ABC council member David Jones has swiftly taken up the challenge from last week’s Portadown Times to form a task force for the regeneration of the town.
The gauntlet was thrown down by Brian Walker, chairman of Portadown 2000, which has prepared a £7m plan to transform part of Thomas Street and expand its William Street headquarters.
The project is on the EU’s short list, and hopes are high it will start soon.
Councillor Jones said he was “moving swiftly” to set up the task force and contacting all five other Portadown representatives on the council for a start – Arnold Hatch, Darryn Causby, Paul Duffy, Julie Flaherty and Louise Templeton, who is replacing Jonny Buckley MLA.
He added, “Then I will include the type of representative Brian suggests. I will suggest that we go and talk to Argos and the First Trust to try and see if there is any hope of them remaining in Portadown.
“I appreciate Brian’s comments that Portadown Swimming Pool (Cascades) should not be closing. It’s in a deprived area of Portadown and I opposed the creation of a fit-all leisure centre in Brownlow as the replacement for the existing three.
“There are so many issues to be resolved and the task force is vital. I am optimistic that this will succeed – just as industry in Portadown is succeeding spectacularly. In fact, we will try to involve industry as much as possible.”
Mr Walker said he was delighted at such a swift response from Councillor Jones and hoped the initiative would succeed.
“I will give it all the help I can,” he said. “Industry is thriving in Portadown, and it is significant that one of our champions of industry – Nicky Coburn of Ulster Carpets – is president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce. This is an example of what Portadown could, and should, be doing generally.”
Mr Walker said the project could be a catalyst to breathe new life into the struggling centre of Portadown, in view of the succession of retail closures over the past few years. The latest blows are the pending closure of Argos at High Street Mall and of the town’s branch of the First Trust Bank in Market Street.
“The shopping basket must be a large one,” he said. “In the case of public transport, they must look towards the revival of the train services to Armagh and to the North West of the province. In recreation and education, searching question must be asked about provision in Portadown.”