A new play park for Newtownhamilton has been put on the back burner despite previously being fast-tracked through the Rural Development Programme.
Failure to secure planning permission on the agreed site at Jim Steen Park has been described as “shambolic” by a local councillor.
Sinn Féin’s Barra Ó Muirí says the onus was now on Newry Mourne & Down Council to deliver a Play Area for a community who feel that they have been massively let down.
Commenting after it was revealed that the much anticipated new Play Area for Newtownhamilton was at this stage not going to happen, councillor Ó Muirí said: “We all feel let down and angry, the residents were promised a Play Park by Council after a lengthy process.
“I am also angry that Council Officials failed to act on my warnings around flooding concerns on the proposed site quickly enough.”
Explaining, he said: “Newtown was originally earmarked for year 4 of the Council’s Play Strategy, which meant the Park would have been built in 2021/2022, giving the community of Newtown ample opportunity to discuss possible sites, and crucially, to have have engaged in pre-planning consultation with all sites.
“Instead, Newtown was fast-tracked into the Rural Development Programme, which would have been fantastic had there been agreement as to where the park would be sited. Instead, at the Public Consultation two sites emerged, the Youth Club site and Jim Steen Park.”
A private vote was taken, with Playboard NI reporting that the majority had voted for Steen Park.
Councillor Ó Muirí continued: “In the weeks that followed, I was inundated with calls from residents feeling aggrieved at the consultation process.
“I called a public meeting in Newtownhamilton Community Centre, which was attended by 108 residents. Those in attendance unanimously voted to site the new Play Area at the Youth Club.”
The Sinn Féin elected representative said that he had consistently raised issues of concern in relation to Steen Park.
“I have consistently raised issues of concern since last summer around public health and safety concerns about a Play Park at Jim Steen Park,” he said.
Adding: “These included, access issues, lack of parking, traffic issues through Dungormley Estate, the security of the perimeter fence, lack of visibility of the park from Dungormley, the proximity to the football pitch, the proximity of the river and the threat of flooding. These concerns were ignored by Council when making their decision to opt for putting the Play Area in Steen Park
“Ultimately, it was several of these issues which led to the failure to secure planning permission, and with time running out to the March 31 deadline of the Rural Development Programme, a decision was made to drop the Newtown Park in favour of one which was shovel ready.”
He said that the present mood in Newtownhamilton was frustration and he described the whole process as shambolic.
“Frustration for those who were looking forward to a Play Park in Steen Park, frustration for those who predicted that these difficulties would arise. It has been shambolic how the process was handled, from start to finish, with Council Officers too slow to heed my advice.
“I made proposals at the majority of AHC meetings since the summer about the Play Park in Newtown, but still time was allowed to run out on this project. It is very disappointing.”
Councillor Ó Muirí has said that Newry Mourne and Down Council are duly obliged to deliver this much needed community facility.
“The community demand it and as local Councillor for the area I promise to do all I can to make the vision of a modern fit for purpose Play Area, a reality.
“All is not lost and we must remain united as a community. All stakeholders must be involved in any new community engagement and I expect that mistakes made over the past months by decision makers and those leading the project will not be repeated.”