Monday 27 May 2019

Blackrock blooms at 2018 Tidy Towns

It was a golden year for Louth at the annual Tidy Towns Awards as the county picked up four gold medals, with scenic Blackrock emerging as Louth's tidiest town. Olivia Ryan looks at how the county performed overall

Blackrock emerged as Louth's Tidiest Town, having secured a top score of 334 points
Blackrock emerged as Louth's Tidiest Town, having secured a top score of 334 points
There was praise for the planters in Market Square

Louth town's and villages proved they had the midas touch at the National Tidy Towns awards last week, where the wee county picked up four gold medals.

Blackrock emerged as Louth's Tidiest Town, having secured a top score of 334 points for the incredible work put in by a dedicated team of volunteers over the last year.

Dundalk secured its 11th consecutive gold medal, with gold also going to Drogheda Tidy Towns. Ardee Tidy Towns who were Silver medal winners in 2017 secured their first gold.

Other awards went to Knockbridge Tidy Towns, who secured a Bronze medal. The Endeavour Award went to Kilcurry Tidy Towns for displaying a substantial performance improvement, while Grange Tidy Towns were awarded runners-up in the Waters and Community Award.

Knockbridge and Ardee were also highly commended and commended respectively in the County Awards.

A total number of 23 entrant towns and villages in Louth took part in the 2018 competition, showing a very high level of participation for the wee county.

The awards showed how the efforts of the residential communities, the retail and business sectors and the support of Louth County Council's environment department all combined to improve towns and villages across the county.

Councillor Liam Reilly, Cathaoirleach of Louth County Council remarked on the 'massive achievement of County Louth who continue year on year to feature prominently in this national competition. These results demonstrate the strength of community spirit and dedication throughout each town and village.'

Joan Martin, Chief Executive of Louth County Council said she was once again delighted with Louth's performance and congratulated all Tidy Towns groups on the increase in marks allocated to all Louth's entrants in 2018.

She remarked on 'the outstanding level of cleanliness and the exceptionally high standard of urban and village enhancements visible throughout the county.'

The CEO added: 'Praise is due to the volunteers who work year-round to ensure that the high standards are continuously maintained, making Louth an attractive location to live and visit.'

The reports from Tidy Towns judges, who visited each area earlier in the year, are key to how the county performs in the competition.

Blackrock's success was highlighted in the judges report, where the standard of presentation of business premises was praised, 'with almost every commercial building looking exceptionally well and the mix of traditional and contemporary designs also adds interest.' The recently refurbished Neptune bar stood out and we also liked the traditional designs of Storm in a Teacup, the Clermont Arms, Crafty Rock, Belles Tea Room, the Cross care Charity Shop and the Bay View Inn all standing out.

The judges described an 'almost overwhelming array of high quality projects in Blackrock.

'Without doubt, the key project for 2018 is the improvement of the Community Centre car park.

'We applaud your continuing efforts to improve your amenities in Blackrock with new surfaces being provided in the park and the silhouette metal sculpture of a fisherman installed along the estuary of the River Fane. Your continued maintenance of buildings, street furniture, sculptures and public areas throughout your town is also acknowledged and we read about your exciting future projects with great interest - particularly the proposed Greenway from the northern side of Blackrock to the east of Dundalk.'

The judging panel noted a 'stunning range of landscaping and planting projects' in Blackrock. 'Many high quality projects were undertaken in Blackrock Park with the installation of mosaics made from sea glass on a park seating area and a wooden sculpture made from the Leylandii trees and branches, the planting of a pollinator friendly garden by St Francis national school third class, along with the planting of 10,000 bulbs, new trees (18 semi mature and 100 whips) and the provision of a small arboretum.

'All of these projects have served to further improve what was already an excellent park and it represents an excellent example of how a community group can effectively design, develop and maintain a high quality open-space for the benefit of your towns residents. We were most impressed with the many floral displays in the many containers and baskets that can be seen along Main Street, the Promenade and Sandy Lane that were undertaken as part of your 'Blackrock in bloom' initiative.

This has become a very strong category for your committee with many excellent projects undertaken each year and higher marks being achieved as a result. We are particularly pleased to see that your committee is evolving with your developing focus on monitoring and recording the biodiversity in Blackrock. This is demonstrated by your ongoing bee and butterfly counts which are also being sent to the biodiversity Ireland datacentre. This is an excellent initiative and it illustrates the valuable role that community and voluntary groups can play in monitoring and enhancing biodiversity at a local level. We applaud your proposal to introduce a 'junior recorders group' from St Francis school as this is an excellent way of boosting participation and raising biodiversity awareness.

The judging panel also published their report on Dundalk last week, where judges highlighted the 'sheer number of high quality buildings and the range of architectural styles in Dundalk which are the major attractions of the remarkable town.' St Patrick's Cathedral, St Nicholas' Church of Ireland, and the Courthouse all came in for praise. 'The Victorian Dundalk signs with their 'yesteryear' images of your town were most enjoyable and they added significant interest to our walk,' according to the judges.

We would like to commend you on the provision of the local heroes banners, which honour 12 famous Dundalk people, and note that the next phase of the outdoor banners project involves commemorating the industrial heritage of Dundalk.' The significant influence of the railway on the built environment of Dundalk is clearly evident and it may provide the impetus to undertake a cleanup of the entrance to the railway station and of the road verges and public areas around Ardee terrace.'

The planned regeneration of Clanbrassil Street and Church Street was also praised. 'We are also pleased to hear that guidelines are being prepared which are intended to improve the overall standard of presentation of shopfronts in the town centre. That said, we were impressed with the standard of presentation achieved by shops and business premises'

The Dundalk Tidy Towns committee were also commended on its work providing a new safe play surface and fence in the playground in St Helena's Park.

'The floral displays in the tiered planters in Market Square were prominent with their bright colours and they helped to enhance this attractive central space. The range of parks and green spaces in Dundalk appears second to none. We spent a very enjoyable hour exploring the Ice House Park and admired its lovely mature trees, network of paths, pond feature, planted beds and attractive seating areas and we were not surprised to see that it was proving very popular with families and walkers on a sunny day in July. St Helenas Park and the St Leonard's Sensory Garden also deserve praise.'

The judges also praised work on producing a three year plan that includes the development of the Navvy Bank as a nature and biodiversity walk. 'This sounds like a very exciting project and we strongly agree with your practical approach of completing this in stages. The proposal to begin the project with planting to encourage bees and wildlife to the area is a sound one. Consider asking schoolchildren to undertake a species count or wildlife survey of the area.'

The standard of litter control was judged to be 'generally good with most areas in the town appearing clean and tidy'

Although litter could be observed in a number of different locations, it was clear that the hard work that you have undertaken by participating in the national spring clean event and regular litter patrols is having a positive effect and keeping litter levels down throughout Dundalk. But the standard of signage and signage maintenance throughout the town could be improved.'

The judges noted that recycling figures indicated a significant increase in the amount of cardboard that was recycled in 2017 (up more than 100 tons on 2016) but a significant 5% reduction in the amount of plastics that were recycled.

'Glass recycling fell even further by 34 tons or about 14%? Given that the amount of waste that we are generating is rising, these figures would indicate that more awareness actions are needed to get people to recycle more or better still, avoid generating the waste in the first place.'

The planting of 8000 bulbs in Ice House Hill Park was praised along with the 'living walls' initiative. 'This is a great idea and we hope that it catches on and that more businesses and property owners engage in this form of planting on their gable walls.'

The Argus