Individual Post
Post Date : Mon 08 Oct 2018 08:31 AM
Newry Mitchels GAA club could lose pitch to make way for road

A NEWRY GAA club is set to lose its pitch to make way for "one of the most challenging ever" roads to be built in Northern Ireland.

The creation of a new proposed route linking the main Belfast to Dublin road with the Warrenpoint dual carriageway could see the road slice through the home of Newry Mitchels at Gerry Brown Park.

It is among a number of significant challenges facing road planners in the building of the new Newry southern relief road, which could also impact some people living in the Fathom area of the city.

SDLP councillor Michael Savage said concerns of residents and members of Newry Mitchels "must be addressed as the project progresses".

The preferred route was announced by the Department for Infrastructure last week after it was selected from a list of five proposals.

Linking the A1 Belfast to Dublin road with the Warrenpoint dual carriageway, it would allow traffic to travel to and from Warrenpoint Port without having to drive through central Newry.

The preferred route would stretch from the Greenbank Industrial Estate to Ellisholding Junction approaching the Republic's M1.

Described by roads enthusiast Wesley Johnston as "one of the most challenging ever conceived here", among the challenges facing planners is that the route is expected to pass close to the quarry at Drumalane as well as an ancient woodland.

A two-lane bridge over Newry canal and a climbing lane up Fathom Mountain will also have to be built.

The proposal, which is subject an Environmental Impact Assessment, a public consultation and funding approval, comes just five years after plans to build the nearby cross-border Narrow Water Bridge, across the Newry River linking counties Down and Louth, were shelved.

While a detailed design of the new road is not expected to be completed until late 2019, there are already concerns from local people about the impact it will have.

It is believed Newry Mitchels will face significant change if the road is given the final go-ahead, as it will go directly through its land.

Founded in 1956, the club has won four Down senior titles in the 1960s and boasts the likes of Sean O’Neill, Kevin O’Neill and Val Kane in their ranks down the years.

Just last year the club called on the community to rally as they try to fend off the threat of folding amid a struggle for numbers.

Newry SDLP councillor Michael Savage, who has been liaising with residents and Newry Mitchels said their concerns have to be considered by planners going forward.

"Back in April I was approached by residents of Fathom area of Newry who will be impacted greatly by the construction of the southern relief road and held several meetings with them and facilitated engagement at a full consultation and one to one discussion with DFI officials leading this scheme back in May," he said.

"Newry, Mourne and Down council fully supports this vital infrastructure project which will help sustain and grow our economy in the city and district and assist in the development of Warrenpoint Harbour.

"I fully support the need for this scheme and agree with the business case for it but also believe that the needs and concerns of the residents of Fathom and the members of Mitchels GAC impacted by the new road must be addressed and their voices heard.

"I have received a commitment from DFI officials that they will take the time to engage fully with residents and work through the issues over the coming months and I will hold them to that.

"I want to see this road scheme completed to boost our economy and ease traffic congestion and reduce high levels of pollution in Newry but I also want to see it completed with the support of residents impacted by it.

"This is a very difficult road scheme to engineer and it is important that the time is taken to deal with the environmental, maritime and heritage challenges and ensure that the families who own the nine properties impacted by the scheme, some of whom have lived there for generations are treated fairly by DFI."

Mr Savage said that a "full consultation is planned with Newry Mitchels GAC members who will lose their pitch in the proposed scheme".

"I have raised the issue of Newry Mitchels losing its pitch as part of this scheme with those leading the project," he said.

"I welcome the engagement that is planned between DfI officials to discuss compensating the club and working with council to find a new home for Mitchels when the road progresses.

"Like the residents of Fathom the members of Mitchels need to have their needs met and a new pitch must be identified and developed before construction.

"This new road is a significant boost for Newry and I welcome it, however, the success of the scheme will be judged on the level of partnership reached with the residents and the club that are in its path."

The proposed route will also pass close to the busy Greenbank Industrial Estate. While businesses in the estate may not be impacted by the road as a flyover is anticipated to be built over it, there are fears about the impact the ongoing work will have on the area.

Jim O'Keefe, managing director of Corn Dolly Foods, said he wanted to be "consulted" on the scheme.

"We know nothing about it at all," he said.

"We didn't even know there was due to be an announcement about it the other day. Greenbank Industrial Estate is hard enough to get in and out of at the best of times, there is only one road in and one road out.

"I would imagine the traffic disruption will get even worse if this work begins, so I feel it is important that local businesses are consulted to see what impact the new road may have on us."

Roads enthusiast Wesley Johnston said the proposed route will be a massive project for road planners.

"In terms of the road, it's one of the most challenging ever conceived here - combining steep gradients, a former quarry, bridging a navigable river, proximity to an area of special scientific interest and limited space," he said.

"DfI think it can be done, and this route is both the cheapest option considered, and the one that offers the most benefits. It's close enough to the city to double as a partial southern 'ring road' for the town."

However, the preferred route has been welcomed as a "key step forward for the major infrastructure project".

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said it would "provide a road link from the A2 Warrenpoint Carriageway to the A1/NI Dublin Belfast corridor - a route that is increasingly seen as one of the most strategic transport links in Ireland".

"This is great news for local commuters and the wider Newry and south Down business community who have been campaigning for an end to the congestion in Newry city," he said.

"Not only will the delivery of this key infrastructure project improve journey times and accessibility to both Newry City and Warrenpoint Port, but it will also significantly improve road safety and traffic congestion within the local area."

Clare Guinness, CEO of Warrenpoint Port said it was "vital this project moves promptly onto stage three and delivery".

"This crucial piece of infrastructure has the potential to significantly improve the economic prosperity of the region by improving access to the Port thereby supporting trade growth," she said.

"It will also open up the eastern side of Newry for potential commercial development."