Developers asked to show interest in Irish Street site

Developers asked to show interest in Irish Street site

24 June 2020

DEVELOPERS will shortly be asked to submit expressions of interest in transforming a major site in the heart of Downpatrick to help bolster the town’s economic recovery.

The Department for Communities and Newry, Mourne and Down Council are driving ambitious plans to redevelop a near two acre site encompassing the former Irish Street police station, a number of adjacent empty buildings and the local authority-owned car park.

While it was feared that the coronavirus pandemic could delay plans to redevelop of the huge site, work has continued on the project with a new brochure produced to provide would-be developers and other interested parties with an overview of the site’s potential and secure expressions of interest.

The development site stretches as far back as St Patrick’s Avenue and is also adjacent to the Irish Street car park, with council officials looking to make the brochure available to the public virtually.

Described as a “strategic and prominent location in the heart of Downpatrick”, senior council officials, politicians and members of the business community are excited at the Irish Street site’s development potential and are working towards drawing up a development brief.

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 will be appointed as early as October and as late as the end of the year.

The council and the Department for Communities are keen to revitalise Irish Street and hope its redevelopment will act as a catalyst for the wider economic and social regeneration of the town. 

Council officials say that the Irish Street project is vital to the recovery of the local economy, improving the wellbeing of the community and a welcome confidence boost for the construction sector.

In addition, they insist that they’re committed to working with the Downpatrick business community, residents and other stakeholders on the redevelopment of the site and want to hear their feedback on the way forward.

The steering group set up to oversee the Downpatrick scheme held a recent progress meeting and council chairwoman Laura Devlin said she was delighted with the project’s momentum.

She confirmed that councillors and local authority officials have been working with the Department for Communities and local stakeholders to develop an ‘online engagement process’.

She explained this is designed to inform the preferred end uses for the Irish Street site and allow key stakeholders to have input into the development brief which is critical to the success of the project.  

“While the Downpatrick regeneration scheme is in the early developmental stages, it will also stimulate significant investment for the local economy,” she added.

John Armstrong, from the Construction Employers Federation, said the scheme and a number of others the council is planning for the Newry area, will provide a boost for the local construction sector.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard and Downpatrick councillors Dermot Curran and Oonagh Hanlon have welcomed the progress being made on redeveloping he site.

Mr Hazzard described the regeneration project as a “unique and exciting opportunity”, one which has the potential to unlock much-needed economic and social opportunity for the town centre and wider community.

“This regeneration project must act as a catalyst for the long overdue expansion of the town’s evening and weekend economy; its new heartbeat in some respects,” he continued.

“Given the site’s close proximity to nearby homes, the project must also be viewed as more than a commercial development. It must seek to bind together the town centre with the outlying housing developments and consequently look to improve the economic and social wellbeing of the local community.” 

Cllr Curran agreed that the Irish Street site offered a “unique opportunity” for the development of business, employment and tourism.

He thanked council committees and Department for Infrastructure for supporting the project.

He said: “The Irish Street project represents the single biggest change to the town centre in a generation. It has the potential to transform Downpatrick and it’s vital everyone works together to make the regeneration proposal a major success.

“The planned redevelopment is one of the most important projects ever proposed for Downpatrick and it is vital to make the most of the opportunities it presents. The proposal has the potential to add a new vibrancy with local people helping shape how this key site will be transformed.”

Cllr Hanlon said she was pleased that the next stage of the site’s redevelopment is ready for launch, allowing potential developers and interested parties an opportunity to view the site online, with feedback from the local community welcomed.

“People will be able to give their views on the potential for the site and the likely constraints within any proposed project,” she explained. “Any feedback would be used to assist both the council and Department for Communities to prepare a development brief for the site.”

Cllr Hanlon added: “The project to redevelop the former police base and surrounding area provides an opportunity to reinvigorate the Downpatrick town centre. This is the opportunity of a generation to restore a vibrant town centre and will build on the ongoing regeneration of the Irish Street area.”