Ards and Down Area Plan 2015
Down District: Downpatrick
Downpatrick is located 35 kilometres from Belfast, 16 kilometres from Ballynahinch and 19 kilometres from Newcastle. It is the County town and administrative centre of Down District, with an estimated population in 2001 of 10,320.
It can claim to be one of the earliest settlements in Ulster and is one of Ireland’s most renowned historic towns due to its association with St. Patrick who is allegedly buried in the graveyard of Down Cathedral.
The town was established in late pre-historic times. The Mound of Down was a secular site and Cathedral Hill an ecclesiastical centre. Both hills are positioned between the town and the southern edge of the marshlands, through which the Quoile River runs to its estuary in Strangford Lough. In the 12th century at the start of the Anglo-Norman conquest of Ulster, John De Courcy established a military base on the existing motte and a Cistercian abbey nearby at Inch. At that time ships were able to dock in Downpatrick to discharge supplies.
However the present town did not develop until the 18th century, when gates and levees on the Quoile opened up new areas for development and increased marine trade. New streets and the railway were added during the 19th century and the town centre shifted from English Street to the modern addition of Market Street. The character of today’s Town Centre is established by the 18th and 19th century narrow and sloping street pattern. A Conservation Area was designated in 1985.
Downpatrick has a distinctive and historic natural setting as provided by the Quoile Estuary, the Finnebrogue Estate Woodlands and the shoreline of Strangford Lough and as highlighted in the recent Northern Ireland Landscape Character Assessment. To the north-east, the Lecale Hills provide a wider landscape setting. The Quoile Pondage Basin to the north is a National Nature Reserve, while Inch Abbey, the Mound of Down and Cathedral Hill are important archaeological sites.
Downpatrick accommodates approximately 17% of the total population of Down District, the lowest proportion of any district town in Northern Ireland. There remains a large residue of undeveloped land zoned in the Down Area Plan 1982-1997, largely on the eastern side of the town. The development of these lands has been constrained by deficiencies in the strategic road network linking the lands to the Belfast Road. Traffic from the east or south of the town passes through the town centre and this can create congestion, particularly at peak periods. Through traffic is a relatively small component of town centre traffic.
Development of the town is not constrained by water supply but it will require upgrading of the sewerage system, including improvements to the existing storm sewer system and a review of the capacity of the Downpatrick Sewage Treatment Works. The upgrade to the Downpatrick Waste Water Treatment Works has an expected completion date of Summer 2010.
Regional Policy Context
The Regional Development Strategy (RDS) identifies Downpatrick as a “main hub” or “main town” in rural Northern Ireland, with a strategic role as a centre of employment and services for both its urban and rural populations, providing its rural hinterland with a range of administrative, employment, health, education, shopping and recreational services. As a main town, Downpatrick has the potential to generate higher levels of growth in industry, commerce, community, cultural and leisure services, and will have a leading role in accommodating housing development in the District.
The RDS acknowledges the environmental constraints on the town’s outward growth but states that Downpatrick has potential for growth as the centre of a substantial rural hinterland, particularly as traffic congestion is reduced and environmental improvements are implemented. The RDS recognises the value of ongoing retail, cultural and regeneration works to the image of the town and its significant tourism and leisure potential.
As a main town Downpatrick also has the potential to become one of a number of “growth poles” for the clustering of economic activity and provision of an ample supply of land for employment uses to counter-balance the Belfast Metropolitan Area. The town is connected to Belfast by the A7 road, now designated in the RDS as a Link Corridor, and it has a substantial area of industrial land located at Inch, on the A7 Belfast Road.
The RDS states that due weight needs to be given to reinforcing the leading role of the main towns. It points to the importance of critical mass to ensure the synergy to secure the necessary concentration of major employment and housing growth within the main towns. Main towns are to be developed as the major locations providing employment, services and a range of cultural and leisure amenities. They will also have a leading role in accommodating the need for urban housing at the district level.
In response to the issues impacting on Downpatrick and to ensure consistency with the RDS, the Development Strategy is to:
- create the conditions for population and employment growth in the town that will be necessary to generate the income and local spending power needed to encourage and support sustained growth;
- allocate sufficient land in the town to provide for approximately 3400 houses over the Plan period;
- protect the heritage and landscapes around the west and north sides of Downpatrick, to retain the existing housing zonings between the Ardglass and Saul Roads and to zone additional lands for housing development between the Saul and Strangford Roads;
- provide a choice of location for a variety of employment uses by protecting existing industrial lands and zoning additional lands. The zoning of additional areas for industry and employment uses will target social needs and will provide alternative locations to the Invest Northern Ireland (INI) site at Inch on the Belfast Road;
- seek to protect and to enhance the town’s environmental quality by safeguarding open space within the town and attractive local landscapes and areas of important natural heritage on the urban fringe; and
- assist in the regeneration of Downpatrick, for example, by extending its town centre boundary and by the identification of a number of development opportunity sites.