A row has broken out regarding the lack of interest for the Albert Basin Park to be included in Newry, Mourne and Down District Councils “Levelling up” funding application.
The “Levelling up” Fund is designed to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The £4.8 billion fund will support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.
Speaking from their social media the Albert Basin Park project stated:
“In May last year, Councillor Gavin Malone tabled a motion asking for the council to apply for Levelling Up funding for the Basin Park. The council missed the June 2021 target, but Councillor Malone was assured that they would work to get a submission in for 2022.
Following a series of information requests, we have managed to discover that the council WILL be submitting a funding application this year – but have decided to EXCLUDE the park!”
“The closing date for Levelling up Fund applications is *6th July* – less than two weeks away. The chair of the Programme Board Councillor Pete Byrne has refused to say when or how the decision was taken to exclude the park, claiming that councillors will ratify the decision “over the next few weeks”.
“Given that preparing applications for the Levelling up Fund takes months of work, and that the closing date is less than two weeks away, it is clear that councillors are expected to merely rubber-stamp the decision that has already been taken by council management.
The decision to exclude the park is not only hugely disrespectful to Councillor Malone, who has been pushing for Levelling Up Funding for over a year, it is a slap in the face to thousands of people who have supported our campaign for a “world class park”.
“In our view, it demonstrates that the council have no intention of delivering on the full project, and that any talk of “phased delivery” is merely a crude attempt to mislead the public.
Finally, and perhaps most shockingly of all, if millions of pounds of public money can be allocated by council management without any proper oversight or scrutiny, what does it say about the state of governance or democracy in our council?”
Clanrye News and Sport approached NMD Council for a response regarding these allegations.
A spokesperson for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council replied:
“Given the fund criteria around scale, complementarity, alignment to local and regional strategies, the need to have match funds in place and the requirement to commence implementation immediately, and existing Council capital projects will be developed for submission of applications to the Levelling up Fund.”
An interesting yet short response from the council considering the time frame needed to develop an application for this type of funding.
We contacted Councillor Pete Byrne, chair of the programme board for a statement. We asked the following:
Q. With the application for the levelling up fund closing on July 6th. As chair of the programme board can you confirm:
1. NMD Council will apply for levelling up funding?
2. The 15 acre Albert Basin Park will be included in the levelling up funding application?
Councillor Byrne replied:
“NMDDC is applying for Levelling Up funding for multiple capital projects. The list of projects to be submitted has not been finalised yet but they are to be spread evenly across the district to ensure we level up across our area also.”
We replied with the following:
Q. Thanks for the update. Will the 15 acre Albert Basin Park be included?
Councillor Byrne added:
“The capital projects put forward will be recommended by consultants based on them meeting the criteria of the Levelling Up fund. Those that meet the criteria and are to be submitted will be presented to Councillors at the next Strategic Finance Working Group.”
We finished by asking the following:
1. What are the criteria needed for this?
2. Who are the consultants?
3. When is the next meeting of the strategic finance working group?
Unfortunately to date we have received no response to these three questions.
The Albert Basin Park remains a contentious issue amongst Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and campaigners alike. It seems as the weeks and months continue a new issue rears its ugly head with the council adopting a “laissez faire” attitude regarding the development of a 15 acre city centre park at the Albert Basin site.