Albert Basin campaigners get support from Council on way forward.
Newry Mourne and Down District Council have considered the issue of building social housing on the Albert Basin site under the development plans of a City Centre Park and decided against it writes Kevin McAteer.
A draft public survey was recently discussed at an Albert Basin Task and Finish meeting within the Council which covered the contenious issues of housing, commercial activity and a car park on the 15 acre site. Such proposals would have reduced the capacity for a city centre park.
Initially, this proposal to develop the vacant site was met with outrage throughout the community as housing had never been mentioned in the Albert Basin Park plans since its inception. Speaking on the issue, Newry City Councillors Gary Stokes and Michael Savage said: “As Newry SDLP Councillors we have encouraged the people of the city and district to get involved in the consultation process on the new 15-acre park at the Albert Basin.
Speaking after the SDLP proposed that all references to housing be removed from the park’s consultation questionnaire and any commercial development references be defined as relating to micro-hospitality or activity and well-being commercial development compatible with a park, the Newry Councillors said a major step has been taken in getting a new 15 Acre City Park built.
Cllr Michael Savage said: “There were concerns about references to housing and commercial development within the initial drafts of the consultation questionnaire. I was happy to propose that we remove any references to residential development in the Park and to confine our ambitions for commercial development to the micro-hospitality and activity and wellbeing sectors that we believe are compatible with a park setting.
“This was unanimously supported by all Councillors and subsequently supported by the Albert Basin Park Task and Finish Group. This now means that the consultation can be rolled out over the coming weeks and this is a significant step forward in getting the 15 acre park built at Albert Basin, and I would encourage everyone to have their say on what they want to see in our new park.”
Councillor Gary Stokes, who has campaigned for a 15-acre park on the Albert Basin for over a decade, said he believed that significant potential hurdles have now been overcome and a clear pathway to delivering a People’s Park in the city is in sight.
He added: “We as a Council voted unanimously for for this on the Albert Basin and following the finalising of the consultation questionnaire this week we are now asking the people of our city and district what they would like to see in the park.
“We voted for a Park on the site and we have now presented a questionnaire that reflects what we voted for and the people will now get their chance to tell us what they would like to see in the 15-acre park.
“The Covid-19 Pandemic has clearly demonstrated how much the people of this city and district need a green open space to walk, congregate and take exercise and we now have the potential to build a facility that is the jewel in the district’s crown and a real asset to our city and its people.
“It is very important that everyone has their say on what they would like to see in the park and we want to make sure that all generations play their part in shaping it so from young children through to grandparents we want to hear your ideas about what you would enjoy in our fantastic new open public space.
“The SDLP has led the way in campaigning for a 15 Acre Park at the Albert Basin and we are confident that this will now be delivered and we want to ensure that the space is a People’s Park – shaped by the people for the people – so it’s important everyone gets involved in the consultation which will be announced shortly by the Council. This has been a good week for all of us who have fought hard for this project – the 15 Acre Park on the Albert Basin is now a step closer.”
UUP Councillor David Taylor said : “I welcome the fact that there is a consensus amongst all Parties and Groups involved in the development of the Albert Basin Park Project in terms of how to proceed with details of the forthcoming consultation on the Park.
“There was never a desire amongst interested parties/groups for the creation of any form of housing within the Park and that is reflected by the omission of any such proposal from the consultation questionnaire.
“The Ulster Unionist Party has been consistent in its support for the creation of a 15 acre Park and I hope the project can now move forward positively with a view to ensuring progress is achieved in delivering the Park at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Following a meeting of the Working Group it has been decided to remove any mention of housing from the consultation survey resulting in the continuation of a 15 acre City Centre Park at the Albert Basin site.
Sinn Fein Newry City Councillor Roisin Mulgrew said: “The people of Newry deserve a city centre park and Sinn Féin is committed to delivering it.
“Working together with all key stakeholders, statutory, voluntary and community, we will endeavour to deliver a top of the range 15-acre city centre park, drawing on best international examples and which ultimately will be an incredible community asset for the people of Newry, for the district and further afield”
And Alliance Newry City representative Helena Young added: “I very much welcome the decision to withdraw the suggestion of social housing being included in the Albert Basin Park plans.
“I can see the logic in including perhaps a cafe and shop, these would be an acceptable addition within a public park. As part of the stakeholder group , I would encourage everyone involved in the process to move forward, in the spirit of openness and transparency , to ensure a 15-acre city park is delivered to the people of Newry and the potential visitors it will attract to our city.
“We should now be looking at a reasonable timeline in which our park can be delivered.”