Town of Culture Award

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:18 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:18 pm, 23rd January 2019

I congratulate David Hanson on bringing forward the debate. We were proud to be the home nation of the first UK city crowned city of culture in 2013—lovely Londonderry. As the Member for Strangford, I well remember thinking that Newtownards, despite all that we have to offer, could never be considered for that prestigious title because it is not a city. That is why I am pleased to be here and to support the right hon. Gentleman.

The award would enable the tourism industry to point its eyes and minds towards the hidden gems throughout this beautiful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; it would be worth every penny needed to set the initiative up.

Let me give the example of Newtownards—we are all here for our constituencies, and why not? The little town is 25 minutes from the airport on a great road with enhanced travel links in the form of local bus routes, which are fully modern. Visitors could stay in the local hotel or in one of the many B&Bs that dot the area. The B&Bs have phenomenal views of countryside and the incomparable Strangford Lough; I live on the edge of it. Ulster Scots culture, history, verse, poetry and music— it is all there.

People can have an active holiday as well, with water sports, cycling and quad racing parks, sedate walks in our forest parks and country rambles. We have the world-famous Mount Stewart gardens and country home, Scrabo tower and Exploris in Portaferry, which is renowned the world over. Those who want the arts can enjoy choral performances in the old Priory, which dates back to St Patrick, and the independently-owned Lyric theatre, as well as all the other things that come with cinema and nightlife. For those who want to shop—everybody likes to shop, especially the ladies—we have a high street packed with boutique shops to suit anyone’s tastes. For the kids, we have the Ark open farm, which is exactly what we need.

You want a spa weekend? Of course you do. We have a brand new all-singing, all-dancing Ards Blair Mayne Wellbeing and Leisure complex, with clip and climb, crazy golf, soft play and swimming facilities for the children, Swedish saunas, steam rooms, aromatherapy rooms, heated seating, heated relaxation pools and beauty appointments, all in one place—Newtownards. We have fine dining, because once you have got rid of all that extra weight, you can go for Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Italian food, good homemade cooking and even pub grub. It is all there—[Interruption.] Chris Ruane knows it, too.

I know that other MPs can well boast of their towns, and they should, but I will say this: I do not think any of them can really compare to Newtownards. Yet the sad fact is that not enough people know that the £50 flight to Northern Ireland is well worth every penny. This award is something that could highlight Newtownards and other towns like it. I thank the right hon. Member for Delyn and give him my full support. I have my application ready for the first award.