Story By: Ulster Gazette
FOUR streets in Armagh City centre have been earmarked to benefit from a £1.98m regeneration project for the conservation area, the Ulster Gazette can reveal.
Upper English Street, Russell Street, Scotch Street and Barrack Street have been selected to benefit from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) scheme, which aims to bring 3,000 sq metres of historic floor space back into sustainable use. If brought to fruition, it will also see the creation of five new businesses and 20 jobs and four existing businesses and ten jobs secured for the future.
The ongoing redevelopment plans to transform Armagh Gaol, however, will not benefit under this specific HLF scheme as it falls under a “separate project”, a HLF spokesperson revealed.
The HFL has awarded the ABC council £1.98 million plus nearly £59k so it can progress in its plans to apply for a further £1.9m townscape heritage grant at a later date. This would bring the total grant allocation to just under £3.9 million. The council will now engage with various groups, businesses and stakeholders as part of the decision-making process on how the money will be spent.
The investment builds on the ongoing engagement between the HFL and Armagh. Until September 2013, the HFL had awarded grants worth a total of just over £6m to projects in the area, which equates to £414.92 per resident.
Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said, “We are delighted to have reached this milestone with this award for Armagh City’s historic streetscape.
“Thanks to National Lottery players, these ambitious plans will play an important role in regenerating the city’s commercial core, restoring its economic heart and opening up its unique heritage for both local people and visitors to enjoy.”
The announcement has been welcomed by Alderman Jim Speers who described it as a ‘first class opportunity for Armagh.’
“This gives the council and community in Armagh a chance to work together to ensure that when the final application is developed it will reflect the historic built heritage of our city,” said Mr Speers.
Mr Speers has first-hand knowledge of the benefits a Townscape Heritage Initiative can bring, having been integral to the implementation of a similar scheme in Richhill.
“The key to this being a success in Armagh is the community working with whoever the council appoints to deliver this project.”
Fellow UUP councillor, Sam Nicholson described the cash windfall as an exciting opportunity for Armagh.
“Our heritage is the root of our identities and enriches the quality of our lives. It inspires pride in communities and is at the heart of today’s tourism industry, bringing much needed investment into the local economy and supporting much needed construction jobs.
“This grant gives all owners of heritage buildings the opportunity to both sustain and transform their heritage properties which potentially could see the reuse of up to 30 buildings within Armagh City’s conservation area.
“As we all know funding is very difficult to secure at any time but especially now in the current economic climate. By securing this funding all applicants now have the opportunity to work closely with the Heritage Lottery Fund to regenerate our city by improving its historic built environment.”
The news has also been welcomed by Newry and Armagh MP, Mickey Brady, who said the funding would be beneficial to the city.
“Armagh is a city steeped in the unique history and culture of Ireland,” he said, “and I’m sure this funding will be put to good use, not only in preserving and protecting its past but in securing its future.”
His colleague, local MLA Cathal Boylan, meanwhile, described it as a significant overall step forward for Armagh.
“This is a fantastic windfall for the city and will really compliment other regeneration work that is going on,” he said. “We also recently saw £750,000 in funding from DECAL be awarded to the Aonach Mhacha project, which will form a key part of plans to regenerate the area and will bring a whole new vitality to the city centre.”
Meanwhile, Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Darryn Causby, said he was “delighted” for all involved.
“Armagh has a rich built heritage and the funding will help restore and enhance this culture for future generations,” he said. “We look forward to working in partnership with HLF to further develop and implement the scheme.”