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A stakeholder meeting held online yesterday, saw for the first time a high level plan for the long awaited Albert Basin Park in Newry.

While there was much to praise in the Albert Basin Park concept design proposals, commissioned by the Council there was also several areas that are causing major concerns for some of the meetings participants, namely the length of time that it is stated the project will take and the costs thereof.

The 16 Page Albert Basin 15 Acre City Park Project presentation included just 634 words referring to the Park Scope and Design and 1237 words referring to "Planning context" and "Planning considerations" ie potential pitfalls. It's important to note though that as in every Planning case, the ultimate decision to pass planning applications rests with Councillors and they have all unamiously voted for a 15 acre park on the site already.

There could be a lot more rainy days if the proposal to take eight years to build the Albert Basin Park is agreed. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The present concrete Albert Basin - There could be a lot more rainy days if the proposal to take eight years to build the Albert Basin Park is agreed. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

A Timeline in the presentation shown to the Stakeholder group which included Councillors and community organisations, stated that it would take 8 Years to complete the Park, meaning that without unforeseen hold ups the Park would be completed in July 2029, or with hold ups potentially much much longer.

The timeline runs completely contrary to a motion that was proposed by Councillor Michael Savage and passed by Newry, Mourne and Down Council in 2020 that stated Phase One of the Park including capping and greening of the site, and the provision of a playpark must be completed by the end of this Council term - which is May 2023!

With the timeline revealed yesterday this wouldn't be possible. In fact there wouldn't even be a digger on the site before July 2024 not alone the site capped or greened! We asked the Council were the authors of the Concept Design aware of the urgency due to this motion but we haven't received a reply to date but we will publish when we do.

Costings of the project were stated in the presentation as £30.5M with a whopping £10.6M going towards enabling works in Phase One of the four phase project.

Rowallane Councillor, Cllr Patrick Brown who was one of the Councillors instrumental in getting a motion to build a 15 acre Park at the Albert Basin passed at Council back in 2017 is concerned about both timeframe and costings.

Cllr Brown said "Whilst I was pleased to attend this stakeholder consultation on plans for the park, and the presentation itself was well put together, there are two aspects of the project I have grave concerns about, which I voiced in the meeting: timeframes and cost. The fact that after 4 years of relative inaction by council since the Alliance proposed motion calling for the park passed unanimously, the fact that we are only now looking at concept designs is not good enough.

"The fact that consultants believe the park will take a further 8 years to complete is simply not good enough. I hope the consultants will go away and look at how aspects of the project can be delivered in tandem with each other, rather than sequentially, and reconsider whether a phased approach is really the best approach available."

Cllr Brown spoke of his shock at the proposed costings. "In terms of cost, I was shocked to see a figure of £30m+ proposed for the park when credible analysis by leading local experts has set the figure closer to half that amount. I have therefore asked the consultants to go back and do a benchmarking exercise looking at park projects across the UK and beyond, similar in both size, scope and topographical context. This will help councillors see if the current plans are really delivering value for money or whether serious questions need to be asked about the methodology applied thus far."

A concept drawing of the proposed park includes woodland, wildflower meadows and a biodiversity trail, multiple age play space for various activities including urban sports, a retractable pontoon linking to The Quays, a pedestrian bridge linking to the Warrenpoint Road, a central plaza with a mixed use building and a natural amphitheatre.

A spokesperson from the Albert Basin Park Project commenting on their Facebook page said " It is great that we finally have a design, and the proposal has some very positive points, but it is also missing key elements, for example a marina and an iconic swing bridge over the canal. We were promised a "world class park" and that is what the council has to deliver - nothing less will do."

The spokesperson added "The bottom line is this: Newry is the only city in Ireland without a park, and this is having a massively detrimental effect on our families, children and older people, especially post-Covid.
We were promised that phase one of a "world class park" would be delivered by May 2023.
Yesterday the project took a significant step forward, but our message to elected representatives that they must keep their word and deliver phase one in the next two years."

The concept design proposals will now be taken to the Strategy, Policy and Recreation meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council in * August and then the September full Council meeting for ratification.


* Correction 1/7 11pm

next SP&R meeting is August not July 

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