MASTERPLAN REVAMP IS ON CARDS

 

DECADE-OLD plans for massive overhauls of Ards town centres are set for a refresh.

Ards and North Down Council is to pull old town masterplans for Newtownards, Comber and Donaghadee out of mothballs and dust them down for a post-pandemic future.

The masterplans were put together by the old Ards Borough Council between 2010 and 2015, and in some cases involve making huge changes to the centres of the three towns.

They were never really acted on, and have sat gathering dust on council shelves alongside similar, though much less radical, masterplans for Bangor and Holywood. But there are concerns that the information, and aims that the masterplans were built on, are now out of date, so the council intends to hold a series of public meetings over coming weeks to check the lie of the land, before hiring consultants to rework the plans.

The Newtownards masterplan, for example, would have made sweeping changes to the centre of the town, rebuilding a block of old units between High Street and Court Street to create new larger stores that could lure in branches of multinational clothes and fashion chainstores.

Conway Square would be heavily reconstructed to provide space for markets and public events, and the town’s ‘vertical’ parking spaces would be removed to make way for roadside bays and wider pavements.

The Ards masterplan was originally published in June 2010 and was based on surveys carried out over the previous year or two.

At that time the country was in the early stages of what turned out to be a decade-long recession, internet shopping booming an everyday occurrence, a global pandemic and now a looming cost of living crisis.

Over that time many chain retailers have gone bust while Ards town centre has secured its commercial success on independent stores, so it’s not clear whether the High Street to Court Street reworking would still be on the cards in a refreshed masterplan.

Versions of the Conway Square and footpath-widening ideas have since resurfaced as part of schemes set up to help Ards navigate the post-Covid world, and are currently coming down the line.

The Comber and Donaghadee plans were published in March 2015, just weeks before the old Ards Council ceased to exist in the ‘supercouncil’ merger with North Down.

Much of Donaghadee’s masterplan has also resurfaced in recent years, as it mainly involved overhauling the Commons area – an idea that was put out to public consultation at the start of this year, and would see the coastal park transformed into a multimillion-pound tourism, recreation and leisure facility including new pathways and boardwalks, a skate park and bike track.

Also suggested in 2015 were an aspiration to find a permanent home for the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat, something else that’s currently ongoing, and an idea of building a large extension to North Pier in Donaghadee Harbour to make it into a new promenade.

Comber’s masterplan is possibly the most out of date, as it is largely based on information compiled before new large housing developments on the outskirts of the town severely added to traffic problems on central streets.

Based on studies carried out nine years ago, the masterplan insists that congestion problems have largely been solved by the construction of the Comber bypass, though it adds that footpaths need to be looked at to make getting around easier for pedestrians, especially wheelchair users.

The masterplan argues that walking routes throughout the town need to be improved and the Comber Greenway extended with a linear park along the Enler River through the town centre to Strangford Lough, while buildings and storefronts should be done up to bring in new businesses.

It also calls for more work in promoting local arts, crafts and produce, including boosting the profile of Comber Farmers Market.

Public meetings to discuss each town’s masterplan will take place on September 13 in Donaghadee, September 26 in Ards, and October 3 in Comber.

Full details of the old masterplans can be found at www.ardsandnorthdown.gov.uk/b usiness/town-centre-masterplans