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Ratepayers face £100k bill to move big screen

By Allan Preston

Published 20/05/2016

The Big Screen outside Newry Cathedral
The Big Screen outside Newry Cathedral

Ratepayers in Newry may be stuck with the bill to relocate a £100,000 big screen in the city centre after planning permission for it was thrown out by the High Court.

The decision on Monday followed a successful Judicial Review by the Catholic Church which complained the screen obscured the view to Newry Cathedral and that they had not been properly consulted.

Other businesses and local residents had been sent letters about the plans but the Church had not been informed directly.

Mr Justice Maguire reversed the Department of the Environment’s decision to grant planning permission for the screen in Marcus Square, and granted costs to the Catholic Church.

Although a Stormont department bungled the decision, it looks like Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s ratepayers will pick up the legal bill, as planning powers were handed over to local authorities last year.

Independent councillor Gary Stokes said that Newry ratepayers should not have to pay to take the screen down.

“It’s been quite controversial — having it so close to the Cathedral has divided opinion,” he said. “Looking at the judgment, from what I can see the planning department didn’t carry out the consultation properly.

“It has ended up as the church versus the council but it was neither of their fault. It’s ended up as egg in everyone’s face.”

The current two years of planning permission had been due to run out in March next year.

The court gave the council permission to resubmit a planning application. The council said it will “consider its position” in the coming weeks as to whether it will submit a new bid or dismantle the screen.

A joint venture had originally paid for the screen with the private media firm Destination Newry paying £50,000 of the costs, the council contributing £37,000 and the Department of Social Development adding £23,000.

In a statement from the Bishop of Dromore, a spokesman said the view was that the screen was simply too close to a place of divine worship.

He added that the Church were not against having the screen in a different location.

“It is our sincere hope that common sense and goodwill prevails on all sides,” he said.

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