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An allocation of £150K for the Albert Basin Park project, agreed at last nights Strategy, Policy and Resources meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council has been described as paltry by Councillor Patrick Brown whose proposal to increase the sum to £1.5M was rejected by the committee.

Newry 2020 the group behind the park campaign, while welcoming the decision that also proposed to appoint a design team, and develop concept plans for the Albert Basin park, added that it should be put on an equal financial footing with other Council regeneration projects.

The site of the proposed park at the Albert Basin, used at present as a storage facility for council. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The site of the proposed park at the Albert Basin, used at present as a storage facility for council. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

A paltry amount

Cllr Brown said "At last night’s SPR meeting, following a proposal from the NCCR project board that £150k be set aside for the Albert Basin Park project, I proposed that this amount be increased to £1.5m. My reason for this is that £150k is a paltry amount compared to the £1.5m that campaigners have estimated will be set aside by council to deliver the project in this term, based on professional advice. This is based on the assumption that significant external funding will be available for the total cost of project (estimated at around £15m), something council do not dispute"

Cllr Patrick Brown

The Rowallane Councillor said that his proposal was rejected by all except Alliance and independent councillors. "This pattern of behaviour by the larger parties on council is not new. In December, Councillor Gavin Malone and myself brought a motion seeking to establish the Albert Basin as Newry’s number one regeneration project and allocate sufficient capital spend for the park in this year’s rates. This motion was deemed ‘illegal’ under standing orders by the SDLP chair, with SDLP reps later claiming on social media that the funding necessary to deliver this park was going to be set aside in January, so there was no need for our motion to be heard. They have now shown that those were hollow promises offered to disguise a politically motivated attempt to stifle discussion on our motion."

Put park on equal footing with other regeneration projects

Newry 2020 spokesperson Brian Cleland welcomed the decision to appoint a design team and develop concept plans for the Albert Basin Park, but expressed disappointment that the council had failed once again to ringfence proper funding for the park.

Brian Cleland, Newry 2020

Mr Cleland said "Why are elected representatives refusing to put the park on an equal footing with other regeneration projects? Other projects - such as the new council offices - have had millions of pounds ringfenced for their delivery, while the park will have to go cap-in-hand for money at every stage.

"It's great that plans for an formal park design are moving ahead, but there is no excuse for treating the park as a lower priority than other elements of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme. Public demand for this project is unprecedented, and the council's actions need to reflect that reality." 

Excited to be moving forward

Cllr Roisin Mulgrew

Speaking after the meeting of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Board where the proposals were discussed Co-Chair of the Board  Councillor Rosin Mulgrew welcomed the additional £150K. Cllr Mulgrew said “As a board we are excited to be moving forward positively into 2021 to deliver the ambitious regeneration plans for Newry I welcome the swift action by officers to establish the Albert Basin Park Project Board and welcomed the request for allocation of funding to move forward with the development of the findings of the public consultation into concept proposals. This will allow high level estimated costs to be determined and inform in year bids for further capital funding within the Council’s Capital Programme”.

Newry City Centre Regeneration

Councillor Pete Byrne also welcomed the establishment of the Albert Basin Project Board. Speaking about the Newry City Centre Regeneration Project which now includes the Albert Basin park the Slieve Gullion Councilor said, “I am delighted that we now have a consultant on board to move forward with the district wide public consultation exercise on the package of projects that form the Newry City Centre Regeneration Project.”

Cllr Pete Byrne

Councillor Byrne continued, “it was anticipated that initial workshops with key stakeholders would be held in late January to inform the content of the online public survey that will be issued in February and further workshops would be carried out during the online survey period where all interested parties will be afforded the opportunity to have their opinions and voices heard.”

No Business Case - No excuse

Councillor Brown said the reason given at last night's meeting for not supporting the increased funding for the park was that there is no business case for the Albert Basin park project. "Aside from the fact that the project was backed unanimously by councillors over 3 years ago and there is simply no excuse why officers have not yet produced a business case, this stands in stark contrast to how other capital projects have been treated within council. Take for example the proposed second civic centre, for which multi-millions have been set aside in the capital programme for over a year – yet the business case was only signed off by councillors in November – and that’s before a public consultation has been carried out! The Albert Basin park has had a full, extensive and incredibly positive consultation process." explained Cllr Brown

The Rowallane representative concluded "It is clear that the people of Newry and the surrounding area want the park. It will require a fraction of the funding earmarked for the unnecessary second civic centre. So why are the large establishment parties on council blocking calls for additional funding for the park? Councillors from these parties may hide behind bureaucratic processes and claims that Alliance and independent councils are simply trying to make populist headlines, but ultimately, if the park is not delivered in this term of council, the public now know who was responsible."

The Recommendations

Last nights meeting approved the recommendation that an additional £150K would be allocated to the Albert Basin Park Project. The money would be used to appoint consultants as part of Council's Capital framework to assist Council in establishing a detailed specification for the appointment of an integrated design team and economists and to develop an initial concept design with indicative high-level costings based on the public consultation and surveys to date. It would also be used ot support any surveys and future expenses that may be incurred to progress the project to final design stage. The decision is subject to ratification at the full Council meeting in February.

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