Full planning approval for the controversial £6m facelift for Portadown People’s Park was given at the borough council on Monday night.
It went through without comment after weeks of opposition by DUP members of council, who had tried – without success – to block the plan, on the premise that it would never become shared space and would remain “exclusive to the nationalist community”.
Afterwards, the party’s council group leader Carla Lockhart issued a statement saying that the planners dealt with it in the usual way and there had been no objections from the local community on planning issues. She added, “We as a DUP group remain committed to ensuring that the project is a genuine shared space for all to enjoy.”
A council statement issued afterwards underlined that the funding from the European Union had always been conditional on the park being a shared space.
The project includes a new pavilion, multi-use games area, grass pitches, a synthetic pitch, play area, car park, lighting, planting boundaries, new paving, kerbs and drop-off bays. The approach from the Tunnel direction will also be greatly enhanced.
The project has been brought to fruition by the council’s SPACE steering group, and Chairman Councillor Kenneth Twyble said, “The planning approval is a very important step in the redevelopment plan of the park, but there remains a tremendous amount of work to be done. I am delighted that it is progressing and the work will be to an excellent standard – it will serve the entire community.”
He added that a lot of time and effort was required to make the park a shared space, and on Wednesday night met with Duncan Morrow, former chief executive of the NI Community Relations Council, to start the process of making the park acceptable.
Mr Twyble said the Halloween event, where all sections of the community used the park, was successful and that a cross-community fair was being organised in the near future to move things along.
“Nobody is in any doubt that hard work is needed, and it is up to all communities to make the effort,” he said.
Sinn Fein councillors Gemma McKenna and Paul Duffy welcomed the news. Ms McKenna said, “The significant investment will create a welcoming park which can be used by a wide range of people for various activities. The new sporting facilities will be welcomed by local teams, whilst the new play area will ensure a safe place for young families to go. There will be various walking trails and a range of other activities.”