Motion to maintain Crossmaglen's town status backed by councillors
A PROPOSAL to maintain the status of Crossmaglen as a town has received the backing of councillors.
A full meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council rejected plans to change the status of Crossmaglen from a town to a village.
Earlier, a Strategy, Policy and Resources committee meeting was told of the plans, provoking an angry response amongst councillors.
They warned that such a move could "damage the town long term and hinder future infrastructure development".
The council considered four criteria in defining the status; the 2011 census, housing and infrastructure issues arising from the Regional Development Strategy 2035 and the latest statistics on population from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).
The Nisra statistics categorise Crossmaglen as a village, with a population of just over 1,600 in its 2011 census, but councillors argued that its services and infrastructure reflect those of a town.
SDLP councillor Pete Byrne told the meeting that "population alone doesn't dictate" the status of an area.
Afterwards he said: "Many have said that this was a non-story but the truth of the matter is, Crossmaglen's future prosperity was very much at risk."
Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty said people in Crossmaglen have "always considered ourselves as a town".
"Throughout the old council Crossmaglen was always the main town in south Armagh," he said.
"Being a town is vitally important to us and to the whole community. It can affect funding and we are so far out from Newry, Dundalk and Castleblayney that we need a focal point.
"We actually have big events such as Halloween when people come into the town from elsewhere. We have a hotel, a bank, a cattle market and a whole lot of other businesses that you get within a town.
"This would have to go to a public consultation and ultimately the people of Crossmaglen would have their say on it."
The proposal had been put forward as part of the council's Local Development Plan, which has also suggested downgrading Newtownhamilton to a village, upgrading Bessbrook to a town and keeping Warrenpoint as a town but making Burren a village.
In the latest Nisra report, published in 2015, the combined area of Warrenpoint and Burren is considered as a small town, with the number of residents increasing by a quarter in the decade between 2001 and 2011.
Bessbrook, with more than 2,700 residents, became an 'intermediate settlement'.
SDLP councillor Declan McAteer, who represents the Crotlieve ward which takes in Warrenpoint and Burren, said the two areas were "always considered as one entity" but he was pushing for them to be viewed as separate.
"It is important going forward - if you are not even recognised as a village you can lose out substantially in terms of funding," he said.
"People would like to see the strong links continue but there are two different identities. They are of course in very close proximity to each other but there is a town-country divide, marked out over years and years.
"Schools and football clubs would be different and so on, and I think the community wants to maintain all that."
The SDLP councillor also called for Ballyholland, which lies on the outskirts of Newry, to retain its separate status.
"Ballyholland was being lumped into Newry. The definitions are a bit misleading. Ballyholland parish takes in other areas and that is quite built up. It is important for Ballyholland to be maintained as a settlement or village on its own.
"This is all important because it is about planning for the future, it will affect people for the next 50-100 years."
A council spokesman said members attended a series of local development plan workshops last year.
"Councillors agreed to a re-examination of the existing settlement hierarchy to consider whether any reclassification of settlements was needed. The paper presented to the SPR committee represented the next stage in that process," he said.
"No issues were raised at the SPR committee in respect of the proposed classification of Bessbrook, Newtownhamilton, Warrenpoint and Burren."