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A Newry woman has spent the past four years unsuccessfully trying to obtain a trading license from Newry, Mourne and Down Council to allow her to trade as a cafe from her barge moored at the Albert Basin.

Now at the end of her tether she feels she has no option but to either sell her boat or take it back to London, from where it originated before it arrived in Newry on 15 August 2014!

Lorraine Fox stands on her Sandwich Barge, moored at the Albert Basin in Newry, but four years on she still can't get a trading license. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Lorraine Fox stands on her Sandwich Barge, moored at the Albert Basin in Newry. Four years on she still can't get a trading license. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

As owner Lorraine Fox says of her narrow boat The Sandwich Barge  "The 15th of August 2014. It actually made history as the first narrow boat ever to cruise from Warrenpoint Harbour through Victoria Lock and into Newry Ship Canal in Albert Basin."

"I'd planned to start another business with another boat and I couldn't run two businesses at the same time so I thought if I bring the Sandwich Barge to Newry where I was born and in the home that I love I could lease it or rent it or I could start a little business up here, that I though Newry would appreciate, Newry would like. It's got a Canal, It's got footfall and I thought it would be a lovely little business for someone else with the same kind of enterprising ideas that I had, and it's all sitting ready for someone to run a trade.

Lorraine thought it would be really quick to speak to the council, getting a trading license, because in London it's quite easy to do, you get your insurance, you get your safety certificate and they give you your license and check everything is all right on your boat.

Four years later she thinks differently "For four years I've been waiting on the council, all different departments in the council, to finish their meetings and to give me a license and after four years, I haven't had an answer, I haven't had a reply, there's been no progress. Lorraine added "It's soul destroying. It's like the council in Newry are suppressing entrepreneurs.It's depressing. It's like banging your head against a brick wall, where someone keeps making it stronger and higher or moving the goalposts every time you aim for goal."

Your Business Isn't Mobile

Lorraine who lives in London was even told her business wasn't mobile "I just need a piece of paper that says I can trade. It's just a Trading License, but I can get one if I am on the street, I can get one if I'm an ice cream van. I've tried every which way to get a license from the council and when I said can I get a mobile license they said 'your business isn't mobile' and I says well how do you think I got it here. So I can't get a mobile license, I can't get a pedlars license. I've tried everything."

Designated Trading Area

"It's only because they don't have a license that exists for a unique business like this, but all they have to do if they look at their policy on trading licenses in Northern Ireland. All they have to do is make it a Designated Trading Area at their own discretion if it's not already a designated trading area. That's all they have to do, so I don't know how may meetings they need to do that. It's really that simple, that's all it is.

"They have had all these meetings for four years. I don't think they have read the policy on trading and they have to give you an answer within 21 days and they didn't given me an answer within four years!"

Speaking of her total frustration Lorraine says "They are just making things complicated but I don't know why. I think someone is afraid of saying yes, but when I speak to the licensing department, they say, oh it's not me, it's someone else and when I speak to district development, they don't know what they are doing and have to speak to someone else and have their meeting, and when they have had their meeting they don't reply. I really don't understand why they can't say yes to something so easy.

The Sandwich Barge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The Sandwich Barge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

"I've tried to speak to all the councillors but every time I speak to a different councillor, it's fresh to them, they don't know what's going on and I've to go and bring up all the old emails, from when I first came here with my proposal, and it's getting really really boring now."

Vision for the Albert Basin

Floating pontoons, people dining on the water, hustle and bustle especially with the new cycle route, these are Lorriane's vision of what the Albert Basin waterway could look like. "People would be healthier, enjoying their own environment more. I think a lot of people in the area are depressed and I think they need a bit of excitement, something new but the council is stoping creative people from letting all the rest of the people enjoy the area.

"It's beautiful. Look at what we've got, we've got the Cooley Mountains, we've got the Mourne Mountains, we've got a really picturesque scene of the churches, the hills. It's such a beautiful place and it's being destroyed by the council and I think it's very very sad and disappointing.

"This place could be bustling, they could generate money, tourism, I don't understand. They should look back on their history and see what this place was like, before they destroy it and I think they are destroying it pretty rapidly"

History

Thie Sandwich Barge has got a lot of historical value, all the badges on it show everywhere it's been on the canal system. It was London's first organic cruising cafe, and Lorraine started a trend of trading over there. As she explains "Now you've got the Boat Barge, Theatre Boats, Word on the Water bookshop, wheaten gluten free boats, you've got Frocks Afloat, vintage clothing barge, just so many little businesses on narrow boats with enterprising people with imagination and creativity."

Future

On the future of her barge Lorraine admits "It's probably going to end up out of Ireland which is very sad. It's soul destroying, it really really is"

Inland Waterways Association of Ireland

Lorraine thinks that the council should hand over the running of the canal to the IWAI "Normally if there is a waterway there is a waterway organisation that looks after it, because they know what they are doing and are educated in that field. It's like getting a hod carrier to bake a cake the council running a waterway."

Lorraine Fox sits on her Sandwich Barge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Lorraine Fox sits on her Sandwich Barge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

As a final thought she adds "The council are getting paid to look after the waterways. The IWAI are volunteers, they don't get paid a penny, they are dependant on memberships and donations. The council are getting paid to look after a waterway, they don't know what they are doing, IWAI know everything they are doing, looking after the waterways and not getting paid, it's ironic."

Newry.ie asked Newry, Mourne and Down Council seven short questions as detailed below.

1: Who and what department in the council is responsible for dealing with obtaining a Trading License for Lorraine or similar boats based on the water at the Albert Basin.

2: Why after 4 years has there been no progress whatsoever with Lorraine's request, is anything being done to bring this to a successful conclusion.

3: Is the Albert Basin, ie the water in which the boats sit a designated trading area

4: If not are there plans to make the area a designated trading area

5: Is Newry, Mourne and Down Council actively encouraging tourism and visitors to Newry city with the use of the canal from Albert Basin to Victoria Lock by ships and boats

6: Roughly how many boat trips have arrived in Newry Ship Canal through Victoria Lock in the past 3 months

7: Do Newry, Mourne and Down Council see the value of a  project like this to the area in respect of tourism, business and footfall.

The Councils Reply

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council does not plan to change the designation of the area in question to allow street trading due to a number of considerations.

The civic realm area adjacent to the Newry Canal and Albert Basin is not a designated street trading area.  Several factors would have to be considered in order for an area to be deemed suitable for street trading, including the health and safety aspects of the area in question and the potential impact of mobile trading on established businesses in any particular area.

In reviewing the health and safety requirements, the footway in question has been designed for pedestrian use only.  The Council would be required to provide adequate edge protection and traffic management to facilitate other activity on the footway. In addition, a new pavement Cafe Legislation has been introduced, which requires trading areas to be cordoned off with appropriate barriers and imposes restrictions in relation to the minimum width of the remainder of the footpath. 

 

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