Councils in Northern Ireland are continuing their efforts and commitment in delivering strong leadership and making key decisions that create a real positive impact on the economy, on business and on the lives of local people.
Following the enhancement of local government powers as a result of the reform of local government in 2015, councils now have an increased role in economic development, in driving investment and encouraging entrepreneurial activity and improving the performance of local businesses across a range of important sectors.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has resolutely stayed on course to realise and fulfil its potential, ensuring that the economy has remained its key priority since its inception, while embarking on detailed plans to create investment and prosperity for everyone.
The largest council outside Belfast with a population of more than 210,000 people, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is confidently powering its way through a new five-year Corporate Plan, which has ringfenced more than a £100 million targeted investment programme designed to transform services and facilities.
Boasting considerable strength in the manufacturing, digital, agri-food and pharmaceutical sectors, the borough is now recognised as Northern Ireland’s official Food Heartland and for a fast-growing tourism industry which is drawing international recognition, and awards, for the variety and quality of its visitor attractions, as well as its thriving hospitality sector.
“Our priorities were very clear from the start,” says the Council’s Chief Executive, Roger Wilson. “The development of our local economy, focusing on key strategic projects and delivering on our ambitions means that we can continue to grow and invest. Service delivery remains paramount and we are proud of our collective, successful achievements in a borough that is confidently looking to the future”.
Since the Council was established four years ago, it has made significant investments across key areas including community development, business support, town centres, tourism, leisure, public realm and regeneration.
One major flagship project, and its largest capital investment to date, the development of a new £35 million state-of-the-art leisure centre in Craigavon is progressing as planned, and will open in autumn 2020, transforming the quality of leisure provision across a wide area in a stunning complex that will house the largest fitness suite in the region, a new 50-metre swimming pool, squash courts and a café.
Investing for the future
The Council’s Corporate Plan, which outlines 30 key commitments that will take the borough up to 2023, forms a core basis on which future plans will be made and based upon as part of the Council’s commitment and assurance to deliver high quality, efficient and effective public services, facilities, projects and programmes.
“Driving improvements to health and wellbeing, creating opportunities, raising aspirations and enhancing economic and personal prosperity across every town remain fundamental to our everyday council business and I’m delighted that we are demonstrating what can be achieved when the Council comes together with businesses, education, investors and other strategic partners who, like us, have a passion to fully realise our potential,” adds Wilson.
The marked success of the Council’s focus on delivering successful heritage-led regeneration projects to support the development of its growing towns and cities has been widely acknowledged.
Lurgan was the most recent recipient of an investment package worth £7 million to help preserve and protect its rich built and cultural heritage. Supporting the restoration of 25 historic properties within the town’s Conservation Area over the next five years, the Lurgan Townscape Heritage project will help protect the area’s past and unique character, driving new growth across the town.
In Armagh, a separate investment supported by Heritage Lottery Fund of £6.3 million is transforming its historic city centre as part of an exciting regeneration scheme to bring up to 30 iconic, but underused, buildings back into full productive use, creating jobs and boosting the local economy. Almost 50 new jobs will be created over the course of the scheme, securing an additional 30 once complete.
“Collaborative projects which renew, regenerate and improve the appeal of our towns and cities are important. We have attracted millions of pounds of inward investment to ensure their delivery and to make strategic improvements which are improving access, encouraging business growth, more job opportunities and benefiting our local economy,” Wilson explains.
Tourism on the rise
For Northern Ireland as a whole, tourism is widely acknowledged as one of the key sectors which can drive economic growth as part of a wider plan to generate a £1 billion spend from out-of-state visitors by 2025.
With a vision to be ‘a market leading cultural tourism destination in Ireland by 2020’, it has already made many significant tourism achievements, including, more recently, the welcome news that US media giant HBO has chosen Banbridge-based Linen Mill Studio as the location for a major new ‘Game of Thrones’ visitor attraction which represents a huge boost for local and regional tourism provision.
Through focused investment and by effectively utilising its unique tourism assets, the borough has catapulted itself into the national and international tourism arena and boasts impressive, fast-growing visitor numbers to a wide range of locations, attractions and festivals.
Armagh city and the wider area now offers a world class and award-winning Food and Cider Festival that attracts thousands of local and international visitors as part of a growing annual event that takes in tours of its famous apple orchards, cider sampling and special events which are passionately supported by local producers, retailers, restaurants, cafes and bars.
In Banbridge, the multi-award winning FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio, which last year celebrated its 10th Anniversary, continues to grow, attracting nationally and internationally-acclaimed exhibitions that draw in record crowds who can also enjoy an outstanding restaurant experience.
Roger Wilson says tourism remained an important economic driver and an area which was set for further growth: “Directly and indirectly, the region’s tourism industry has delivered solid economic returns, creating investment, innovation and new employment opportunities while also, and importantly, enhancing civic pride. I’m really pleased with how this area has and continues to perform.”
While strategic investment and economic prosperity remain important, the Council continues to ensure the development of its local communities remains paramount.
Its ‘Connected’ community plan for 2030 sets out a future direction shaping how public services are delivered over the next 15 years.
The Council is well advanced in implementing a new play strategy that will see some 44 play parks across the borough upgraded at an estimated cost of £4.75 million. This initial outlay is significant in that it marks the launch of ambitious plans by the council to provide children and young people in all parts of the borough with high quality, fully inclusive, safe and accessible play facilities.
“None of what we are trying to achieve can be delivered in isolation,” he said. “We recognise the combined expertise and knowledge that our councillors, our partners, our communities and our employees bring when delivering improved outcomes in every area.”
For further information:
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council
T: 0300 030 0900