IN Portrush, they’re painting the town red - and blue, green, lilac, yellow and pink. Every colour in the rainbow.
And super golfer Graeme McDowell has helped them tee off the scheme with £5,000 of hard cash. The immediate past American Open champion is one of several locals financing the colourful plan to brighten up the seaside town.
It was all dreamed up by firm friends Christine Alexander, local council member, and Jane McAlpin, joint owner with husband George of the Ramore Restaurants and Bar.
Fed up with reading and hearing - and seeing for themselves - that Portrush had became something of an eye-sore, thanks in the main to developers buying up old properties with a view to improving them, and then leaving them to the ravages of time and the high winds from the North Atlantic, they decided to do something about it.
So they set about having them painted, mainly in pastel shades in a kaleidoscope of colour that would do credit to Dorothy and her legendary rainbow in The Wizard of Oz.
Said Christine (an Independent member of Coleaine Borough Council): “It was the classic case that if Portrush didn’t do anything about it, nobody would. So we set about finding out who actually owned the 80-or-so properties that are defacing the town and getting their permission to give them a bit of a brush-up.
“About 90 per cent of them gave us the go-ahead, and in tandem with our research, we started collecting the money to buy the paint and employ the painters.”
Graeme McDowell was one of the first to place hand in pocket, and his £5,000 was followed by four-figure donation from the likes of the McAlpin organisation, Kelly’s Nightclub, The White House, Blairs Caravans with a plethora of other businesses and individuals chipping in as ‘The Port’ burst into a bloom of colour.
Commending their generosity, Christine Alexander said, “Like Jane and I, they all have the best interests of the town at heart and, to date, their public-spirited donations have allowed us to accumulate a fund in the region of £20,000. This will be used to give an immediate cosmetic face-lift to some of the most obvious eyesores.
“So far, Lower Main Street, Kerr Street, Causeview View and Main Street have benefited from the work,” said Christine. “The painters only started last Monday and are going well. Not only is it providing work, but it really is brightening up the town and we’re delighted with the initial impact.”
“The people and the traders of Portrush are really co-operating,” said Christine. “Like us, they’re fed up with the bad publicity of Portrush being an eye-sore and they’re totally behind us.
“And maybe, it’ll encourage the various owners to complete the job and developed the buildings, despite the down-turn in the economy.”
There have been calls for Coleraine Council to tidy up these derelict sites. However councillor Alexander said: “Although Council has agreed to screen one of the very worst sites, I’m unsure that rate-paters, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, should be asked to pay, though their rates, to improve the properties of a tiny minority of developers and speculators.
“I think it’s unforgivable that these people just disappear and leave the town in such a state!”
Coleraine Borough Council is currently pursuing a test case, through the courts, against one property owner whose building has fallen into acute disrepair, in an effort to oblige him to take remedial action. If this test case is successful other prosecutions will follow.”
Councillor Alexander also criticised the DOE Planning Service, which she emphasised is not under the control of Council, for permitting the demolition of buildings within Areas of Townscape Character, which are supposed to be protected. “Unfortunately”, she said, “we now have to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. Work started on several buildings last week, and the transformation speaks for itself”. One site on Main Street has now been fenced and painted, by its owner, and is looking 100% better. I’m hoping that, when people see what can be achieved for a relatively small outlay, they will follow this example with their own properties and the cumulative effect will be a brighter and more welcoming town, for everyone.”