A £160 million five-year spending spree is set to totally transform the face of the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough.
One of the biggest planned expenditures is the £28 million redevelopment of Armagh Gaol as a luxury hotel, which is described as being at ‘an advanced stage’.
And, a new £30 million leisure centre will also go ahead, with an additional £500,000 earmarked to secure a site for the state-of-the-art facility.
Meanwhile, a new library – coming in at a cost of £3.4 million – is set to be built on the site of the current St Patrick’s Trian.
A £1.25 million ski slope in Craigavon is planned, along with the refurbishment of both Portadown and Lurgan Town Halls, each with estimated price tags of £4 million and £2.6 million respectively.
Other capital projects include Environmental Improvement Schemes in Keady and Richhill, totalling £1 million and £1.4 million respectively, each of which will be grant funded by £500,000, with the remainder provided by council.
In relation to the Gaol project, £24 million will be provided in funding, while the council will foot the bill for the remaining £4 million needed for the scheme, which will see the former women’s prison transformed into a state-of-the-art hotel.
With initial research having already been undertaken for a new recycling centre for Armagh, the council has set aside £500,000 for the amenity, with a further £100,000 to be provided in grant funding.
At Armagh Harps, a capital scheme costing £1,145,000 for new clubrooms is set to be funded entirely by the Department of Social Development – under the Social Investment Fund – while £120,000 has also been secured for development works at Keady Old Mill.
Over the coming five years, an ABC Play Strategy, will see the council invest £2.55 million, ensuring the necessary provisions are in place for children living within the Borough.
A £400,000 development at the Navan Centre, outside Armagh is also envisaged amongst the capital expenditure schemes, while £750,000 – £250,000 of which is to be provided by council – will further develop Gosford Forest Park at Markethill.
A visitor centre, cafe and walking trails are among the features expected to be provided.
Armagh Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) schemes for 2016-2019 will see council investment of £800,000, which will be match funded with £800,000, leaving an overall expenditure of £1.6 million. This money will be spent on regenerating a number of derelict properties in Armagh, with Russell Street and Upper English Street among the targeted areas.
Elsewhere throughout the Armagh area, £256,000 is to be spent on Tandragee Recreation Centre, while £70,000 has been earmarked for changing accommodation in Laurelvale, with a further £100,000 being spent on new public toilets for Middletown.
At Loughgall Village Park, signage costing £430,000 is to be erected – £108,000 of which is being provided by council, with the additional £322,000 coming from grants.
The council is also set to spend £730,000 on theMarket PlaceTheatre and St Patrick’s Trian car park, while £132,200 has also been allocated to the theatre for equipment.
A further £150,000 is to be spent by council at the Multi Use Games Area in Cathedral Road Recreation Centre, while £70,000 has been earmarked for a similar area within Richhill Recreation Centre.
The spending spree also includes £450,000 for Darkley Forest – £200,000 of which will be provided in grants; £220,000 for an Armagh Community Memorial on The Mall; £75,000 for changing accommodation in Milford and £15,000 for Clare Glen.
A total of £30,000 has also been earmarked to provide a wireless fire alarm system at Armagh Palace, as well as £60,000 to repair the roof at the Orchard Leisure Centre.
Play areas in Markethill, Longstone, Annaghmore and Hamiltonsbawn are also benefitting from investment of £185,000 – some £120,000 of which is being funded.
The forecast spend for Armagh – as part of the overall Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon schedule – has been welcomed by Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin.
He said he is encouraged to see that, in the new council reorganisation, Armagh City is “being very clearly focused on” in terms of investment and improvement.
“The Gaol remains a very key project for the City and I know that all those stakeholders involved in the regeneration project remain very much focused on this important development. I am pleased to see the new council has given the project its full support.
“The EI schemes in Keady and Richhill are also very important improvement projects and have been many years in the planning.
“It is also good to see that these schemes, which will transform the streetscapes in each area, are scheduled to be on site shortly with completion proposed towards the end of this year.
“I have been encouraged with work undertaken by the ABC Council to date and that includes the fantastic new play park at Gosford.”
Mr Irwin revealed he has been in discussions with Forest Service in relation to their longer term vision for the Park and he believes it is “positive” that the new council is forging ahead with discussions and preparatory papers on the potential for the site.
“It is important this link up continues between Forest Service and the new ABC council in order that the much needed enhancements to Gosford are delivered, which will certainly make full use of this important tourism resource.
“I am aware in the new council that discussions and work is ongoing with DSD officials to look at the possibility to further enhance and regenerate various portions of our towns across the new council area. Again this includes areas of Armagh City.
“These discussions are feeding into a Transition Plan for the whole new council area and I will be interested to see how these discussions progress. It is vital that the new council continues to plan ahead to positively improve our city, towns and villages across the borough,” Mr Irwin added.