The SDLP grouping in Newry have asked for an open and honest discussion on Newry’s future in a COVID-19 world and have made it clear the Albert Basin Park is their number one priority.

Having heard the message loud and clear from local residents during recent election campaigns the party has in recent weeks consulted with those trying to keep businesses going during the lockdown.

Councillor Gary Stokes reflected: “We have learned a lot in Newry from COVID.  We learned how far we have to travel from Newry to access open space and how little actual open space we have in the city.

“Office based workers like me realised we could do our jobs from the kitchen table.  The Council needs to be open and honest about its priorities going forward and needs to listen to residents and those trying to keep a business going in the city.  There is nothing to fear from open and honest debate.

Newry City Councillors Michael Savage and Gary Stokes at the entrance of the Albert Basin site.
Newry City Councillors Michael Savage and Gary Stokes at the entrance to the Albert Basin site.

“Council may have a reduced budget due to COVID-19 and tough decisions may lie ahead and this is why projects that will benefit our citizens most and help businesses bounce back must be the priority.

“As a campaigner for some years for a 15-acre park at Albert Basin the social, community and environmental benefits of the park are already well accepted.  However it is local business leaders who are telling us loud and clear some of whom have had decades of experience of retail in Newry, that of the Council’s current projects in Newry it is the park that will deliver most for trade and business by drawing people into the city.  You would think it was a no brainer but two and half years after the Council unanimously agreed to the project it still has no budget against it.

“There is an urgent need for open and honest reassessment of the proposed regeneration of Newry City Centre.

“The new proposed theatre and conference centre will be a boost for culture in the city and benefit the night time economy.  The other elements of regeneration are very welcome. Do our council staff deserve a better working environment and a building that is more public friendly?  Yes.

“The Monaghan Row site is old and cramped and not disabled friendly and moving out of the site will facilitate the long awaited and much needed expansion of Daisy Hill.  However the Council now needs to reflect on its requirements given both the lessons of COVID and its economic consequences.”

Councillor Michael Savage added: “We are in a very different place now from where we were a year or six months ago and it is only right that the Council reviews expenditure and the Capital Programme, that is why the SDLP proposed the review of the programme at last month’s Strategy, Policy and Resources Meeting.

“The one thing that remains constant though is the SDLP’s unwavering support for the development of the Albert Basin Park. The Park is the priority for the SDLP in any review of the capital plan.

“A budget now needs to be allocated to the Park and the SDLP will be pushing hard for that to be done as part of any review.

“We have fought tooth and nail to have the Park included as one of the Council’s Key Strategic Projects and the time has come to get on with the project, get a budget allocated and deliver it.”

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