'Ridiculous proposal' angers councillors.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

A PROPOSAL to change Crossmaglen's status from a town to a village has been met with outrage from local councillors.

The reclassification of the town was revealed within Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's Local Development Plan, which was released at Thursday's (December 14) Strategy, Policy and Resources (SPR) Committee meeting.

As well as the proposed change to Crossmaglen's town status, Newtownhamilton was also recommended to be downgraded to a village.

Ballyholland and Attical were to be reclassified from a village to a small settlement, while Warrenpoint and Burren were to be considered as separate settlements with Warrenpoint retaining its town status and Burren being classed as a village.

However, it was also revealed in the plans that Bessbrook would be upgraded from a village to a town.

During the SPR meeting Slieve Gullion Councillor Pete Byrne proposed that Crossmaglen should retain its town status, which was backed by committee members. The SDLP representative's proposal must now be ratified at next month's full council meeting.

Councillor Byrne said he was "shocked" to find that the south Armagh town had been earmarked for reclassification, especially because of Crossmaglen's "infrastructure development".

"I was also keen to highlight the document's blatant contradiction in its criteria which became the basis for Crossmaglen's proposed reclassification," he said.

"In the document it states although some settlements like Crossmaglen have a significant number of services like a Health Care Centre, fire station and local library, its population of only 1,608 does not justify it being classified as a small town.

"However, it later states that populations should not dictate the classification alone but take into consideration the range of facilities provided and the ability to serve the wider area.

"Without its town status Crossmaglen would not have benefited from developments like the Cross Square Hotel, Casey's Supermarket and the state of the art Credit Union.

"In the face of Brexit, this reclassification has the potential to damage the town long term and hinder future infrastructure development."

Sinn Fein's Slieve Gullion Councillor Terry Hearty stated that the "ridiculous proposal" highlighted a "poor relation" attitude to the electoral ward by council officials.

"It [the proposal] will not happen," stated Councillor Hearty. "The committee that discussed the issue accept that and I fully expect the full council to pass our recommendation that there will be no change to the town status.

"I and my party fought hard to have south Armagh as a region included in our council area name.

"We argued at the time that the absence of any recognition of the Slieve Gullion area in the council area would send out the wrong message and would result in a negative impact on the towns, villages and communities of the area.

"This ridiculous proposal to change Crossmaglen from a town to a village once again confirms that we in the Slieve Gullion area are seen as the 'poor relations'."

Meanwhile, Crotlieve Councillor Oksana McMahon has called for Ballyholland to retain its village status.

The Sinn Fein representative pointed out that it would be inappropriate for the village to be downgraded to a small settlement as its current population "is on the increase".

A spokesperson for NMDC explained that Crossmaglen will retain its classification as a local/small town after the decision was taken by the SPR Committee.

"The council's Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee has considered a series of papers designed to provide the evidence base for preparing the Local Development Plan," continued the spokesperson. "The latest paper dealt with the strategic settlement hierarchy.

"Councillors attended a series of Local Development Plan workshops in October 2017.

Councillors agreed to a re-examination of the existing settlement hierarchy to consider whether any reclassification of settlements was needed.

"The paper presented to the committee represented the next stage in that process. In total 12 settlements were identified as being worthy of consideration for reclassification.

"The exercise also identified other locations for consideration as potential new small settlements.

"The report to the SPR Committee was designed to inform councillors. Councillors were not being asked to make a decision in relation to the reclassification of any of the 12 settlements identified."


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