Councillors asked to approve land purchase for development

Councillors asked to approve land purchase for development

11 September 2019

POLITICIANS will tomorrow be asked to approve the purchase of a strip of land required to allow an ambitious multi-million pound regeneration initiative in the heart of Downpatrick to proceed.

Plans to redevelop the former Irish Street police station site and a number of adjacent empty properties to provide a new retail and commercial centre were outlined almost two years ago.

The Department of Communities has already acquired the former police base site and is working closely with Newry, Mourne and Down Council to help bring new investment to the town.

The local authority also owns land in Irish Street which is included in the area earmarked for redevelopment, with four other plots in private ownership.

At tomorrow night’s meeting of the local authority’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, councillors will be asked to purchase a strip of land which is crucial to the development of the Irish Street project.

They will be told that the site has been valued by Land and Property Services and that negotiations have taken place with an agent representing the landowner.

It will also be confirmed tomorrow that the money required to purchase the site is included with the budget of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Department.

The Irish Street redevelopment plan is understood to include levelling a number of vacant buildings to open up a huge area at the rear of the former police station, with the proposed development site also including the local authority-owned car park.

The former police base — which enjoys protected status — cannot be bulldozed with suggestions that it will form an attractive feature as part of the planned retail and commercial development plan.

Senior council officials say they are determined to deliver a major regeneration scheme in the town centre and are excited at the development potential the Irish Street site offers. 

In addition, they are acutely aware that leading brands such as Marks and Spencer and Home Bargains, along with several other big names, are reported to be interested in investing  in Downpatrick, but cannot identify suitable accommodation.

Department of Communities officials and senior council staff are drawing up a development brief designed to encourage developers to come forward and redevelop the sprawling Irish Street site and are confident the scheme has the potential to provide a significant economic boost for the town and existing traders through increased footfall.

Those involved with the proposal are confident that it can act as a catalyst to encourage future economic investment and view the Irish Street site as the last remaining location in the town centre capable of accommodating a major regeneration initiative.

It has also been suggested that new housing could potentially form part of the regeneration plan.

Council officials say they are continuing to work with retailers interested in investing in Downpatrick and will be doing all they can to ensure this potential investment is fully realised, creating new job opportunities and raising the town’s retail profile. 

Councillor Dermot Curran said the redevelopment of the Irish Street site has the potential to provide Downpatrick with a “substantial economic boost” and create new retail space. 

He also said that it is vitally important that the town’s business community is asked for its input on the redevelopment plan.

He added: “The Irish Street proposal can act as a catalyst to encourage additional investment which will boost existing traders. Moving forward, it is vital that the planned regeneration scheme runs alongside a project to address town centre congestion.

“Many will be looking forward to studying the detail of the ambitious regeneration proposal which can attract additional investment and jobs to Downpatrick. The proposed scheme offers tremendous potential for the town”.