Newry 2020 the community group leading a popular campaign for a 15 acre city park on the Albert Basin site in Newry have released a statement detailing their increasing concerns regarding what they see as a lack of progress towards the delivery of the park and have asked for a commitment from Newry, Mourne and Down Council to hire a Project Manager for the park and for sufficient finances to be made available to the project in 2019.

The group say they were 'shocked' at the January meeting of the Albert Basin Park Task and Finish Working Group, when the Council's Chief Executive personally intervened to block the hiring of a Project Manager for the project.

The Albert Basin site today looks very much like it looked twenty years ago. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Venue for the new Newry City Park - The Albert Basin site looks very much the same today as it looked twenty years ago. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Brian Cleland, Chair of Newry 2020 and member of the Council's Park Working Group, said, "The Working Group has been increasingly concerned by the lack of progress on the delivery of the park in the 12 months since the original motion was passed. It was therefore agreed in November last year that a Project Manager should be appointed as soon as possible, in order to ensure progress in 2019.

"We were shocked when the Chief Executive attended the Working Group in January - for the first time since its inception - to state that he would not allow a Project Manager to be hired. When we asked Mr Hannaway to explain what authority he had to overrule the wishes of elected members, he failed to give a clear answer. He then went on to state that the Working Group should not challenge any advice given by Council officers. Needless to say, we were disappointed by this unhelpful intervention."

"Newry 2020 have had a good working relationship with the officers and elected representatives on the Working Group, and we hope this will continue in future. We are also determined to fight for the delivery of this project by the original target of June 2022. We will be asking councillors to ensure that the commitment given to the Working Group to hire a project manager is honoured, that sufficient financial resources are made available to progress the project in 2019."

Council Reply contacted Chief Executive Liam Hannaway asking directly did he block the hiring of a Project Manager. In his reply Mr Hannaway  spoke of how resources and skilled project managers currently employed in the council "are available to meet and assist the group, ensuring that the various strands of the development of the Albert Basin Park move forward for the benefit of local residents."

A statement from the council added "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is committed to the development of the Albert Basin Park and has allocated resources to this support project. In order to bring forward the project it is necessary to determine and understand the physical development constraints that exist in relation to the park. The Council has identified resources to support this and is committed to working directly with the Working Group to identify the key elements which should be included in this flagship park."

"A Task and Finish Working Group has now been established for the The Albert Basin Park project, with agreed terms of reference and governance structures. The Group has held a Pre-Application Discussion meeting with senior planners and the Council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee has approved remedial improvement works to the entrance of the park.  Works are due to be completed in late January 2019.

"An expression of interest application was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the parks future development.  The Working Group will in due course also submit an application to the Big Lottery Fund for the development of a 'Pop Up Park' on the site.

"The Council has also facilitated presentations and site visits to other parks on behalf of the Working Group. A representation to the group from the Connswater Community Greenway Trust (East Side Partnership) has also taken place recently providing an insight into their recent development of the parklands in Belfast.

"A wider stakeholders forum has been established and will meet in January 2019 to update and progress the four year plan."

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