Confirmation that Gilford, Markethill and Rathfriland are to receive funding as part of a Covid-19 recovery programme has been roundly welcomed by members of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s economic development and regeneration committee.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the committee on Tuesday, January 11 where members were informed of the council’s funding allocation from a small settlement regeneration scheme run by the Department for Communities (DfC), the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) is valued at £3.18m.
The funding, which needs to be matched by a council contribution of £353,370, will be spent on environmental improvement schemes for Gilford, Markethill and Rathfriland; investment in business support grants to be developed for shop frontage, dereliction and shared workspace; enhancement of street furniture to include cycle infrastructure and investment in electric vehicle charging.
It is anticipated delivery of this project will take place over a two year period.
Proposing the committee approves in principle to participate in this small settlements regeneration programme, Councillor Paul Berry said he was encouraged to see Gilford, Markethill and Rathfriland all specifically mentioned in the report.
“Markethill is within the area of Cusher I represent but it is tremendous to see both Gilford and Rathfriland mentioned in this report as well and I am happy to propose this report,” said Cllr Berry.
“There so many times as councillors we constantly lobby for the rural towns and I think it is vitally important. This regeneration programme is, I believe, money well spent.
“I think it will help to revitalise these areas. So many businesses in the rural areas have always felt the bigger towns get the big investment and the big attention when it comes to funding and marketing.
“I am delighted to support this and am happy to propose it.”
Seconding the proposal, Alderman Jim Speers said he was delighted these three small towns are now getting financial support.
“I don’t suspect there is anyone in this chamber who has mentioned these three locations more than I have over the last number of years. They are all stage three towns and have had nothing spent in them,” he said.
“They have had no opportunities available in terms of grant aid and I very much welcome this as a first step in the road to something meaningful and major happening in these locations.
“If we take Markethill for instance, there is no better business town within this entire borough and yet it has been designated as a stage three town and consequently it has not been able to avail of any support from government agencies.
“I welcome the report and I have utmost pleasure in seconding the proposal.”
Also welcoming the report, Councillor Brian Pope asked if it will result in an increase in the number of electric vehicle (EV) parking spaces across the borough.
He was advised by the council’s head of economic development services, Nicola Wilson that coordination with businesses and stakeholders will be key to any of the plan’s developments.
“A lot of the detail is still to be worked out but coordination with business and stakeholders will be key to making this work in a seamless way,” she said.
“We will meet with all the interested parties and make sure we have a coordinated approach to all these issues.”
The report was also welcomed by Councillors Thomas O’Hanlon, Paul Greenfield and Jill Macauley and Alderman Ian Burns.
Thanking council officers for their efforts in this matter, Councillor Kyle Savage said it was great to see these towns get their fair share but reminded the committee of the need to ensure smaller settlements are not left behind.
“Thanks to all the team for the report, great to see these towns getting their fair share,” he said.
“It is an ongoing process with a tight timescale and tight turnaround required. I see this as a starting point but we also need to keep in mind the small settlements with populations of under 1,000 people.
“They are neglected and we need to do more to help and support those places.”
Following the committee’s approval of this proposal, it is anticipated the council’s governance, resource and strategy committee will approve the local authority’s match funding for the project in February.