The SDLP has said that it remains focused on the delivery of an ambitious £1 billion programme of investment in partnership with five partner councils in the Belfast Region City Deal, Queen’s University, Ulster University and the regional Further Education Colleges to maximise the return for Newry Mourne and Down through key tourism, regeneration and infrastructure projects that will help drive economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19.
Speaking on behalf of the SDLP Council Group Cllr Pete Byrne said: ‘This week, we have committed our key projects, Newry City Centre Regeneration, Mourne Mountain Gateway and Southern Relief Road for inclusion in the £1 billion deal involving partners across the North. This shows confidence and demonstrates our clear intent to regenerate one of Ireland’s youngest city’s and to deliver a world class tourism product in Newry Mourne and Down to drive our economic recovery from the pandemic.’
Byrne continued, ‘The city deal can open the door to greater opportunities across the district, showcasing our city as a place to do business at the centre of the Dublin-Belfast economic corridor as we seek to attract private and foreign direct investment to our district. While our council staff will certainly benefit from 21st century offices, the proposed regional hub will bring a lot more to our city. New hybrid working models will see staff working more flexibly while sharing office space with decentralised government staff who will no longer have to make the commute to Belfast. This will not only reinvigorate our city centre, but also free up much needed space at Daisy Hill Hospital, allowing the business case for the hospital to expand to move to the next stage. The SDLP recognises the difficulties with the proposed site behind the Cathedral and has listened to the views of the public from the recent consultation. That’s why we proposed this week to investigate other sites should the current one become unviable, in parallel with setting up of a working group to engage with the public further.’
Speaking about progress made on the Albert Basin Park, Byrne said: ‘We remain committed to the delivery of phase one of the Albert Basin Park Project by 2023. This week we agreed to appoint the consultants to develop the Outline Business Case for the Park and for mapping to be carried out to see where significant engineering and environmental improvement costs can be reduced. We are determined to speed the process up so we can move things forward to have boots on the ground to start excavation. It’s a myth that allocating a budget at this stage will speed up the delivery of the park. Our focus is rightly on completing the business case which will allow us to change the planning designation of the site and allow us to bid for external investment to compliment council funding. Constant proposals to sidestep this process only serve to slow the delivery of the project up and bog us down in Governance matters. We have already lost 2 months of progress due to a governance investigation launched on the back of false accusations and misinformation. To then witness another attempt this week to ignore financial governance procedures and heap more delay on the park was astonishing in its recklessness. While delay might be advantageous to the election campaigns of certain councillors, it does not serve the interests of the people of Newry. The SDLP’s proposal to visit Cork Harbour Park, benchmark and learn lessons from their successful delivery is an important next step. Our focus remains on practical ways to deliver the park as our number one priority and we look forward to meeting with campaigners in the coming weeks to discuss progress and future steps.’
‘We are privileged to represent the 180,000 people who call our district home and that’s who we are fighting for every day. Our district is entering a decade of opportunity ready to take it’s place at the table of economic opportunity, investment and development. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a world-class tourist experience in the Mournes, improve the traffic links to Warrenpoint Port and regenerate our historic city though the city deal. In parallel to the deal, we are committed to delivering state of the art parks at the Albert Basin in Newry and Dunleath in Downpatrick and securing funding for the development of Ardglass Harbour. It is an ambitious list of projects that can be delivered by maximising external funding and ensuring the least amount of burden on our ratepayers. We must not sell ourselves and our district short, we must seize it all. That is what the SDLP are firmly focused on.’
Photo: The SDLP group at the start of this term in 2019.