Newtownards in danger of losing weekly market

By Claire Savage
BBC News

image captionClive O'Neill has worked in Newtownards market for longer than 35 years.

Many of our towns across Northern Ireland have a weekly market and some, like Newtownards in County Down, have been known as market towns for hundreds of years.

The Saturday market is in the town's Conway Square, but it needs to find a new home while the square undergoes a three-month make-over.

Come January, the 50 or so traders are off the square and they are worried.

Traders claim the future of the market is in doubt because the Roads Service won't allow it to relocate to one of their car parks.

The council also blames the Roads Service for not allowing the market to use one of its nearby car parks.

The longest serving trader, Clive O'Neill, has been operating in the square for more than 35 years.

"If they kill the market, it will kill the town," he said.

"I would love the minister, please, to come down to Newtownards, visit the market, look at the town, watch the shopkeepers and talk to them.

"The market is the hub of Newtownards on a Saturday, we are only asking the ministry and the DRD to move the market."

However, Clive says the Department of Regional Development, which is under Ulster Unionist minister Danny Kennedy, has allowed traders in Lisburn to use one of its car parks for the last six years.

"Let us use the car park for 12 Saturdays at the beginning of the year. It's not a lot to ask," he said.

The department said a by-law won't allow the use of the car park which the traders want to move to.

A spokesman for the department said that it was looking at all aspects of the issue.

"The by-law governing this car park prohibits its use for trading," he said.

"We have asked the Council to consider the phasing of works to facilitate Market Traders.

"The car park provides 155 spaces and is well used by shoppers and visitors to the town.

"It (the car park) generates much-needed revenue for the department at a time when existing resources are heavily stretched."