Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Campaigner’s dismay at lack of progress of Albert Basin city park

In an open letter to the public, James McConville, one of the key activists behind the campaign to have a city park created at Albert Basin in Newry, has spoken of his dismay at the lack of progress and criticises Newry Mourne and Down District Council for “dragging its heels” in moving the project forward.

He said: “Over for the past five years I have volunteered my time and my energy along with many others to help end the status quo of Newry City being the only city in Ireland that doesn’t have a city park.  The Albert Basin Park Campaign was the way in which we did that, by proposing a 15 acre state-of-the-art citizens’ park in the heart of our city, on land that was given to the people of Newry for this very purpose all the way back in 1986.

Together our campaign team collected the petitions, wrote the letters and sketched out the dreams of what such a state-of-the-art citizens’ park could be.  

It was truly an exhilarating, insightful and humbling experience and by November 2017, when our 15 Acre Park Motion was unanimously passed by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s SPR meeting it felt as if the whole city was behind us, eagerly awaiting the most positive urban change to come to Newry for many decades.

And so it pains me that in September 2019, almost two years after our Council’s historic decision, the Council is still dragging its heels on this vital regeneration project.  No serious money has yet been allocated to the project from the Council’s capital works budget, and no project manager or project team have yet been appointed. Both are unsurprisingly crucial in moving any project forward.

Now I’m not going to jump to the lazy and cynical option of disparaging our Council and elected representatives. They too have children and grandchildren who are growing up in a park-less Newry City.

The key question I have been asking myself is: ‘Why don’t our council and elected representatives recognize the absolute urgency of a city park which their citizens so clearly need and want?’.

I believe the answer lies in that our Bouncil and elected representatives don’t appreciate two simple facts.

1) PARKS PAY FOR THEMSELVES:  Following initial public investment, city parks have been shown in countless studies across the globe to create a ‘multiplier effect’ for local economy. This means that once the city park opens they immediately improve the health of the local populations thus lowering health costs, they attract more inward investment from business not to mention increase property prices. This is especially needed in Newry’s case which has suffered from a severe lack of public investment and thus the multiplier effects compared with other Northern Irish cities post Good Friday Agreement.

Imagine if Newry had a state-of-the-art park right in its centre, linked into the Eastern Greenway from Greenore to Lough Neagh. Do you think less or more people would want to live, work, employ or spend time in our city?

For Newry to compete in a 21st century Ireland without city park isn’t a viable long term economic strategy. Newry cannot afford to not have a city park.

2) EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING ELSE (the ground rule for sustainability)

Newry was the location for the first summit level canal in the British Isles. As a 30 year old who wasn’t around during its use I am amazed at looking at old photographs showing how the tall ships used to sail right up through our city, loading and off-loading their worldly cargos.

This canal is our city’s unique selling point and for the proposed Southern Relief Road (SRR) to cross it without containing an openable bridge for these tall ships would be one of the most myopic decisions imaginable for a city aiming to develop sustainably.

An artist’s impression of the proposed city park at Albert Basin 

The investment required to provide an openable section of the SRR Bridge is a fraction of the overall project budget but a massive cost in terms of Newry’s future. I agree that our city requires better transport links, but we need to build these in a way that protects our unique and irreplaceable heritage.

I said that I and our campaign will not be cynical in relation to the challenges faced by the Park Project. We are ready to positively work with our council and elected representatives to secure the investment it needs to appoint a Project Manager and a full Project Team. Available investment exists in the council’s existing capital works budget however we now need this allocated to the project without any further delay.

The people of Newry have waited long enough for their park – let’s not make them wait any longer!”