With three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty showing volcanic landscapes, mountains and drumlins, a coastline stretching from Strangford to Carlingford Lough, the Newry, Mourne and Down Council District area encompasses some of Northern Ireland’s most breath-taking vistas.
Planning for the future
As the third largest council in Northern Ireland, Newry, Mourne and Down serves approximately 178,000 residents and 7,500 businesses, most of which are classified as micro or small businesses. It has a commitment to building sustainable economic development in the district, while at the same time, protecting its historic cities and towns.
Since the formation of the new Council in 2015, Newry, Mourne and Down has developed, implemented and taken part in a number of ambitious projects and programmes, all of which are designed to enhance the district’s well-deserved reputation as a place to be for tourism, leisure and business activities.
One of the most far-reaching and important of these programmes is the Belfast Region City Deal. This proposal, which brings together six councils in Northern Ireland including Newry, Mourne and Down, is designed to achieve a step change in economic performance along the economic corridor from Belfast to Dublin. Its objectives are more and better jobs, improved skills and the growth of both domestic and foreign direct investment markets. These ambitious plans are aiming to secure investment of £1 billion, over a 10-year investment plan, across the City Deal Region and are a key part of the Council’s response to the challenges of Brexit.
City Deals have been established in England, Scotland and Wales. One of the benefits for the local City Deal is that additional funding, outside of the Block Grant, will be made available and new powers will be devolved to support our infrastructure which will act as a powerhouse for economic development along the Border Corridor.
As part of this strategy, the Council has identified a number of key projects that will be fundamental, including a rural broadband infrastructure that will deliver superfast levels, enhancing connectivity through better use of technology.
Other projects that have been identified as contributing to improving the district’s economic profile include the Newry regeneration plans and the development of Warrenpoint Marina to encourage tourism and local enterprise. The Mournes Gateway Project will play an important part in developing the potential of the Mournes, by further opening up Slieve Donard to tourism and other economic opportunities.
The Newry regeneration project will provide a new civic centre as well as cultural and arts facilities. The Canal area of Newry is also being given a facelift with restoration work to a value of £92,000 on the Newry Canal Lock No 5. There are also plans to create a park at the Albert Basin. Once the Canal Lock is completed, it will encourage both visitors and local people to use the towpath.
The flagship development of Kilkeel Harbour along with Ardglass Harbour and fishing village is also an important project which is being developed in partnership with Kilkeel Strategic Partnership, Invest NI and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. This will bring major benefits to both Harbours, as the areas profit from increased activity as landing and processing ports.
The powers, policies and plans coming from the City Deal are becoming more important as Brexit grows closer. Brexit will provide many challenges for Northern Ireland but the greatest challenges will be for the 0.5 million people that live along the border, both politically and economically. The Council is taking all measures to alleviate the problems that Brexit brings and provide appropriate solutions.
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is currently working in a strategic alliance with other councils on both sides of the Border, agencies and business organisations in both jurisdictions to ensure that it is ready for the challenges ahead.
A recent conference, hosted by the Council, brought together representatives from Louth County Council, the Newry and Dundalk Chambers of Commerce, InterTradeIreland and Local Enterprise Offices in Newry and Louth. Keynote speaker, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, talked about the priorities for the next phase of negotiations while other speakers provided advice on taxation, customs and movement of people.
The Council is also working proactively with councils in the Border Corridor, particularly with Louth County Council and the East Border Region Partnership. This cross border body works to improve economic development in the region, particularly with regard to improving cross border infrastructure. With its status as an Implementation Body for the EU funded INTERREG VA Programme, it has become an important part of mitigating the issues around Brexit and uncertainties about the form a border will take.
The Council has been successful in securing EU funds to progress improvement projects. Funds of €3.4 million under the INTERREG VA programme have been secured to continue phase 2 of the Greenway project. The project is creating a cross border green travel route from Newry to Carlingford. When completed, there will be 52km of Greenway along the east coast of Ireland and it will be possible to walk or cycle between Belfast and Dublin, providing opportunities for both leisure and tourism.
Another important development is the plan to progress the Southern Relief Road, which will link the A1 Dublin Road with the A2 Warrenpoint Road. This project will provide a vitally important transport link between South Down and the Republic of Ireland, ensuring the future of Warrenpoint Harbour and will act as an economic driver for the entire region.
An environment for business to flourish
The Council has also been proactive in its drive to create an environment where businesses, both large and small, can flourish. The Business Start Programme, which is part of the Go For It programme, funded through Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund, was launched in 2017 and is supporting 167 new businesses.
Newry, Mourne and Down has been successful in turning financial support into sales and employment with assistance from Invest NI. Businesses supported by Invest NI in the district are outperforming their counterparts in the rest of Northern Ireland, in terms of sales per employee, by around 25 per cent. While the public sector makes up a substantial part of employment in the district, it is lower than the Northern Ireland average and the private sector is correspondingly greater.
Newry, Mourne and Down has it all: an outstanding environment and unparalleled potential for economic activity of all kinds. Its links with both the Republic of Ireland and other areas in Northern Ireland mean that it is perfectly placed for business to thrive and grow locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.