Politicians blast council decision over sports hub

Politicians blast council decision over sports hub

20 January 2021

DOWNPATRICK councillors joined forces on Monday night to ensure that potential development plans for sports facilities at Dunleath Park in the town would remain a Newry, Mourne and Down Council priority.

They were angry with an officers’ recommendation that a notice of motion on the development of the area be referred to the Downpatrick District Electoral Area Forum, instead of the local authority setting up a dedicated working group to deal with the issue.

At a meeting of council’s Active and Healthy Communities Committee it was reaffirmed that Dunleath Park was located on a flood plain which could restrict what could be achieved at the site.

The area — which is used extensively by the Downpatrick Youth Football League and other sports clubs — has been considered as the potential site for a sports hub in the town, with council officials currently investigating the potential for a walking trail in the park as well.

A number of councillors expressed disappointment that the development of Dunleath Park was not going to be given the same priority as the local authority’s development plan for the Albert Basin site in Newry where a working group has been created to oversee the progress of this scheme.

Cllr Dermot Curran said Downpatrick a town centre sports facility for young people was needed more than ever, particularly during the coronavirus lockdown.

“There are so many things that could be done for Dunleath Park and I would have thought that a working group was the best way forward,” he said, expressing disappointment over the referral of the matter to the DEA Forum.

Cllr John Trainor also disagreed with the council recommendation, declaring: “We have pushed for a stand alone group to explore the feasibility of what can go on at this site.

“I would assume that the acreage of Dunleath Park would be similar to Newry’s Albert Basin and we should be taking a serious look at it as a town park complex. Many Downpatrick people feel that Dunleath is the town’s park for recreation and leisure.”

He made a counter proposal to establish a working group between council officers and the Downpatrick DEA councillors to progress the issue.

Cllr Oonagh O’Hanlon said: “I’m really disappointed with the officer’s report. We need to get the facts about the possibility of putting something on Dunleath Park or not. 

“There’s more to Dunleath that the actual pitches themselves. There is space around the back of Russell Park which is not being fully utilised as a town centre space. 

“Are we exhausting the possibility of what can be done or just kicking it down the road to the DEA which would not be able to make any actual decisions on it?”

Cllr Gareth Sharvin pointed out that the council recommendation was counter to his original notice of motion brought to the local authority last year.

“The development of Dunleath Park does merit a working group and while a flood risk assessment is being undertaken, that’s great as it will help us identify areas that can be developed,” he continued.

“The purpose of the working group is to prepare a shovel ready business case. The DEA Forum does not have the mechanics to get projects to that point.

“It’s also an opportunity for the council to clearly state to the people of the Downpatrick DEA that the council is doing something for sports and recreating within the town centre.”

Rowallane councillor, Billy Walker, also spoke in support of a dedicated working group being formed by the council.

“Downpatrick is the country town of Down and I believe that it shouldn’t just be left to – no disrespect to them – the DEA councillors,” he said.

“There should be a working group set up, something similar to the Albert Basin project, where everybody can play a part. Dunleath Park is not just for the people of Downpatrick, it’s for the people of the greater Down District area as soccer teams travel from Comber for the summer league.”

A proposal from Cllr Sharvin, seconded by Cllr Curran, for a working group to be set up to oversee the redevelopment of Dunleath Park will be discussed at the next monthly meeting of the full council in February.