Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Council refutes Albert Basin access claims

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has denied claims that visiting boats are being prohibited from accessing the Albert Basin in Newry but has admitted that berthing points on the Quay have been allocated for this year.

The issue came to the fore last week after local boat owner Jonathan Cully claimed that boats were being denied access at Victoria Lock on the advice of the Council’s Tourist Information Centre who informed them that access to berthing alongside the Quays Shopping Centre at Albert Basin is to be “restricted to the ten craft currently there.”

Taking to social media to reiterate his concerns, the skipper of the vessel SY Jorodeta said that,

“Eleven boats want to come up, 3 have been refused, others that are in are scared to leave as it is indicated the berth can not be reserved and two boats outside have been waiting since last year having paid in full in advance. New policy as yet unconfirmed by council and not available in minutes as of yet, suggests that no more than ten connections to electricity are to be made, however as of last night the ten boats on the quays, only 5 are connected. there is in excess of 180′ of berthing available and 5 electric hook ups unused…but no boats allowed in.”

The ship master added that “new and emerging council policy suggests that as far as tourism for 2016 forwards for water based activities, Newry is off the map” and that vessels intending to visit Newry “will now need to sensibly consider ignoring the widely advertised and published access information provided by the official agencies for navigation, remove Newry as a possible destination for commercial, historic or leisure tourism, and make safe alternative arrangements to shelter from sea.”

Restoration of the sea gates at Victoria lock was completed last year and it was assumed this could herald a new beginning for recreational users of the canal.  According to Mr Cully though, “following a period that has seen maritime events, water sports and mooring facilities thrive, it is regretful now that access to this extraordinary and historically significant public monument, is to be denied to the rate-paying, voting public.”

Maritime group IWAI Newry and Portadown echoed Mr Cully’s concerns calling for an explanation for what it described as a “ridiculous policy.”  Speaking via the group’s facebook page, the IWAI reiterated that, in 2014, Newry was fast becoming a yachting destination and safe harbour for sea-going boats, with almost 30 boats spending the winter in the Basin.

“Most departed when repairs to Victoria Lock started in 2015 and we were left with only 10 this winter.”

“The repairs are now complete but it seems we won’t be seeing any more boats in the basin as the Tourist Information Centre has informed local yacht Jorodeta that the basin is full and no-one else will gain admittance. It is beyond belief that this virtually untapped local resource is so badly managed by the Council. Why spend all that money on the lock when no more boats will be able to use it?”

Responding to the access claims, a Council spokesperson told The Examiner that,

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council would encourage visiting boats to continue to come to Newry, Mourne and Down District via Albert Basin for commercial, historic or leisure days out. Access will certainly not be denied however please note that all mooring/electrical points on the Quay have been allocated for 2016.”

With the understanding that the limiting factor for berthing at the Albert Basin is the presence of just 10 electricity points, the IWAI Newry and Portadown group have suggested that “the simplest way out of this dilemma is to allow additional berthing without access to electricity,” insisting that genuine boaters would not be deterred from mooring by not having shore power.  “Boats use a harbour as a safe haven not for provision of electricity,” said the IWAI.