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The results of a public consultation on the Newry City Centre Regeneration scheme haven't even been made public yet but already they are causing controversy with Rowallane Councillor, Patrick Brown announcing that Councillors are intent on not listening to the people!

The Consultation took place in March this year following a request from Cllr Michael Savage. Today at a meeting of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme Board, Councillors were given what Cllr Brown describes as a "summary of the consultation responses"

The regeneration project includes proposed new Civic Centre/ Council Offices, Theatre/ Conference facilities and Albert Basin Park.

Councillor Patrick Brown

Explaining todays meeting Cllr Brown said "Councillors finally had the chance today to hear a summary of the consultation responses from the consultants hired to carry it out. Whilst I have not yet been given the full report (I did request it), from the summary alone it is clear that the consultation is overwhelmingly negative towards the civic centre aspect of the project, and it is clear that the people of Newry are not content with the current direction of travel being pursued by council management, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, and want to see the park prioritised for the people of the district.

"Unfortunately, despite this being crystal clear from the responses, the consultants, council officers and councillors from those parties spent over an hour today rolling back on their commitment to listen to the results of this consultation."

Councillor Brown gave a list of  ways he claims efforts were made to "undermine and obfuscate the findings" which we publish below:

  • Comparing the consultation exercise to the Brexit vote, implying that people didn't know what they were responding to because there had been a campaign of 'misinformation' against the project (there is some similarity here - the civic centre will be an unmitigated disaster, just like Brexit)
  • That the results were skewed because there had been adverse press and publicity around the project (apparently key stakeholders aren't allowed to publicly voice their concerns - also the council spent plenty of money on a spin campaign in favour of the project during the consultation, which flopped spectacularly)
  • Stating that people usually only complete consultations when they are against a project/idea, and implying that a silent majority exists in favour of the project (that certainly wasn't the case with the park consultation, which received overwhelmingly positive responses)
  • That the public are always opposed to new civic buildings (does this somehow make their concerns less relevant??)
  • Attempting to argue that almost 1600 responses and over 6000 comments was a small sample size given the population of the district (in fact, it's one of the largest ever - and the largest the consultants had come across in recent times)
  • That the economic benefit of the civic centre was too great to walk away from because it means public sector employees will buy sandwiches in the city centre (clearly there were not many economists on the call)
  • That everything will be fine if council just continues to engage and communicate with key stakeholders, because eventually they will come around to the plans (I doubt they will)

Speaking of his frustration Brown added "It's meetings like this that make me incredibly frustrated and cynical about the role of elected representatives. I honestly found it hard to withhold my anger around this and directly challenged the chief executive on councillors not being given accurate information. Yet again councillors were threatened with the councillor's code of conduct and I was challenged to withdraw my remarks. I did not. It is time that other councillors stood up to management instead of trying to ride two horses - speaking out against the project in public and then toeing the management line in meetings."

The Rowallane Councillor believes now is the time to take money out of the civic centre (and move it to a smaller, cheaper, more suitable site) and put that money towards the Albert Basin Park "That is what the people have clearly asked for and that is what we, as elected members, now need to do." he explained.

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