Sinn Fein and SDLP ‘failing to respect pledges over masterplan scheme’

Sinn Fein and SDLP ‘failing to respect pledges over masterplan scheme’

13 March 2019

SINN Fein and the SDLP have been accused of back-tracking on their commitment to a blueprint for the future development of Downpatrick.

Independent councillor Cadogan Enright claims politicians from both parties have “failed to respect their public pledges to the people” over the implementation of the Downpatrick Masterplan.

He has also accused them of allowing an imbalance in council spending between Downpatrick and Newry to continue.

The Masterplan was drawn up in 2010 and was seen as a long term vision for Downpatrick’s economic future.

It included a number of major infrastructure projects, including two new roads, the development of a new retail quarter, the extension of the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway and a new country park which would connect with the Quoile Pondage Nature Reserve.

In May 2017 most of the proposed schemes were axed by Newry, Mourne and Down Council, leading to accusations that spending was earmarked for Newry at the expense of Downpatrick.

Local politicians condemned what they described as a watering down of the Masterplan and demanded that the changes were scrapped.

They included then South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie, her successor, Sinn Fein’s Chris Hazzard, SDLP MLA Colin McGrath and the town’s five councillors — the SDLP trio of Gareth Sharvin, Dermot Curran and John Trainor, Sinn Fein’s Naomi Bailie and Cllr Enright.

Cllr Enright said a motion he drew up calling on the council to reinstate the Downpatrick Masterplan 

Implementation Group — a working group led by Downpatrick councillors — was initially backed by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, only for their support to be withdrawn after the Westminster General Election in June 2017.

Cllr Enright said the council subsequently approved several major schemes for the Newry area, including a new council headquarters and a 7.4 kilometre dual carriageway.

He went on: “Downpatrick’s planned Quoile River Park around the Mound of Down and Cathedral has gone. Instead we have a council working group delivering the Newry River Park in the Albert Basin.

“The project to upgrade the Quoile River barrier so boats can once again get to Downpatrick Quays has vanished while we spent millions fixing Victoria lock and the Newry Canal so boats can get to Newry’s centre.

“The council was happy to vote funds and designate Narrow Water Bridge as a priority to relieve pressure on Newry and develop links to the Republic, but finishing Downpatrick’s Eastern Distributor Road linking the hospital and the Belfast Road is not considered priority by the two parties.”

Cllr Enright added: “To be clear, I have no problem with the SDLP and Sinn Fein spending money in Newry. But I do have a problem when exactly the same spending headings in the Downpatrick Masterplan are refused funding.

“I would ask the people of Downpatrick and Lecale to remember this when deciding how to vote in May’s local elections.”

In response Mr McGrath accused Cllr Enright of electioneeering.

“One can always be assured when there is an election coming up Cllr Enright engages in his favourite pastime of bashing the political parties,” he said.

“However if there are failures on the council, as Cllr Enright highlights, then he should realise that he is only highlighting his failures as a councillor to effect change.”

Mr McGrath said he agreed with Cllr Enright in that Downpatrick “could do with more service and delivery and I work tirelessly to help achieve this”.

He went on: “Where I disagree with Cllr Enright is that I will never bash my town or ridicule it.  I am proud of it.

“While I want to see more for our area I recognise that since I joined  the council over a decade ago we have seen a new leisure centre, the new college campus, the new bus station, a new council administrative centre, the new Downe Hospital — although I want to see more in it — new school buildings with more to come, new playgrounds in our town and surrounding area, new streetscape projects throughout the town centre, delivery of hundreds of social and affordable homes, the extended Ballymote Community Facility and the Ballymote Sports and Wellbeing centre, plus much much more.

“Again, while I want to see more, I think for Cllr Enright to breeze into our town and tell us it is not in good shape is a bit rich. I would rather listen to the views of local people than those from outside our area.”

Mr McGrath added: “Downpatrick has always been best served when its councillors work together and Cllr Enright would do well to work in partnership with elected representatives of all shades, rather than in a combative divisive manner.

“Should Cllr Enright get re-elected in May the SDLP will sit down with him and any elected representative to discuss the best ways to develop our town that he has moved into.”

Sinn Fein declined to comment.