of the settlements in which they are designated. 

3.5.3There are many more assets that are not given special protection at present but require sensitive management for tourism, cultural or leisure purposes. These include civic parks such as Carnfunnock Country Park, areas of woodland, unlisted vernacular buildings or historic buildings of local importance and landmarks such as Slemish.

3.5.4Our water environment, including the coastline, rivers and reservoirs are an important resource for recreation, amenity and tourism. It offers specialised habitats, adding to biodiversity.  

3.6 Infrastructure

3.6.1Good transportation links are important to the local economy and attracting inward investment as well as connecting residents to community, retail and leisure services, employment, and educational facilities.  We have a comprehensive network of transport infrastructure and services in the area.  Roads of regional importance include the A26, linking Ballymena to Coleraine and Antrim; the A8 Larne towards Newtownabbey and on to the M2 Belfast; and the A2 Shore Road.  There has been significant investment in the upgrading of the A8 and A2 in recent years.  While North/South road connectivity is considered good, that between the east and west of the Borough is weaker.

3.6.2There is an extensive footpath system in most designated settlements, with elements of the National Cycle Network and disused rail network also passing through our Borough. The LDP will take account of this in promoting connectivity and active travel (walking and cycling).

3.6.3Public transport provision consists of a network of urban and rural bus and rail services with stations in the three main towns and some rural villages.  Rural roads also have a role in accessibility for those living in isolated rural areas.  However, according to the 2011 Census, 76% of residents still travel to work by car.  Whilst transport planning remains the function of DfI, the LDP will play an important role in integrating transportation and land use to encourage more sustainable forms of transport and active travel.

3.6.4Energy within our Borough is primarily produced by the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.  Northern Ireland has three major electricity generating stations, two of which are located within our Borough.  Ballylumford Power Station is located in Islandmagee, whilst Kilroot Power Station is located in Carrickfergus.  Both are operated by Czech firm EPH and provide significant employment opportunities and business rates contributions. 

3.6.5Access to high speed broadband is important in terms of economic development and addressing social isolation. Improvements to the existing broadband infrastructure have taken place in recent years.  In relation to superfast broadband services (>30Mbs), availability ranges from 82% to 97% across our main towns. 

3.6.6There are 53 Waste Water Treatment facilities in our area.  These are the responsibility of NI Water.  Three have been identified in the NI Water Capital Works Programme 2015-2021 for upgrade.  

3.6.7There are five Household Recycling Centres in our Borough, with an additional 24 smaller ‘Bring Centres’.

Map 3.2 Spatial Context of Mid and East Antrim

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