Keep up with Armagh i

Newry Council increase rates by 6.41% amid concerns over capital project costs

Newry Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) has struck a rates increase of 6.41% amid concerns capital project costs could “hit ratepayers in the pocket”.

Local authority CEO Marie Ward requested that the item on rates should not be subject to a call-in as it would “cause unreasonable delay” with a deadline of February 15 to strike the rates.

Elected reps of Sinn Fein, DUP and the UUP supported the new rate at Monday (February 5) night’s full council meeting with the SDLP against and Alliance abstaining.

Rowallane DUP rep, Jonathan Jackson, said: “Tonight, we are confident that this rate protects vital council contributions to community events and projects while delivering a fair and realistic rate.

“As a party we have sought to improve council efficiency and beginning the process of a refuse service review.

“This vital front-line service is for many their only direct contact with council.

“At the moment I am sorry to say that reflection is poor, littered with complaints.

“Many residents across the district will ask, where is the value for money?”

He added: “There will be many here who will vote against tonight’s rate, blaming everyone else, misleading the public, spinning falsehoods and creating division.”

Downpatrick Sinn Fein cllr, Oonagh Hanlon, said: “We want to secure a stable financial budget for this district, secure funding for capital projects, continue to deliver for our communities and improve our services.

“It’s imperative that the council moves forward with plans to regenerate our towns and city and expand sustainable tourism for our district.

“It would be impossible to go down any further without cutting services, service level agreements (SLAs) and supporting community events and ensuring jobs are safe for our staff.”

In 2023, a rate increase of 5.99% was approved with the DUP and SDLP both abstaining.

New capital projects in NMDDC include a council civic centre, theatre and conference centre, the Albert Basin public park and the Mournes Gateway project which will cost tens of millions of pounds.

Mournes Alliance rep, Jill Truesdale said: “Our position is of having concerns regarding the viability of capital budget such as Newry city centre regeneration and the Mournes Gateway project.

“Council management has also not disclosed updated (Mourne gateway) project costs, which the Department for Economy (DfE) informed management of as of last November.

“This comes as the council plans is to spend £2m next year on a consultancy team for the project.

“We are not comfortable on embarking on such huge capital projects with speculative costs that may hit ratepayers in the pocket for years to come.

“Despite out concerns we fully support staff on the pay deal that they deserve after extensive negotiations.”

Slieve Gullion SDLP cllr, Pete Byrne added: “I disagree with the DUP, that any further cuts to the rates is going to hit community events or SLAs.

“We all agreed that there was no appetite for cutting SLAs. We want to grow events and capital projects in this district. We fully support the increased pay for public sector workers. We understand that there would need to be some sort of increase, but we need to do a bit more work on it. We need to roll up our sleeves and find savings in this council, get clarity on how we can use our capital fund to reduce our capital programme spend, so that we know that we are not biting off more than we can chew and don’t put the costs on the ratepayer.

“It’s a very disappointing paper in front of us and it’s very disappointing that parties are lapping it up saying we can’t do any more.”

Slieve Gullion UUP cllr, David Taylor, said: “I think it is very clear, that none of us are content at where we are.

“This is my fourth term on council and it is certainly the most challenging I have experienced and indeed all of us as councillors, trying to find a way of reducing the rates levels.

“It is a major challenge for us as a council to be able to deliver all that we want to do.

“But I know that a lot of work has gone in to get to this point.”

CEO Marie Ward clarified to the chamber saying: “Council cost estimates of capital projects haven’t increased, however there are ongoing discussions about the allowance that should be built into the project budget to cover possible future construction inflation and other risks.

“And that hasn’t been agreed at this point.

“Indeed, only last week I met the permanent secretary of the DfE and those discussions are ongoing

“A report on the project costs is due to be presented by our costs consultants at a meeting scheduled of the Mournes Gateway project imminently.

“But as previously highlighted that doesn’t impact the rates this year.”

Sign Up To Our Newsletter

Most read today

More in Newry