'Strategic vision' needed to regenerate Newtownstewart

A TOWN masterplan for Newtownstewart is needed to unlock its potential and regenerate the town centre, a meeting of council has heard.

At the monthly meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Sinn Féin's Kieran McGuire received the unanimous support of the chamber for council to draw up a plan to help breathe new life into the town.

His motion was seconded by party colleague, Michaela Boyle.

"The town of Newtownstewart has been fighting hard to compete with the larger towns in this council area and neighbouring council areas," councillor McGuire said.

"It has been suffering from dereliction in some parts of the town especially on the approach roads at St Eugene's Street, Castle Brae, Dublin Street and to a lesser extent, Mill Street and Town Hall Street.

"A strategic vision is needed to revive the town centre and to combat the scourge of dereliction.

I have counted 17 businesses in the small town who have closed down or moved away to other towns.

"This needs reversed and supports put in place to support the existing businesses in the town."

Councillor McGuire said particular focus needs to be given to a car park within the town centre to help drive the recovery post COVID.

Potential

"Newtownstewart has massive potential especially with the sporting facilities nearby, the potential for the opening up of Newtownstewart Castle, the angling potential and the river walks with the proposed greenways hopefully coming on board in the near future," he continued.

"As part of the masterplan, a particular focus needs to be put on the potential for a car park within the town centre.

"As is the issue with most of the town centres, the lack of car parking is crippling the local town centre traders and I would ask that a particular priority is given to the feasibility of a car park in the town centre."

The SDLP's Steven Edwards said he was fully supportive of the motion.

He proposed an amendment, seconded by party colleague Jason Barr, which he said added to the original motion.

"I do welcome the establishment of the Rural Working Group which councillor McGuire is chair of and fully support the proposal before us for a town centre masterplan for Netwownstewart.

"I think it's important that the town receives the necessary investment especially post COVID-19 and I believe a masterplan would lay a solid foundation for that to happen.

"The motion is correct in that it refers to a lack of car parking space in the town. There's only one car park on Strabane Road and like councillor McGuire I've received soundings from the public in Newtownstewart that there is insufficient provision and that there is a need for more parking."

Councillor Edwards' amendment referred to matters of outdoor facilities and tourism potential.

He called for a greenway to be considered for the town "given their exists currently a massive deficit in outdoor green space.

Tourism

"The walkway at Vaughan's Holm is the only real outdoor green space that the town has. It's proved very popular especially over the pandemic and I would like to see more done in planning out for additional greenways and extending Vaughan's Holm for example, or in terms of simply connecting a footway to the A5 back around into Newtownstewart," he said.

Councillor Edwards said there is also a "massive lack of tourism initiatives" for the town.

He pointed to Baronscourt, Newtownstewart Castle and Harry Avery's Castle as prime facilities which should be utilised for tourism.

"Looking at the council strategies and those coming from Stormont, I don't see anything in there that relates to Newtownstewart at all," he added.

Ulster Unionist councillor, Alderman Hussey, also added his support saying it was a "natural follow on" to a motion he successfully brought calling on council to address service provision imbalance across the district.

"Us rural representatives, we are not crying wolf. Here is a real example of an issue that this council needs to grasp and sort out," he said.

"All of the issues contained within the motion are the needs that there are.

"They are objective needs that need to be addressed and that includes the added items that have come in via the amendment."

Alderman Hussey said the issue of car parking had been a long-standing one.

"Identification of a suitable area for that facility needs to be a priority to help the local traders in the recovery coming out of COVID.

Regeneration

"I think back to the City Deal announcements. Those include regeneration of areas in the city and Strabane town," he said.

"Members of our rural community, as we see in this motion, are also in need of regeneration and must not be left further behind.

"We were told City Deal was more than just an urban agenda therefore our entire council area must be enhanced beyond the boundaries of our two urban clusters."

He added: "We don't need buzz words. We need actions."

The DUP's Keith Kerrigan also spoke of the need for a greenway and the potential for a neighbourhood play park at Vaughan's Holm.

"Newtownstewart, I still maintain is the fourth settlement within our city and district. Somehow it seems to be forgotten to a certain extent," he said.

"There's so much more that can be done for Newtownstewart....We are relying on these businesses to continue to function in the town centre and to continue to pay rates.

"We have got to seen to be trying our best to support our town centres, particularly these rural smaller towns within our city and district.

"It's trying to continue to support those businesses who are the life and blood of these small town centres."

Alderman Kerrigan said it is important that council "do all we can" to "regenerate and build Newtownstewart up so that it does get its fair share of the pot."

The substantive motion, when put to the floor, was supported unanimously.

Councillor McGuire welcomed the support saying that he would like to see "something fruitful coming out of this from the council officers."

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