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A happier new year

Addressing problems such as emigration, currency fluctuations and difficulties in the housing market may have set the news agenda in 2012 – but a series of initiatives worth ion the region of £50m could make 2013 a happier new year for Newry and Mourne. A number of key projects including Narrow Water Bridge, the new downhill mountain bike trails at Kilbroney as well as public realm schemes in Newry and Warrenpoint promise to directly bolster the local education, tourism, transport and recreation sectors whilst providing spin-offs for the local retail and hospitality businesses. The Problem: Latest government figures reveal that at nearly six per cent Newry and Mourne has the sixth highest rate of unemployment out of Northern Ireland’s 26 districts. This statistic is made even more worrying given that the district – with its near 100,000 residents – is the fourth most populous. As a result of such difficulties in the job market thousands of young people have left the district in search of greater opportunity abroad. Although no exact figure is available a recent survey of parishioners of Warrenpoint St Peter’s Church yielded 250 names of emigrants who would not be home for Christmas. This figure did not include those who had come from home – or indeed the many more who have no connection with St Peter’s Church. This exodus of young people also places considerable pressure on an already faltering property market with fewer first time buyers willing to purchase a home – in turn making it more difficult for homeowners hoping to sell up in order to move to a more valuable premises. Compounding matters is the fact that on January 1 2009 a Euro was valued at nearly 98p – a price that enticed tens of thousands of cross border shoppers to the city. Today a Euro buys less than 81.5p something that has led to a considerable fall in southern traffic coming into the city to shop. Solutions: The biggest project that has the potential to stimulate the local economy is undoubtedly the Narrow Water Bridge. Valued at over £18m it is hoped to draw in thousands of visitors and millions of pounds of annual spend. Building work is expected to begin on the project in the summer months with the project earmarked for completion in 2015. A number of other complimentary projects are also in the offing that would  firmly place the wider Carlingford  Lough region on the map. These include the Geotourism project that will link and promote the Cooley-Mourne-Gullion area (£1.4m), the Mourne Coastal Driving Route (£278,000) which is scheduled for completion by the end of March and the proposed Greenore – Greencastle ferry (£6.45m) that continues top develop. Cycling also looks to be a big winner in 2013 with the opening of the £1.9m downhill mountain bike trails at Kilbroney and Castlewellan – facilities that are expected to draw thousands of visitors to south Down on an annual basis. Meanwhile on the south side of Carlingford Lough a  €687,000 project will see a 6.2km cycle track developed along the old railway line – with Warrenpoint’s Church Street receiving a £1.4m facelift and the city stretch of Newry Canal benefiting from a £2.45m upgrade. It is hoped both schemes will aid the local retail and hospitality sector – with plans of a Shop Local campaign also developing. In addition to these projects Newry and Mourne District Council will also begin the on site works for a new £9m swimming pool at Rooney’s Meadow – whilst Gaelaras, the new Irish Language centre (£495,000) at Chapel Street will open its doors this month. What’s more nearly £12m looks set to be pumped into the local school estate – with the long anticipated merger of the Abbey Primary / St Clare’s (£6m) and St Joseph’s PS (£5.8m)set to go ahead in the coming months. In indeed it has been confirmed that on site works will begin on the St Joseph’s project in March. These works will prove timely – given that the Census 2011 revealed that Newry and Mourne had one of the youngest populations in Northern Ireland with over 23,500 children – around 6,200 of whom are under the age of four. The Verdict: Times may still be challenging but these and a number of other projects promise to open new avenues to developing a brighter future.


Newry Reporter

2nd January 2013