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Albert Basin Park Campaigns Community Politics

Alliance Councillor Accuses Council of Not Listening to Newry Regeneration Consultation

Speaking after a special meeting of the Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown has spoken out against what he sees as an attempt by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to ‘ignore the will of ratepayers’ in relation to the Newry city centre regeneration (NCCR) project, which contains controversial proposals including the development of a second civic centre in the district. 

Cllr Brown commented: “Last week, I posted online about my concerns that councillors would ignore the will of ratepayers as clearly expressed in the Newry Regeneration Project consultation. Following today’s special SPR committee I can confirm these concerns were valid. In April and May ratepayers across the district took part in one of the most responded to consultations ever carried out by a local government authority in Northern Ireland. Two things were abundantly clear from over 6000 comments on this consultation: the people of the area do not want a second civic centre in Newry and they want a 15-acre park at the Albert Basin site.” 

“Instead of listening to this, on Monday all councillors on SPR aside from Jarlath Tinnelly and myself voted (in a closed session which excluded the public and press) to:

Significantly increase the current budget for new offices (as these figures were discussed in private session I don’t believe I can share specifics yet, but will when I can)Press ahead with the Outline Business Case for the flawed Newry Regeneration Project/new council offices – the only significant change being an acceptance that if the current civic centre location falls through, a plan B should be explored – but it should have been explored months if not years ago)Ignore the public consultation and respond to it by setting up a further consultation exercise to ‘better communicate’ and ‘engage’ with stakeholders – because they didn’t get the answer they wanted the first time around.”

Cllr Brown continued: “At an initial discussion of the consultation last Thursday they also tried to undermine and obfuscate the findings by comparing the consultation exercise to the Brexit vote, implying that people didn’t know what they were responding to because there had been a campaign of ‘misinformation’ against the project and suggesting the results were skewed because there had been adverse press and publicity around the project. In addition, they have suggested that people only complete consultations when they are against an idea and implied that a silent majority actually exists in favour of the project. I object strongly to this submission given that this certainly wasn’t the case with the park consultation that received overwhelmingly positive responses. Further to this, it was argued that the public are always opposed to new civic buildings, and that the economic benefit of the civic centre would outweigh the costs because public sector employees will buy their lunch in the city centre.”

“Whilst progress was made on the Albert Basin Park Project in terms of agreeing to move forward with a business case, this advancement was undermined by councillors voting against a proposal made by myself and Cllr Tinnelly, which would have secured funding for phase 1 of the park by redirecting money from the unwanted civic centre. This proposal was: ‘that we take £10.6m out of the capital programme allocation for the civic centre and put it towards the Albert Basin Park project’ this was then slightly amended to add ‘subject to a full business case’ following legal advice. Yet all councillors voted against it. One councillor even compared putting money towards the park to giving a new car to a 5-year-old, stating ‘they just aren’t ready for it!’”

Cllr Brown concluded: “It’s clear that councillors, especially those in the SDLP and Sinn Fein, are intent on ignoring the will of the people as expressed in the public consultation and are not willing to take necessary steps to fund and deliver at least phase 1 of the park in this council term Instead, they plan to spend tens of millions of your money on projects that the public clearly don’t want. 

I’ve done my best in council to challenge this but unfortunately, those of us actually listening to the consultation are in a small minority and it’s very easy to be outvoted and silenced by the bigger parties – indeed even when speaking earlier the chair tried to cut me off 3 times! I think it’s time the people showed these parties what they think at the ballot box.”

ENDS

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