United front to safeguard future of Jennings Park

March 16, 2015

A campaign to save Jennings Park in Newry from being sold for development has gained significant momentum in the last number of months with residents, community and sporting groups uniting in their bid to force the Council to retain ownership of the facility.

In December 2014 more than 1,000 residents signed a petition opposing its sale and last month the Meadow and Armagh Road Community Association initiated a petition against the proposed construction of a ‘health hub’ at Jennings Park.

More than 1,500 residents and a number of groups – including Meadow & Armagh Road Community Association, Derrybeg Community Association, St Patrick’s Primary School, Bosco GFC, Midway United FC, Newry City AFC and the Carnbane league teams – objected to this development plan.

A “Save Jennings Park” facebook page has attracted more than 2,500 supporters while Sinn Fein and the SDLP have pledged their support to the residents’ campaign. Both parties have given assurances that the Council will not sell the site if residents want it kept in Council ownership as an area of open space.

Jennings Park has been used as recreational area for many years, at one time both Gaelic and soccer were played at the sports ground.

Jennings Park makes an important contribution to the local area in terms of providing a “green lung” in a built up residential area, which helps contribute to the physical and mental health of users of the pitches.

Alma Brown is the longest living resident of the Meadow: “I have been living in this area since 1953 and I have watched people enjoying themselves at Jennings Park for more than 60 years. This area should be kept for recreational use,” she said.

Peter Jackson, a former chairman of Meadow and Armagh Road Community Association, added: “As a resident of the area for 60 years, I want the status quo of Jennings Park to be maintained.”

The local community feels a sense of ownership and pride in the importance of Jennings Park due to its association with the famous Newry-born footballer Pat Jennings.  In his autobiography, Pat Jennings refers to the “tremendous attraction matches at the Meadow brought to the frontier town, where huge crowds lined the railings enjoying the football and the craic”.

When referring to the naming of Jennings Park in his honour, he stated: “Nothing that I have achieved in football has given me more pleasure”.

The local community’s opposition to the health hub at Jennings Park will not prevent the development of a health hub in Newry. Such a facility is not dependent on the sale of Jennings Park, as there are two alternative city centre brown-field sites earmarked for a health hub – St Clare’s old school site and the former Abbey Grammar school site. Neither of these sites involves the loss of open space to the local community.

The community supports improvements to Jennings Park and other local facilities but feel this should be under the ownership and protection of the local Council. They want Jennings Park kept as an area of existing open space for sport and recreation, as zoned in the Local Development Plan.

At the Council meeting last Monday 2 March, the developer has been granted additional time – until this Friday 20th March – for community consultation on the proposed health hub at Jennings Park.

The Meadow and Armagh Road Community Association have requested clarification from the Council on its legal obligations with respect to the sale of Jennings Park, however no response has been received to date.