Council consultants say no new Newry car parks needed

North Street car park.North Street car park.
North Street car park.
​Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s decision to lodge planning applications for two new city centre car parks flies in the face of the findings of its own parking survey, carried out last November, that Newry had ample parking and no new city centre car parks were needed.

The survey was carried out by SYSTRA, one of the world’s leading consulting groups specialising in public transport and mobility solutions, to support the council’s controversial planning application to build itself new offices behind Newry Cathedral.

SYSTRA presented the findings to the council in January this year after surveying off-street parking and 18 on-street car parks.

No new car parks needed

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North Street car park.North Street car park.
North Street car park.

The findings of the SYSTRA report are clear and emphatic - no further car park provision is needed in Newry City centre.

And they couldn’t have been any clearer in the survey report:

The results of this analysis [of a series of car parking occupancy surveys] indicate that significant reserve parking capacity exists within the city centre of Newry and that the removal of the Abbey Way MSCP will not pose parking capacity issues.

Newry City Centre is served by an abundance of car parking, that exceeds the daily parking demands, as demonstrated by the November 2023 parking surveys.

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The 2023 city centre parking surveys have demonstrated that there is more than sufficient parking capacity within the city centre to accommodate the parking demands of the proposed Hub development, plus that of other city centre committed developments.

The surveys have clearly demonstrated that there will continue to be an abundance of parking provision at the weekend, protecting the viability of the city centre for retail customers and visitors.

They also declared: It is therefore SYSTRA’s professional opinion that no further parking provision [no new car parks] is required.

Councillors unaware

From what can be established, reading council documentation and speaking with councillors, unlike previous surveys, this time SYSTRA’s November survey results and findings were not presented to either the Newry City Centre Regeneration (NCCR) Programme Board or the council’s Strategy, Policy and Resources committee, which according to the Newry regeneration governance structures the council is supposed to follow, are charged with scrutinising and deciding upon major Newry regeneration decisions before they go to full council for ratification - including ratepayer-funded capital projects to build two car parks the council’s consultants said aren’t needed.

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Councillors spoken to confirmed they did not know SYSTRA’s conclusion was that no new car parks were needed in Newry.

Cecil Street

Two months after receiving the SYSTRA findings, the council lodged a planning application in March for a 49-space free staff car park at Cecil Street in Newry.

The car park is for those working at the proposed new offices across the city at Abbey Way with a staff shuttle service being considered between both sites.

Again, from what can be ascertained, elected representatives were not made aware decisions previously ratified by councillors at a full council meeting in 2020, that there was to be NO off-site car parking for their new offices, had been overturned or bypassed to allow a planning application for Cecil Street to go forward.

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Some councillors only learned of this decision at the April meeting of the Newry City Centre Regeneration (NCCR) Programme Board (charged with overseeing and directing the council offices project) weeks after the 15/3/2024 application date and seven months after the first Cecil Street car park drawings were produced by the council itself in September 2023. Other councillors heard from local media.

North Street

The council’s planning application for a 301-space pay and display public car park at North Street is dated May 5, 2024.

Councillors at the NCCR April meeting were only advised that a planning application for North Street would be lodged within weeks, even though consultants AECOM provided a draft copy of supporting documentation to the council in January, but it was not made available to the Programme Board’s February meeting.

The April meeting, it is believed, was the first councillors heard of the North Street planning application plans.

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A number of elected representatives spoken to confirmed they had not been made aware of council projects to build car parks at Cecil Street or North Street.

Councillors not told cost to ratepayers

It has not been possible to find out what the estimated costs are to build the two car parks and remarkably councillors haven’t been told.

It is known that at the April NCCR Programme Board meeting, council management were questioned on the costs that will be borne by ratepayers.

Remarkably, considering the car parks are new major council capital projects, with planning applications already lodged, management could not tell elected representatives what the estimated costs were.

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Councillors there told the costings would be provided when more detail was available.

However, one local surveyor with years of experience working on multi-million pounds capital projects across the UK and Ireland, has estimated, based on the information in the council’s planning application, that to formalise and provide 301 car park spaces in North Street could cost ratepayers between £3m and £4m while they estimated Cecil Street could cost between £300k and £400k.