‘Questions’ over Council HQ plans

‘Questions’ over Council HQ plans

8 May 2024

A LOCAL politician has accused Newry, Mourne and Down Council of potentially wasting ratepayers’ money on a new administrative base in Newry.

Downpatrick councillor Cadogan Enright says he is alarmed at “the ongoing saga” over the organisation’s proposal to build a new headquarters in the grounds of Newry Cathedral car park.

He said roads officials have expressed opposition to the proposal.

Cllr Enright said council officials knew the issues with parking and were made aware that staff and visitors would need somewhere to park.

He also described plans for a staff car park more than a kilometre away from the proposed new headquarters at Cecil Street as “obviously impractical”.

Cllr Enright said roads officials have stated that building on the car park removes 243 spaces from the city centre and that such a building would require 220 spaces of its own.

“One does not have to be an expert to see that this application is short of 463 car parking spots in Newry City Centre as pointed out in the letter of opposition to this proposal by DfI Roads,” he continued.

“It is no wonder that this planning application has attracted more than 2,500 objections led by many businesses in Newry City Centre affected by this proposal as well as the congregation at Newry Cathedral.”

Cllr Enright claimed parking survey figures which formed part of the planning application were based on surveys carried out during the Covid pandemic.

He continued: “In my opinion, any Council making a planning application should be an exemplar of excellence in its approach to planning, especially given they have had planning functions bestowed to them since April 2015.

“Councils should be leading with their own planning applications in terms of quality and appropriateness in any development.”

Cllr Enright claimed local authority officials have been refusing to answer his “long list of financial and governance questions” around the Newry project.

They focused on the cost benefit case, why such a large building is required when the Civil Service has made it clear it has withdrawn plans to be a tenant in the proposed new building and why other city centre derelict sites with no parking problem like the old Lidl or Dunnes sites were considered?

Cllr Enright continued: “Most pertinently of all, why do we need a second HQ when we already have one in Downpatrick and really only need a small modern office block for council staff in Newry?”

Cllr Enright confirmed he has written to the Audit Office about the “failure of council officials” to table his questions at Newry City Regeneration Board meetings where I represents Alliance Party.

He has also raised concerns with the Local Government Ombudsman.

Cllr Enright continued: “This appears to be a huge waste of public funds and the planning application appears riddled with holes and inconsistencies, while DfI Roads has made its position clear on this application and it appears to be exactly what people in Newry have been saying all along.”

Cllr Enright has also called on the local authority’s 30 Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors to “stop blindly supporting” the project and finally start to address questions that Alliance have repeatedly raised about the project.

A Newry, Mourne and Down Council spokeswoman said the proposal relates to a project currently being considered under the organisation’s live planning application process.

She added: “The Council has therefore no further comment to make on matters due to be addressed in the formal planning process.”