SOUTH Down Alliance Party branch recently met in Ballynahinch in April for their monthly branch meeting.
Among the items on the agenda for discussion were the new location and plans for the Newcastle Leisure Centre, Narrow Water Bridge, the threatened closure of Burrenreagh Primary School outside Castlewellan, the sale of the former Downe Hospital site in Downpatrick and the closures of Danske Bank branches in Castlewellan and Newcastle.
Members also discussed and welcomed the opening of the new Mountain Bike Trails in Castlewellan and Kilbroney Forest Parks and the recent snow crisis which badly affected local communities and farmers in the Slieve Croob and Mournes. New Down District Councillor Patrick Clarke was also thanked for his efforts in assisting people in the Clanvaraghan and Slieve Croob areas following the snow crisis in late March.
Chairperson Michael Healy welcomed the recent environmental improvements carried out by Down District Council to derelict buildings in Ballynahinch, Dundrum, Newcastle and Downpatrick which have improved the appearance of the buildings and town centre’s immensely.
Brian Eggins urged the Department of Finance and the Stormont Executive to release the last remaining funding to allow the commencement of works to the Narrow Water Bridge which will link the counties of Down and Louth and which will help create employment, promote tourism and assist the local economies in counties down and louth.
Mary Smyth Farr also welcomed the former Downe Hospital in Downpatrick going on the open market. Once sold this site will help redevelop the wider derelict area and create jobs in the construction industry.
David Griffin welcomed the commencing of works to construct the new PSNI station at the Downshire Estate in Downpatrick which is now becoming a public sector hub with the relocation of Down District Council offices from Strangford Road to the new buildings at the Downshire site.
Members were pleased to note the moving of the NI Housing Executive from John Street to the Downshire site, the agreement by Northern Ireland Fire Brigade to take a unit at the Downshire Civic Centre and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust which is located at the Downshire site. Members agreed that all these agencies will help keep and maintain public sector jobs in Downpatrick and South Down.
Councillor Patrick Clarke urged other Government Departments such as DARD, DSD and DRD to consider de-centralisation from Belfast to locations such as the Downshire site in Downpatrick.
He also strongly condemned the closures of Danske Bank branches in Castlewellan and Newcastle and condemned Danske bank of putting profit before people and removing an important banking service to both towns.
South Down Alliance members were also very concerned at Down District Council’s failure to write to Danske Bank following Councillor Patrick Clarke receiving all party political support to his motion in February. The motion called on Down District Council to communicate to Danske Bank to reconsider the closures of bank branches in Castlewellan and Newcastle and to meet Councillors to help save the bank branches in Castlewellan and Newcastle. Councillor Patrick Clarke had received complaints from farming and business constituents following the Danske Bank announcement.
Members also supported Councillor Patrick Clarke’s recent written representations to both the CCMS and the Minister for Education regarding his strong opposition to the threatened closure of St. Patrick’s Primary school at Burrenregh outside Castlewellan. Members unanimously agreed that St. Patrick’s Primary School at Burrenreagh has been an important part of the local community and have called on both the CCMS and the Minister for Education to keep the local primary school open.
Discussion then took place regarding the proposed new site and plans for Newcastle Leisure Centre in Newcastle. South Down Alliance Party members urged Down District Council and all political parties to reach an agreement on a location in order to build the new leisure centre which members agreed is badly needed in the seaside town and would promote increased numbers of visitors and tourists.
Councillor Patrick Clarke stressed that the existing Newcastle Centre is now no longer fit for purpose due to the present state of the building and that there was now a very small window of opportunity for Down District Council to reach agreement and rubber stamp a deal to build the new proposed Newcastle Leisure Centre in Newcastle before the Review of Public Administration change-over and merging of existing Councils in 2015.
Concluding the meeting South Down Alliance Party members thanked the Deputy Leader and MP for East Belfast Naomi Long for attending the South Down Alliance Party AGM held in Newcastle earlier this year and also welcomed new South Down Alliance Party members who have recently joined the party.