Sunday, May 19, 2024

Priest says Newry worshippers have lost faith in council as unholy row over car park continues

A senior Catholic priest has said many of his parishioners have “lost faith” in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) after they were excluded from a meeting on city centre re-development.

Newry Cathedral Parish and council are at loggerheads over plans to build a new £20m civic centre on a car park used by mass-goers.

A petition with over 2,500 objections to the plan was recently handed in by the church.

The council is understood to have invited all the original participants involved in Newry City Centre Regeneration (NCCR) to a new working group.

The group, set up to oversee the Council’s “ambitious programme of works planned for the historic core of the City”, previously saw stakeholders such as businesses and Newry Cathedral Parish take part in meetings.

However, the latest invite has excluded the Parish — prompting a furious reaction from the church. 

Parish administrator, Canon Francis Brown said: “Once again, NMDDC has shown complete disregard for Newry Cathedral Parish and the thousands of parishioners we represent by excluding us from the new Newry City Centre Regeneration stakeholder working group.

“A number of parishioners feel this is an act of discrimination against our community on the basis of religious beliefs and they intend to take legal advice on the matter.

“Sadly, this is just the latest incident in a long line of disrespectful behaviour by the council towards our historic cathedral and parish community.”

The Council plans to build its new headquarters at Abbey Way in the centre of Newry, but the site currently provides off-street parking, including a multi-storey car park that the Catholic Church says is needed for worshippers at its Grade A listed building.

However, the local authority states that its new designs will provide more spaces for parishioners following an engineer’s survey of the car park.

NMDDC has previously referred to a parking survey of the Abbey Way site and has amended its HQ plans to provide 138 car park spaces at the site, which it says is above the maximum occupancy rates recorded for Cathedral users.

Following a media query, the council revealed it has been engaging with the Department for Communities (DfC) to lease nearby lands at North Street, 150 yards away, to potentially develop a major pay and park facility.

The site is currently a free parking zone used by city centre business employees.

Canon Brown added: “Although I am urging restraint for now, many parishioners have lost faith in this council’s ability to act with transparency and integrity, and calls are growing for more direct actions such as marches and pickets.

“Our cathedral has stood as a spiritual and cultural anchor of Newry for centuries. We will continue standing firm to ‘Save Our Cathedral’ from short-sighted decisions that prioritise bureaucratic vanity projects over community interests.

“The people of Newry Cathedral Parish demand better from their elected leaders. We urge the community to join us in demanding an end to this marginalisation of our historic parish.”

NMDDC has been contacted for comment.