John McCullagh March 14, 2005
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I am constantly shocked at the dilapidated state of our town’s streets, at the numbers of abandoned and derelict buildings and yes, at the run-down state of many of the business premises. All of this is in marked contrast with the showy opulence of suburbia, which by the way, stretches now deep into our once pristine rural heartlands. All of this begs the question, just where did all that investment money from the International Fund for Ireland and the European Union go?

Some of the groups which captured and managed these funds have offices in the town centre.  Even these are a shocking disgrace! I have never seen the Newry Regeneration Project office on The Mall open; the Invest Northern Ireland office needs some investment, obviously; and just look at the paint peeling off the LEADER offices. These are but a few examples.

What were the Great Ideas on which friendly and much needed foreign funds were lavished? I would love to be corrected, but I am of the strong opinion that certain well-placed people of property persuaded fund managers to help improve those properties for their personal gain, renting them out at high rates as office space, or small shop units with a succession of (unfortunately, repeated failing) tenants.  Re-training in IT skills was another Great Idea, but the same people are being re-trained over and over, with little sign of permanent, full-time employment.

I would conservatively estimate that up to 40% of land space and buildings within the old town (to the milestones of the principal access roads) are derelict, underused or unused.  Why does not one such successful group invest a little in conducting a survey of unused properties?  I’d be glad to offer my services for free!  It would be impossible to tackle the whole problem at once, but the investment millions would clearly be better spent in acquiring, renovating and refurbishing properties in the name, for example, of a Housing Association, and utilising unused labour to construct social housing.  There is clearly a large demand, as is evidenced by the rising houses prices in the area.  There is nothing like dereliction to attract vandalism which of course exacerbates the problem. We have a few examples (High Street, Bridge Street, Pool Lane area) where good, attractive town housing development has attracted tenants with pride in their area, which turns a marginal run-down area into a highly desirable residential estate.

Such a policy would have the favourable side effect of restricting the petty property speculators who prey on the Social Services’ statutory obligation to house the increasing percentage of displaced persons in our population. If decent housing at reasonable cost is made available to single parents and the victims of broken homes from a Community Housing Association, then these sharks will be unable to recoup their investment from lack of tenants.

The Housing Association might be non-profit making, reinvesting profits made in acquiring further derelict property to continue the process.

Is any one willing to set the ball rolling?

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