Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has agreed to create a Lurgan Park master plan following a heated debate about an Alliance Party motion in the chamber.
At January’s council meeting on Monday, January 24, Alliance Councillor Peter Lavery brought forward a motion calling for lighting to be installed at Lurgan Park “as soon as possible”.
The motion was seconded by his party colleague Councillor Eoin Tennyson. However, other councillors were less than impressed with the motion with some accusing the party of “electioneering”.
Councillor Ciaran Toman reminded the chamber he had asked for an update on the Lurgan Park project in December and said he saw this as an attempt by the Alliance Party to take credit for the hard yards that have been put in by others on this issue.
“December’s full council meeting was on December 20, this motion was submitted on January 13, to bring this forward now is just pure electioneering,” he said.
“They are trying to claim credit for all the hard yards that have been put in from Councillor Liam Mackle, and former Councillors Joe Nelson and Philip Moutray.
He then put forward an amendment which read: “Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council recognises the importance of providing safe accessible open space for residents throughout the year.
“Therefore, this Council commits to developing a visitor-focused Lurgan Park master plan including an economic appraisal to inform the Council’s decision making regarding the holistic development of Lurgan Park for both tourists and the local community.
“The master plan will set out the future layout of Lurgan Park and builds on what has been agreed to date by Council members, includes detail of the Waves Peace IV bid and is designed to allow all pieces to be developed at once or individually based on available funding.
“Throughout this, the work will be conducted in the relevant committee and a report will be brought to committee on what hs been completed to date.”
With Cllr Lavery asking for time to consider the proposed amendment, other councillors took their opportunity to speak on Cllr Lavery’s motion.
Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle was less than impressed with what had been brought to the floor and accused Cllrs Lavery and Tennyson of latching on to this project to aid their re-election chances.
“I think what has happened here is the Alliance Party know it is an election year and know Eoin (Cllr Tennyson) needs publicity around the Lurgan area so have latched on to it for an election campaign,” he said.
“It is baseless, if we all pick out our pet projects on the capital list the Council would be in chaos with officers having little time to do anything else.
“A lot of work has already been carried out on this and I am happy to second the amendment from Cllr Toman to provide a framework to move this forward.”
Alderman Stephen Moutray said he would support opening Lurgan Park at night but the consequences of such a move needed to be considered as well.
“At the minute we know that young people are accessing the park and there is low level vandalism taking place. If we are going to open up we need to be sure we can secure the parts that are not open,” he said.
“There is also a question of wildlife. In principle it is a great idea but we have to think the thing through and as Cllr Toman put it so well, we need to look at the bigger picture. The park is the shining light of our town and we need to do the thing right.”
Councillor Louise McKinstry said she was in agreement with a lot of what has been said and urged the chamber to approach the lighting up of Lurgan Park “carefully”.
Councillor Eoin Tennyson said he was “demoralised” by the debate and said he felt the opposition was less about the policy and more about who proposed it.
“A substantial amendment has been tabled,” he said. “It would have been good to have dialogue that we could have found a form of words to agree on to try and progress the project.
“It seems as though the opposition is not to the substance of the motion but the people who are proposing and seconding it.
“This project is something Cllr Lavery has been very passionate about. I agreed to second it as his party colleague, it is nothing to do with me or my election campaign I can assure you.”
Cllr Lavery then sought to address what he described as a “number of bitter personal attacks” made against him before Councillor Darryn Causby raised a point of order, reminding Cllr Lavery he was only permitted to speak again in relation to the motion.
When the Lord Mayor, Alderman Glenn Barr brought him back in, Cllr Lavery said he would not be silenced by any elected members of the chamber and claimed he “honestly intended” to bring the motion to the chamber in the autumn of last year.
“My motion sets out a number of steps we could take to progress this project to a state where it could hopefully be finished in about two and a half years,” he said.
“It includes provision for consultation with the community and service users so I would be inclined not to accept the amendment as it will kick the project into the long grass.”
Cllr Toman’s amendment was then put to a vote where it passed with 37 votes in support and three votes against.
Councillor Paul Berry and all members of the DUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the UUP present voted in favour of the amendment and the three Alliance Party representatives present voting against it.