Offering many beautiful rural and urban locations, ease of access to Belfast, an established tourism infrastructure, a flourishing arts scene, and specialist business support services for all sectors, Ards and North Down is fast becoming the place to live work, visit and invest.
Coast and connections
The borough of Ards and North Down has a population of more than 157,000 people and covers an area of more than 228 square miles. It comprises a unique mix of urban and rural communities, with five towns and 19 villages. 68 per cent of the population is economically active compared to the average of 66 per cent across Northern Ireland.
The area enjoys good rail and road links to Belfast and is recognised as a commuter town for the Greater Belfast area. Portaferry on the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula provides an easy gateway from the South East.
The borough is bound by 115 miles of coastline, one of the longest in Northern Ireland, and features Strangford Lough, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Special Scientific Interest and a Marine Nature Reserve. Bangor is home to the island of Ireland’s largest marina with space for 600 boats.
Connectivity is growing across the area. All five towns – Bangor, Newtownards, Holywood, Comber and Donaghadee – offer free WiFi and 70 local businesses received financial support towards broadband installation via the national Superfast Broadband initiative or rural development funding (DARD).
Rebuilding and reviving
In partnership with the Department for Social Development (now the Department for Communities), Ards and North Down Borough Council has recently invested £21 million in public realm schemes in all five of the borough’s towns. Works in Comber, Donaghadee and Holywood are now complete, with Bangor to be finished in June and Newtownards in August of this year. Throughout these works, Council officers have liaised closely with representatives of all five Chambers of Trade and now developed a model where all the Chambers meet regularly to discuss opportunities to work collectively. As a result individual ‘brands’ that can be used for advertising and promotion have recently been developed for the five towns. Each town is rich in culture, tradition and atmosphere and the designs developed reflect the uniqueness of the individual locations, yet they maintain a similar overall look and feel, giving a sense of being ‘stronger together’.
Property developers have unveiled plans for 1,000 new homes in Newtownards as part of a £200 million scheme, the largest development scheme to have commenced in Northern Ireland in 10 years. The homes will be situated on a 107 acre site and it is estimated that the development will create 500 new jobs and support a wide range of local business related companies.
Investment and innovation
The Council has committed to investing up to £70 million in both new and existing facilities across the borough over the next two years. These include improvements to the 18th Century Portaferry Market House, the redevelopment of Redburn Square in Holywood, enhancements to the Victorian Ward Park, Bangor and the construction of a new leisure centre in Newtownards.
In an area where tourism is a mainstay of the local economy (there are more than 443,000 overnight visits annually, contributing £44 million to the area) the reopening of Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry is a priority. Refurbishment and construction works, representing an investment of £1.4 million, began in April 2016 and are progressing well, with plans on course to reopen the attraction during the summer. The company behind the highly successful Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast will operate the aquarium and seal sanctuary on the Council’s behalf. There is no doubt this will contribute significantly to the regeneration of the area with the provision of a number of new employment opportunities and attraction of large visitor numbers.
Creative and unique
Ards and North Down is home to more than 200 arts and crafts people and is developing a growing reputation as a hub for the creative industries.
The award winning Project 24 in Bangor has transformed a derelict and unused town centre site into a vibrant and creative shared space. It offers studios for 12 artists from different mediums (painters, sculptures, photographers, digital) to develop and showcase their work. As well as learning from each other they can avail of Council funded business programmes to help with marketing their products.
The town has been further invigorated by the unrivalled success of the month long Open House Festival, which runs throughout August. In 2016 it includes 125 events, taking place in more than 40 venues, and offers a mix of music, film, food and drink, theatre, literature, comedy and art.
As well as an apt descriptor for the area, the Creative Peninsula is an annual event celebrating art and craft (running 5-14 August 2016). It aims to connect people with the makers of the crafts they like to buy and features a range of open studio events, tours and workshops.
Food and farming
As home of the Comber Earlies (which enjoy EU PGI status), Echlinville Distillery (which, in 2013, became Northern Ireland’s first licensed distillery to open in more than 125 years) and 16 Great Taste Award winning businesses (2015), the borough has much to celebrate in this Year of Food and Drink in Northern Ireland. The Council is working with a range of partners to deliver a number of food/drink related activities and events this summer and autumn. This will provide the foundation for the longer-term aim to develop effective industry partnerships that will ensure Ards and North Down is recognised for the uniqueness, quality and authenticity of its offering.
Employment and enterprise
Ards and North Down Borough Council recognises the importance of providing tailored support for local businesses and offers unique services via a dedicated staff team based at the Signal Centre in Bangor. Officers assist business people and entrepreneurs at all stages of development – from those interested in setting up a business, to those who are seeking to grow and expand, to those who want to invest. In the past year almost 400 businesses have benefitted from the (in many cases) free services available including one-to-one interactions and mentoring, assistance with market research, advice on funding and signposting, events and workshops.
Working with key partners, the Council also supports programmes that help people into employment. One very practical example is the Development Awards (with the Prince’s Trust) that offer financial assistance of up to £500 to unemployed or ‘at risk’ young people to progress into education, training or employment.
Looking forward, the Council will further enhance its services with a focus on social entrepreneurship and the aim to create 35 new jobs in this sector over the next two years. Ongoing work with the local schools, colleges and business support networks will be prioritised to help ensure the area continues to offer a qualified and able workforce that can meet business needs.
The Council will also continue to work with Invest NI to assist the investment plans of local companies. Currently six local small and medium size enterprises have committed to creating 25 new jobs with investment plans totaling over £1.4 million over the coming years, therefore contributing to the growth, wealth and ultimately, the quality of life of the Borough.
Be part of the end success story
With so much on offer, whether you are seeking employment, want to explore enterprise or need advice and assistance at any stage in the business life cycle, Ards and North Down could be the place for you. Contact us to find out more.
For further information, please contact: Karine McGuckin,
Economic Development Manager
Tel: 028 9147 3788