Frustration at delay to regeneration project

Frustration at delay to regeneration project

13 January 2021

A LEADING politician has called for greater progress on the planned redevelopment of a prime town centre site in the heart of Downpatrick.

Cllr Dermot Curran says he is frustrated that no reports have been provided by Newry, Mourne and Down Council officials on what will be the biggest retail and commercial investment project in the town in decades.

Last November, Cllr Curran and several members of a working group set up to oversee the regeneration scheme being spearheaded by the local authority and the Department for Communities were left disappointed at the detail of a progress report they were presented with following a meeting with officials from both organisations and consultants also involved in the process.

Cllr Curran claimed there was “no direction or vision” for the Irish Street scheme outlined during the November meeting, despite almost 20 expressions of interest in the sprawling site which extends back towards St Patrick’s Avenue and includes a number of empty buildings adjacent to the former police base and the Irish Street car park.

He said no details were provided about those who have expressed an interest, describing a subsequent report outlined by council officials at the last month’s meeting of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) Committee as “very disappointing”.

He said it was subsequently decided — with the agreement of the full council — that a “full, updated report” would be given at Monday’s ERT Committee.

But while the item was not formally listed on the agenda for discussion, the issue was raised by Cllr Curran who was assured that a full report would be available for the committee’s February meeting.

It is understood that council officials have been attempting to organise a meeting with the Department for Communities to discuss what happens next in relation to the planned redevelopment of the site.

A development brief — which will ultimately pave the way for the redevelopment of the former Irish Street site — is due to be completed shortly after which a meeting involving all the various parties will be arranged.

The Recorder understands that the finishing touches are being put to the development brief for the two acre site designed to encourage private sector investment.

A 12-week consultation on the future of the site was completed in the summer with senior council officials, politicians and members of the business community excited at the Irish Street site’s development potential.

While the former police base enjoys protected status, it is hoped that potential developers will be able to come up with an imaginative plan for the historic building and that a preferred bidder can be appointed to pave the way for the eagerly-awaited start of work on one of the town’s biggest ever regeneration schemes.

Cllr Curran said that given that the Irish Street revitalisation scheme can act as a catalyst for the wider economic and social regeneration of the town centre, it was important that progress continued to be made.

He said the compilation of the development brief will allow the government department to set out its regeneration requirements and conditions of sale for the site which it currently owns.

Cllr Curran said Downpatrick residents and the town’s business community are eager to discover what progress is being made with many sharing his concern, particularly in relation to a lack of detail.

“Like many, I am eager to see the regeneration of the Irish Street site begin as soon as possible. It is also something that we must get right given that this is the last remaining town centre site available for development,” he continued. “I firmly believe that this eagerly-awaited regeneration scheme can provide a boost for existing businesses.”

It has been reported that several High Street retailers have expressed an interest in opening stores at this part of the town and it remains to be seen if this interest remains in the light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Curran hopes these leading retailers remain committed to Downpatrick to trade alongside existing businesses, many of them family-owned.

He continued: “The Irish Street redevelopment proposal offers great potential and can provide a vibrant retail hub that will benefit the business community increasing footfall. 

“As I have previously said, the redevelopment of this large, town centre area provides a unique opportunity, the like of which is simply never going to be available again. The project has the potential to help transform Downpatrick’s economic fortunes and we need to get this right.

“People want to see progress and it is important that we keep the public as informed as possible about progress on this eagerly-anticipated scheme.”

Cllr Curran said the completion of the development brief was key to moving forward and he was keen to see work commencing to transform the Irish Street and boost Downpatrick’s economic fortunes.