Building a dynamic economy

Chief Executive of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Roger Wilson talks to agendaNi about the economic dynamism of the Borough and how the Council acts as a catalyst in growing the economy locally.

The Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area is one of the most dynamic areas of Northern Ireland. Its economy is just over £3 billion and with a work force of 123,000 it is home to some of the local economy’s largest businesses. Roger Wilson name-checks some household names; Almac, Moy Park, Hyster-Yale, Ulster Carpets, Tayto, Irwin’s Bakery. “The headquarters of both Moy Park and Almac Pharmaceuticals are a stones throw from each other and both companies employ some 6,000 people between them.”

However, Wilson is quick to point out that although the area is home to“a real who’s who of corporate Northern Ireland,” the area’s economy is underpinned by some 8,000 small and medium sized businesses and a thriving rural economy. The Council’s Food Heartland brand has won two major awards and has helped establish the area as the food heartland of Northern Ireland. The initiative was started by the Council and is now led by the private sector companies themselves. It brings together local agri-food businesses from growers, producers and processors right through to the hospitality sector.

Agri-food is one of five priority sectors in the Council’s economic development strategy. Local compaines continue to excel on a global stage with 16 local producers, scooping 37 Great Taste Stars for 31 products. The other sectors are: digitech; health and life sciences; the visitor economy or tourism and advanced manufacturing, materials and engineering. “In addition to working with each of the sectors, we are also looking at some of the cross-linkages between the sectors. For example, Almac has excellent expertise in science and we are seeing if there are any linkages to help R&D in other sectors.”

Digitech is an area that the Council is focusing on at present. There are 130 digitech businesses in the Borough and the Council has supported many of these through various business programmes. The Council is now looking to establish a digital hub within the Borough and is investigating the best model for such a venture. Councillors have visited similar hubs in England and have looked at different types of digital hubs to see what would work best in the Borough.

Another advantage of the Borough is its accessibility. Banbridge is situated on the Belfast to Dublin corridor and Wilson believes that it is ideally situated to attract ‘spill over’ investment from Dublin and Belfast.

There are a number of large manufacturers in the Borough such as Glen Dimplex and Thompson Aero Seating and a number of these are in the advanced manufacturing sector. “We have spent quite a bit of time talking to the sector about what issues affect them: innovation and R&D, how they export and access to finance. A lot of them are facing challenges around availability of skills and energy costs. We are facilitating those discussions and looking to act as a catalyst in helping them with some of these issues.” This has led to the Council running programmes on exporting, energy, employability and skills.

Partnership

“Most of the things we do are delivered in partnership with at least one other organisation, either in the private sector or in another part of the public sector. Investment in infrastructure in town centres, building capacity and working with Invest NI, Department for Communities and Tourism NI, by building positive relationships we are creating a proposition for the area that will make it more attractive to investment.” A practical example of this saw the Council take a stand at MIPIM, the UK’s largest property exhibition, to highlight a number of different sites in the Borough including sites suitable for retail, hotel and residential accommodation development. The Council is engaging on a couple of leads from the exhibition and plans to attend the next MIPIM in October.

“By building positive relationships we are creating a proposition for the area that will make it more attractive to investment.”

Although much of the focus of the Council’s economic development efforts are focused on making the area attractive to investors, its own capital programme is significant. It includes a range of schemes from improving local facilities such as play parks to public realm projects delivered in partnership with the Department for Communities. It has also a number of signature projects, including a new leisure centre. This involves closing three existing leisure centres in Craigavon, Lurgan and Portadown and building a new £35 million leisure complex at the site of the water sports centre at Craigavon lakes. The project plans to be operational by 2019. The Southern Regional College (SRC) is also planning to build a new campus adjacent to the new leisure centre, which will see an investment similar in scale. The Council is also continuing to progress the redevelopment of Armagh Gaol, although Wilson acknowledges the challenges as with any heritage regeneration project.

Although local government does not have statutory powers in the area of urban regeneration, he highlights the fact that the Council has 150 sites across the Borough that could lend themselves to some sort of regeneration. “We recognise that we don’t have the powers or indeed the expertise to develop these sites ourselves, but we are looking to see if there are new ways of working – different delivery models for regenerating some of our sites. We will be looking to pilot a number of sites across the Borough through different partnership models.”

Looking to the future, Wilson is optimistic for the Borough’s prospects. He believes that by playing to its existing strengths and building on a number of thriving sectors, progress can be made across all the target sectors. It will entail the Council working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders and often finding new ways of doing things.

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council


T: 0300 300 900


www.armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk


info@armaghbanbridgecraigavon.gov.uk

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