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Yesterday's epic special meeting of the Council's Strategy, Policy and Regeneration Committee may well be the one where the most far reaching decisions were made for the Newry, Mourne and Down District and most importantly for us Newry City but it was also the one most shrouded in secrecy with three out of the four items on the agenda held 'in committee' with press and public excluded.

Items discussed were:

  • Report from Audit Committee - Governance Review of Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme (in committee)
  • Belfast Region City Deal Outline Business Cases (in committee)
  • Albert Basin City Park (in committee)
  • Newry City Centre Regeneration Public Consultation (for noting)

When Councillors finally came out of committee the Committee Chairperson Cllr Oonagh Hanlon explained the decisions that were made although it is ok to be quite bewildered as to what actually was agreed -  We certainly are! The bottom line is that Council have agreed a £132.4 Million fund for projects including.

A beautiful bench placed on the Albert Basin Site by Newry 2020 gives a tiny taste of what a park there would be like. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Questions could include why Council are pushing full steam ahead with their Civic Centre/ Council Offices when a massively subscribed Consultation indicated that people (40% of which were business people) didn't want it or at least didn't want it at its Cathedral location. Secondly why the most popular project by far, the Albert Basin Park didn't receive funding to progress it. In fact it looks set to be lost in red tape for quite some time and thirdly why the results of an independent Governance Review of a Council Committee are allowed to remain secret.

In summary

Audit Committee Report

No information was given on Audit Committee Governance Review

Belfast Region City Deal OBC

Financial estimates were 'adjusted'  for the Newry City Centre Regeneration and Mourne Gateway Project

Fund of £132.4 Million 'will be supported by Council contributions' ?

Site of projects can be revisited (Civic Centre?) and finances can be reviewed

Albert Basin Park

Complete a business case to appoint economist???

Complete an outline business case for the Albert Basin City Park to identify a preferred option?

No Money allocated to park

Newry City Centre Regeneration Consultation

Council setting up a working group including members of Council committees, Department for Communities and Department for Infrastructure.

The Meeting

Cllr Oonagh Hanlon explained what had been agreed in committee as below:

"Whilst in committee the following items were agreed.

For noting: Item 3. Report from Audit Committee Governance Review of Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme.

Cllr Oonagh Hanlon
Cllr Oonagh Hanlon

On the proposal of Councillor O'Murrai and seconded by Councillor Sharvin elected members agreed to note the report and the findings of appendices 1 and 2.

For decision Item 4 Belfast Region City Deal, Outline Business Case. On the proposal of Cllr Byrne seconded by Cllr Savage, it was agreed that elected members approve and note the following recommendations.

To consider the contents of the report and approve the inclusion of the adjusted financial estimates for the Newry CCR and the Mourne Gateway Project within the Belfast City Regional Deal document. The Belfast Regional City Deal document will be tabled through the Council structures and an appropriate meeting in Council on October 2021.

All projects within the Belfast Regional City Deal proposition are at outline business case stage and there remains scope within the development of these projects to consider and take actions deemed appropriate to matters as they arise including site selection and finances.

The Belfast Regional City Deal proposition includes the following infrastructure projects specific to Newry, Mourne and Down Council area. The Southern Relief Road, Gateway to the Mournes, the Newry City Regeneration Programme, Public Realm, Theatre Conference, Grade A Office accommodation, Civil and Regional Hub, Digital and innovation hub and a fund of £132.4 Million for the Newry, Mourne and Down Region will be supported by Council contributions.

Item 5 Albert Basin City Park on the proposal of Cllr Savage, seconded by Cllr O'Murrai it was agreed that elected members approve the following reccommendations.

To complete a business case to allow for the appointment of an economist. To complete an outline business case for the Albert Basin City Park to identify a preferred option and appoint a consultant team to provide design and cost information to support the completion of the OBC.

That detailed costs, concept design and timeline be tabled at the Strategy, Policy and Resources in October 2021.

Tetratech be appointed to carry out a mapping exercise on the Albert Basin Site and that a site visit to Hawlbowline Park in Cork for the Programme Board members be arranged.

That the detailed cost breakdown be sent to the members of the Programme Board in the strictest of confidence. Note these cost estimates are commercially sensitive and not for further circulation."


The last item on the Agenda was the Newry City Regeneration Public Consultation (for noting) but Director of Enterprise and Tourism Conor Mallon spoke about setting up a Working Group to 'consider the Public Consultation Report in detail'

Conor Mallon "The findings of the public consultation were presented to the Programme Board last Thursday and all Councillors were invited to attend the meeting. The copy of the report, presentations and comments have been provided within the committee papers and I will take them as read. So I'm asking members to note the recommendations as set out in sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the report which our members are asked to note this report, the findings of the public consultation, the recommendation contained therein and the presentation included in Apendix One and the Report in Appendix Two.

"Members note that officers will establish a working group to consider the Public Consultation Report in detail and how the Council should respond to the comments and report back to the Programme Board. The working group will include representatives from the Council's Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Directorate, Community Relations Team, Planning Team, The Department for Communities and the Department for Infrastructure."

Cllr Barra Ó Muirí

Cllr Barra Ó Muirí welcomed the Director's comments "Happy to propose the noting of this. Good to hear from Conor. Just what we were talking about last week and what was mentioned today already that the views of the Public Consultation aren't ignored and it's very important that that message goes out. And the setting up of this working group will, it'll mean so much to the people that have been consulted whether they are supportive of some elements of this or whether they were worried about other elements of it, it'll give them an opportunity to work with their elected representatives to have their feelings discussed and their views recognised at these meetings so I think that's a hugely positive move and again it dispels the narrative that the publics views aren't being taken into account in this."

Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly was not happy with the appointment of a Working Group

Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly

"Chair I'm not sure about the need for a working group. That's the view I have. This consultation was open for a number of months and as Otium indicated last week, it was an exceptional response in the context of how these public consultations are conducted, so I'm not sure what a working group hope to, what nugget they hope to find that previously hasn't been offered up" adding  "I don't see the need for another group."

'Only really the start of the consultation'

Cllr Michael Savage saw now as 'only really the start of the consultation'

"I do disagree slightly with Jarlath in that I do agree it was a very far reaching and representative consultation process but I think this is only really the start of the consultation we need to do.

"We are just about to embark on a multi million pound scheme across our City and district and I think some of the problems we've had up to now is that we haven't been bringing people with us the way we should be and I think we are learning lessons from that consultation.

Cllr Michael Savage

Savage continued "We have heard the amount of views that are out there and I think it's important now that we've heard those views that those views stay with us and that that consultation continues through a working group whereby people feel they have their say and that if we do run into any problems down the line that we are able to speak to the community in relation to what they see as solutions and that we don't try to pretend that we have all the solutions, that the community are able to provide us with their insight as well so I agree with Barra. I think this is very important.

Concluding Cllr Savage added "I think it's actually building on the great consultation we have had and as somebody who pushed hard for the consultation along with others in the council I believe that we need to bring our people with us and as I've said on Friday we need to develop a partnership approach now with everybody across our city and district to make sure that we have buy in to everything we are doing and that they understand what we are doing, the implications and the statutory obligations we have and the financial implications of what we are doing both positive and negative and that they have the full picture when it comes to, when we speak to them as to what is actually going on. I think contrary to what Cllr Tinnelly is saying, I understand where he is coming from"

Cllr Tinnelly proposed that they accept the recommendations but drop 3. 2 "I don't believe we need another working group here. The responses have been emphatic and clear and I'm not sure that talking people into submission is actually going to change their mind. I don't see what the purpose of another working group would be other than to delay the outworkings of any further action on this project."

Cllr Tinnellys proposal was lost with 2 for and 9 against and no abstentions.

The meeting is subject to ratification at the full Council meeting in October.


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