To continue the loose theme, of attempting to highlight the overlooked I will in this article discuss canal street. Point out some of the standout buildings and illustrate some of the issues that affect the liveability of the street - mostly vehicular, in this case cars driving not parking.
Canal street is one of the oldest streets in Newry, the street appears on the 1763 B Scale maps meaning it has hand some hand in the life of the city dating back to before the creation of the canal, giving it a hand in the city’s blossom into the economic powerhouse we all know from its history.
It’s entire lower reaches are included in the Newry Architectural Conservation Area, an indication of the streets completeness in relation to the other parts of the town which are in the main not included outside of the Hill Street area. It is shameful to see then the amount of demolition which has occurred along this street in the last decade. In many cases perfectly usable buildings are being removed, along with the associated history and importantly their presence upon the street and its character has all been torn away to be replaced with a smaller building accompanied by a poorly detailed void in the street for a car park. It seems recently more sites (a particularly important site for the urban form on a corner) have been cleared no doubt for more of the same. Bland housing with no concern or thought given to the importance of the areas character or good architecture.
This amount of deterioration is important to get a handle on, as part of proposals for the Newry local area plan it has been suggested by the council that the existing conservation area will be re evaluated and possibly reduced - if this is the case eventually it is important that areas such as this begin to get the protection they need, we all need to place a value on these places to prevent the continual erosion of our city by a series of roads, resulting in ever more car parks. We must begin to take a stand now to reduce the dereliction and prevent a future argument being put forward with the aim to reduce the already low level of protection offered to our townscape. To continue to flog the same point, if we had less intrusive roads it wouldn’t be so unpleasant to walk around our very small city and if it wasn’t so terrible to walk around the city we might find these existing inner city places more appealing places to live, giving them a use and a future.
With the above in mind there are some hopeful signs happening along the street of late also. Further up the street two houses have been recently painted and tidied up, even this has resulted in a big improvement to the overall appearance and retention of character along the street. Similarly further down the street a more overall refurbishment appears to have taken place, sensitively to retain and repair what is a listed building to quite a high standard, including the use of sash windows etc. Both these buildings are now secure in that they have a secure use to ensure their life into the future.
These are encouraging but are unlikely to become the norm until the appalling treatment of the area by traffic is addressed. This is particularly surprising given the proximity to a number of schools within walkable distance from the city centre, and a large residential area further out the Armagh Road. The current situation regarding the routing of a large amount of traffic through this area means significantly fewer people walk up this road than should be the case with the numbers of people living in the area, this is understandable given the danger and amount of air pollution these cars bring to the area. Until this issue is addressed, it’s very easy just remove the cars this street will continue its slow decline as the cars ruin the environment of what could be a great residential street above the existing businesses at the lower level of the street.
In summary, if we want the city to become liveable and an inviting place for industry and the diaspora to return to we must make it a place we want to live. This begins with creating the areas that people will want to live, this means streets that do not double as corridors of traffic, it means buildings of character which are maintained and can give people something to claim as their own and feel pride in. This is not something the newer residential buildings constructed along Canal street or else in the town can claim to offer.