Outgoing Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee Chairperson, Councillor Pete Byrne has described his year as a landmark year for tourism development in the Newry Mourne and Down district.

The Slieve Gullion Councillor spoke about plans for the Albert Basin Park in Newry as well as plans to establish a UNESCO Geopark.

Byrne said, ‘During my year as Chairperson of the ERT committee, we saw the implementation of many aspects of the Council’s tourism strategy, with the main goal of making Newry Mourne and Down a premier tourism destination on the island of Ireland. We have seen significant investment in key sites like the Castlewellan and Slieve Gullion Forest Parks, with further plans to develop and build on the tourism potential both parks have to offer. We have also progressed plans to establish a UNESCO Global Geopark in the district taking in Strangford Lough and Lecale, the Ring of Gullion and Mourne Mountains.’

The ever popular Pride in Newry got increased funding from Council in 2017. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
The ever popular Pride in Newry got increased funding from Council in 2017. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

‘There is potential for development the length and breadth of this district and we are extremely lucky to have such potential on our doorstep. The recently established task and finish group for the Albert Basin Park represents a huge opportunity to attract visitors in the future. Meanwhile, work is continuing to develop the recreational use of Camlough Lake in South Armagh which will further encourage overnight stays upon completion.’

‘One issue that I am proud to have lobbied for during the last year was the fairer distribution of the Council’s budget for festivals. We effectively doubled the funding for community organised festivals while increasing the budget for events organised by Council. Pride In Newry as an example suffered a 56% cut in funding over the last three years. My proposal gives this ever-popular festival a boost at a time when the Newry Rainbow Community need it. It also gives community festivals the ability to grow and contribute positively to our tourism product.’

‘While the ERT Committee has a broad remit, I do feel that the decision made by the previous Communities Minister in 2016 to halt the transfer of regeneration powers represents a missed opportunity for the Council to be a real driver of economic development. While we have made significant strides in realising our tourism potential, enhanced regeneration powers would have enabled Newry Mourne and Down District Council to play an even greater role in shaping this region for the betterment of local people.’

‘This is something that should be revisited when a Stormont Assembly is re-established. One positive that did come out of the last Executive statement on the Progress of the Regeneration Bill was the commitment to explore whether there was a case for extending regeneration activities to settlements of less than 5000 people. By removing the population threshold, we open the doors of greater investment and opportunity to small rural towns like Crossmaglen. This is something that should work in hand in hand with our drive to develop tourism in the district and we should be all keen to explore it when an Executive is up and running.’

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