WHAT is being done to make Lurgan a better place to work, live and relax in. Charlie Gardiner, vice-chairman of both Lurgan Forward and Lurgan Chamber of Commerce, tells the ‘MAIL’ what’s happening in town.
He describes how both organisations have been actively working to promote all aspects of life in the town and results are starting to become visible. Lurgan Forward felt that, with the launch of their strategy document, people should be informed about what was happening in the town.
What’s happening with the face-lift for Lurgan?
Several grant schemes have been in place for over the last year - Restore and Neighbourhood Renewal. Both these schemes were aimed at revitalising the town centre and had various aspects.
The Restore scheme, which was made up of businesses and community interests, channelled funding toward vacant properties. The goal was to reduce the number of empty shops by making them visually more appealing and encouraging landlords to charge realistic rents.
The Neighbourhood Renewal Shop Front Scheme targeted occupied shops in areas of the town which qualified with the criteria set. Unfortunately the whole town centre didn’t qualify but areas outside the scheme have also seen major face-lifts with owners choosing to do work hence enhancing the town.
What’s happening with the railway and the roads?
Lobbying by Lurgan Forward and the Chamber of Commerce has been intense in the past year. Translink is implementing a new safety system early next year which will mean that the gates in William Street will be open quite a bit longer and should ease congestion.
The continuation of the Millennium Way has been lobbied for and has been brought very much to the fore at Stormont. All the political parties have given their backing to these projects.
Roads Service is also going to resurface Windsor Avenue which for years has been in a terrible state. As the main access to the park, Lurgan Forward viewed this as a priority scheme.
What’s happening with the Public Realm works?
Phase Two commences in September and there has been much negotiation with the business community to minimise disruption and maximise the benefits of the scheme. Lessons learned from Phase One have been acted on and it is hoped that the works will run smoothly.
What is happening with the market?
Since the market site was sold by the council in the 1990s there has been no market in the town. While many other towns have been able to use their market as a tool to generate footfall, Lurgan has been left behind. That is all going to change! Plans are currently underway to reinstate a quality market in the town. While more research is carried out into necessary details, a type of pilot scheme is being implemented. A craft and food market is being planned for early September and this is only the start of many.
What is happening with public art?
Public art takes many forms and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The commissioned piece of public art hopefully will be in the town centre soon and certainly will be a talking point. It reflects the history of the linen industry in the town but certainly with a modern slant. Wall murals have also been appearing to brighten up the town and this project is linked with Omnisoft and the Love Lurgan campaign. It’s great to see a new initiative to brighten up the town. On a more historical form of art, it is hoped that a bronze of Master McGrath will be incorporated in the Phase Two of the Public Realm Works.
Is anything being done about rates and parking which seem to be major issues?
Yes, these are two major recurring issues for the business community. A member of Lurgan Chamber of Commerce was on the negotiating team which negotiated the Rate Relief Scheme for NI. Strong lobbying is continuing for a revaluation as, due to the crash of commercial property prices, rates are no longer realistic and make it difficult for businesses. It will be a case of keeping pressure on the relevant bodies for change.
Parking is also a thorny issue but one which is being grasped. The Chamber of Commerce lobbied to stop on-street parking charges last year and this was halted in Lurgan. Parking charges are seen as a hindrance to progress in the town.
A campaign has also begun to get a bus station for the town which has potential to free up more parking spaces.
Are results being seen?
Definitely! Despite the current economic climate and the decline of the town centres, Lurgan is progressing. Things are very tough in the retail sector and some shops are surviving rather than being profitable. However, the vacancy rate in Lurgan is declining, unlike most towns, with new business ventures springing up across the town.
Lurgan shops, which are mostly owner-driven, seem to be bucking the trend and overall appearance of the town is improving. Hopefully the community will support their shops and secure the town’s future for the community.
What are the plans for the future?
The plans are numerous but all with one agenda - to make Lurgan a better place to work, live and relax.
Lurgan Forward and the Chamber are working with many community and sporting groups with the view to establish an events calendar for the town which everyone can benefit from. Many groups are doing a diverse range of activities already and it is hoped that all resources can be brought together to achieve many more results.
The Tots Modern Exhibition in Alwood Kitchens showroom is a classic example of commerce and community working hand in hand. Unfortunately the arts centre for the borough is located in Portadown and the people of Lurgan haven’t the same opportunity for art exhibitions. Alwood Kitchens are already working on a follow-up to Tots Modern and it is hoped to have another arts exhibition in the town in the Autumn.
Lurgan is the largest population centre in the borough and there is no reason why, if the community came together, we can’t achieve great things.
For instance our Town Hall could do with a major refurbishment to bring it up to the standard of other centres in the Borough. If a united voice is given from Lurgan we can achieve much.
Credit must also be given to elected representatives and statutory bodies who have been working with both Lurgan Forward and the Chamber. It has been good to see an openness to new ideas and thinking. The town centre manager for the Borough, Lynne McNeill, has been working to host events to bring activity to the town centre. These events must be seized upon as an opportunity.
Lurgan has many award-winning businesses, a wide variety of leisure activities and a wealth of heritage to build on. It is this firm foundation that plans are being laid on.