Major environmental improvement schemes for both Keady and Richhill will not now start before the autumn at the earliest, Armagh I can reveal.
The developments, aimed at transforming the local towns and village centres, had already secured planning permission as far back as last October, as we exclusively reported.
The applications for the works had actually been ‘fast tracked’ and it was hoped that contractors would have been on the ground in January past.
If anything, the works should have been substantially completed before the new Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council took over at the start of April.
But a lot can happen in six months and councillors, at their full council sitting last week, were informed that the schemes had been held up as there were certain conditions with which TransportNI and Historic Buildings were not satisfied.
The works were advertised under three distinct planning applications – Richhill Phase 1, Richhill Phase 2 and Keady.
Last November, the former Armagh City and District Council was seeking a contractor to carry out both schemes.
The first phase in Richhill includes environmental improvement works to the village’s main thoroughfare, which includes Corcreevy Road, Irish Street, New Line and the War Memorial.
‘Streetscape improvements’ were planned for Keady. The town centre will benefit from environmental improvements along Bridge Street, Davis Street, Market Street, Kinlowen Street and on the Armagh Road. It will also see works in other public areas in the town, including the area around the existing monument, library and mill. New footpaths, junction improvements and street furniture are all planned.
Armagh Council gave their final seal of approval for Keady and Richhill’s EI schemes at a meeting early in October last year.
Now, however, while the works will proceed, a long delay is expected, and Armagh I understands it could be September or October before contractors move on site.
Following queries from Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon and Alderman Jim Speers, Regeneration Manager Shane Kelland has told the new council that the timeframe was “to some extent still unknown”.
He said the new process of planning approval had not been completed as yet and he was unsure as to how long it would take.
A list of planning conditions that would be put against both applications had been requested from the Planners.
The Regeneration Manager also advised that, when the tender process started up again, it would likely be an autumn date on site.
As stated, the original drawings had been submitted as components of three distinct planning applications to DOE Planning Service in November 2014, Phase 1 Richhill, Phase 2 Richhill and Keady.
All three were then submitted to Transport NI and, in the case of the two Richhill applications, these were also submitted to the Historic Buildings Unit of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for comment, in recognition of the Conservation Area status the village currently holds.
Both Transport NI and Historic Buildings raised a range of issues which had to be addressed by the new council’s agent, RPS.
A meeting was hosted by Transport NI in mid-March, where the outstanding issues were discussed and solutions agreed.
At this meeting, RPS agreed to revise the drawings to satisfy the Transport NI requirements and these amended plans were subsequently issued to Transport NI and Planning Service before being subject to public advertisement and consultation and neighbour notification.
The process of notifying neighbours is still ongoing.
Meanwhile, the process of sourcing a contractor has started and, following a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) exercise, a shortlist of six potential contractors has been agreed.
Council officers are working in conjunction with RPS to develop the necessary documentation for the tender stage of this process.
Planning officials expect that the applications for Keady – and Phase 1 of Richhill – will be presented to the new council’s planning committee with an approval recommendation this month.
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