Newcastle Funding Row Lingers On After Rates Meeting

Councillor  Coogan said, “At the Rates meeting of 13th January we discussed budgets for the various departments of Council. When it came to Culture and Economic Development, there was a proposed increase of £40k to run a Flagship Festival in Newcastle and during the discussion it became clear that the overall budget for the festival was actually £70k all of which I believed should be considered an increase, as this was a new event. “Some Councillors argued that this funding was a continuation of last years’ Festival of Flight Centenary celebrations. When the budget was allocated last year, Sinn Féin opposed it but setting that aside I could not justify turning a one-off centenary celebration into an annual event at a cost of  £70k, when we were discussing peoples’ jobs and the protection of basic frontline services. [caption id="attachment_20244" align="alignleft" width="400" caption="Newcastle saw it biggest crowd ever last summer with the Harry Ferguson Festival of Flight. Will the crowds continue?"][/caption] “I suggested a compromise position that would grant the festival £30k on condition that Council worked with the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce to obtain sponsorship. I thought this was a reasonable suggestion as Councillors, traders and the media had all hailed the last event as a huge success that generated over three million pounds in one day to the area. If that figure is accurate then surely it wouldn’t be hard to attract sponsorship. “Councillor O’Boyle’s party colleagues supported my proposal and when the vote was tied, Councillor  O’Neill as Chairperson had the casting vote and my proposal was defeated. “Councillor William Dick then proposed to provide £50k overall funding and it was carried on a vote of 7 for and four against” In response, Councillor Carmel O’Boyle said, “Newcastle traders need to survive mainly on the six months from April to September. It is therefore important to establish a summer festival so that it continues in the future to generate income for the area. It is very particularly hard for this sea-side town especially in these harsh economic times. “The vote in Council went 5 to 5 and had not SDLP Councillor Eamonn O’Neill exercised his casting vote, Newcastle would have lost the £70,000 from the Council to prime the pilot festival, and it would have been a severe economic blow to the town. “For every £1 spent on the Harry Ferguson Festival of Flight, £45 was generated locally into the business sector. It just seems that Sinn Féin are carrying a residual resentment about the success of the festival and the use of the Red Arrows who they strongly opposed in the planning stages last year. “Newcastle is a prime, tourist, flagship attraction and we have to support it,” added Councillor O’Boyle. [caption id="attachment_20249" align="alignright" width="400" caption="Sometimes you just have to think out of the box on a problem. Pictured is one character who visited the Harry Ferguson Festival of Flight last summer. I wonder which planet (s)he's from?"][/caption] However, Councillor Coogan argued that “I would love to be in a position to grant £70k to Newcastle as I’m aware of the difficulties faced by traders and that Newcastle is a tourist town, that rely heavily on visitors. I have supported a number of initiatives that support tourism in Newcastle and have worked with various groups and agencies to help the town. Having said that, I would also love to be able to give the same amount to Downpatrick, Ballynahinch or Castlewellan, but the reality is I can’t. Traders in these towns are on their knees and it’s not because we aren’t trying to help them, we are, but we have to do this in a sustainable way. “We have to do this by working with other agencies and prioritising. We look at achievable aims and objectives that have long term benefit for all our citizens and try to implement them. “As a Council we have statutory responsibilities to collect waste, clean the streets, invest in parks etc. We employ people to do this work and we do this with limited resources so we often get complaints. How then do we do it better with less staff? How do we deal with antisocial behaviour in our towns with less Enforcement Officers? These are just a few of the staff we will not now be replacing so lets all have festivals in every town and village in the District, lets run riot with the purse but when the parties over who will clean the streets. “We are Down District Council which includes Ballynahinch, Downpatrick, Castlewellan, Killough, Killyleagh and Drumaness. We have a responsibility to these towns and villages also and we should be elected to represent these people, based on our work over the past number of years, not because we tried to pull favours that will take the red face off us on the doors.”]]>