Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has reached a significant milestone in its ambitious regeneration plans for the district.

A Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) Contract for Funding has been agreed for Newry City Centre Regeneration Projects supported by the Deal. This will enable the Council to further progress them and draw down funding as it prepares to seek planning permission. These projects are the Theatre and Conference Centre and Civic and Regional Hub in Newry, for which £5 million BRCD funding has been allocated for its Public Realm, along with £3 million for a Grade A Office Accommodation Fund.

Overall, the BRCD deal, signed in December 2021, confirmed the commitment by its partners to deliver on over 20 major transformative projects throughout the City Deal region. Up to £1 billion is being invested by the NI Executive, UK Government, Belfast Region City Deal partners and the private sector. The benefits to Newry, Mourne and Down are transformative, with almost £200 million of investment for projects based in tourism, regeneration and infrastructure as well as other investments generated through digital, innovation and employability and skills.

The new Theatre and Conference Centre in Newry is part of plans to enhance cultural activity space in the heart of the City. The Council wants to attract more people into the centre, who stay for longer and form part of a more vibrant evening economy. Supporting that vision is an attractive public realm performance space to the rear of the centre, set to help regenerate the entire Sugar Island area.

The existing historic and Grade 2 listed Town Hall will be renovated under the plans, with a modern multi-functional venue built upon the site of the neighbouring Sean Hollywood Arts Centre. The existing Town Hall and new venue will be linked by a glazed atrium that will allow the two buildings to operate as a single venue. The new venue will have 255 seats capable of being used in a range of theatre configurations and for a range of uses, supported by the latest in audio visual and performance systems. Planning permission is expected to be submitted early 2023. Following contractor appointment, construction is expected to begin in late 2023.

Public Realm at the planned Civic and Regional Hub in Newry, is also currently being developed in consultation with local stakeholders. RIBA Stage 3 of the project is expected to be completed in Spring 2023, with construction expected to start in early 2024. The aim is to build an administrative centre befitting of Newry’s city status, attracting footfall and spend to Newry’s historic core.

The Contract for Funding is due to be signed in the coming days, following its approval at a meeting of full Council on 9 January.

Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme Board Co-Chairs, Cllr Pete Byrne and Cllr Declan Murphy said the agreement of the BRCD Contract for Funding was a very welcome development.

This is a significant step forward and a vote of confidence in Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s ambitious regeneration plans, now more than ever we need that massive boost to the local economy that will come from the BRCD investment in our area. As well as raising our profile as a global investment destination and capitalizing on our position along the Dublin to Belfast Economic Corridor, we will be ensuring we make a positive difference to those living in our most deprived communities.

Councillor Byrne, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

The Contract for Funding agreement is another important step forward in our regeneration plans. The overall BRCD investment in Newry, Mourne and Down will see the transformation of Newry City Centre, improve our transport networks through the creation of the Southern Relief Road, open up access to the Mournes through a state-of-the-art visitor attraction and boost our digital and innovation industries, all while investing in the provision of a focused employability and skills programme.

Councillor Murphy, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

Gerard Murray, Director of the Department for Communities Regional Development Office said, “The Department for Communities is working closely with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to support the development and delivery of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Projects supported by the Belfast Region City Deal.

“The agreement of the Contract for Funding for these projects is a significant milestone and an indication of the excellent collaboration between central and local government to deliver these exciting projects. As these projects are delivered, Newry’s residents and visitors can look forward to a reinvigorated, regenerated city centre.”

Alongside the City Deal projects, the Council has been liaising with the Department for Communities (DfC) to seek approval of its Outline Business Case for the Newry City Park. The rigorous review process is on schedule and expected to complete in the Spring. This has been developed to unlock the £16.2 million funding package announced in December 2021 as part of the Executive’s City/Growth Deal Complementary fund and will crucially see the first phase of the park taken forward.

As part of its wider regeneration plans, the Council in partnership with DfC and local stakeholders is also continuing to progress a strategic investment in Downpatrick Town Centre, with the newly formed Downpatrick Regeneration Group piloting a Living High Streets Craft Kit initiative aimed at rejuvenating the High Street.