Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Byrne calls for special criteria for Slieve Gullion in Council Playboard Strategy

Following the draft publication of the Playboard Strategy to deliver Multi Use Games Areas (MUGA) across the council district, SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne has called for a complete rethink of the criteria to ensure Slieve Gullion will not be disadvantaged.

Newry, Mourne & Down District Council secured approval for development and installation of 4 new MUGA’s across the district as part of the council’s commitment to increasing the opportunities for young people to take part in physical and recreational activities through a number of Strategies which are currently being developed.

Speaking to The Examiner after the draft strategy for the development of MUGA’s across the district was presented at last week’s Active Healthy Communities Committee (AHC), Councillor Byrne said he welcomed the project but is concerned that the criteria used to narrow down the possible sites will rule out rural areas like Slieve Gullion.

“The council undertook a review of the locations of existing MUGA’s mapped against existing play areas in order to identify where there are gaps in provisions. However, once those gaps were identified, prioritisation was given to the areas showing highest population of 14-19 year olds as there is an underlying demographic need within this age group,” he explained.

“Therein lies the problem – as rural areas will always be inferior in concentrated population statistics to urban areas.”

Mr Byrne called for the Council to “stop basing each strategy on the population figures in small radial distances, otherwise Slieve Gullion will not be accurately represented in these strategies.”

“We have seen the development of two state of the Art Leisure Centres and Swimming pools over the last year in both Newry and Downpatrick. Council facilities such as this must be taken into account when assessing an area’s need for additional facilities. Rural areas do not have such facilities to avail of on a daily basis.

“I find it inconceivable that those same areas are being earmarked for a MUGA too. There must be a level playing field for each District Electoral Area (DEA). To ensure that’s the case, certain criteria must be tailored to ensure that rural areas aren’t inferior to urban areas. It is not as simple as ‘one size fits all’ and Council Strategies need to take note of that.”

Commenting on last year’s Sports Strategy, where the council committed to delivering a Sports Hub to each of the DEA’s, the SDLP Councillor highlighted the extreme difficulty in sourcing a location in a rural area like Slieve Gullion, “where a Sports Hub will have buy-in from the whole community.”

He urged the Council to “start thinking outside the box” when assessing rural areas by population and argued that the radial distance should be extended in play strategies to ensure Slieve Gullion “is fairly represented.”

“I’ll continue to labour this point until the criteria is amended,” he added.

“The draft MUGA strategy will now go back to each DEA for further discussion before being presented to Council. As Chairman of Slieve Gullion DEA, I will ensure that there is a strong response on behalf of our community from this forum. This is not about favouring rural areas over urban areas, it’s about giving rural areas a fair chance!”