Spotlight On Craigavon
10 June 2011Despite being the fourth largest urban area in Northern Ireland, Craigavon has never quite fulfilled the 1960s vision of a fully integrated new town. Rather it is characterised by three distinct, and indeed, competing town centres – Lurgan, central Craigavon and Portadown.
Like the town itself, the commercial property market has never fully matured to reflect the scale and importance of the area as an urban environment with the exception of Rushmere Shopping Centre. With the arrival of Sainsbury’s in 1998, the scheme has expanded and improved beyond recognition boasting a line-up of national and local retailers to rival most other centres in Northern Ireland.
In contrast, Lurgan town centre is suffering a serious crisis of confidence as evidenced by the number of vacant and derelict buildings in its town centre, its catchment usurped largely by Rushmere. Portadown has fared better with two small-scale shopping schemes, the Meadows Shopping Centre and High Street Mall, helping to retain trade in the town. However, the reality is that out-of-town shopping, which central Craigavon effectively is, holds the ace cards principally regarding accessibility and ample free parking. It comes as something of a relief, therefore, that the new Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, has indicated he will not be introducing on-street parking charges in towns across the province.
The recently published, Craigavon Integrated Development Framework, is an admirable attempt to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of all three centres and makes a case for a co-ordinated, complementary approach to development and regeneration. It recognises that central Craigavon is best placed to attract large-scale retail and leisure development whilst Lurgan and Portadown need to refocus on a mix of local and national retailers with an emphasis on culture, arts, crafts and leisure.
Lurgan needs to integrate the town centre better with its jewel in the crown, Lurgan Park, and the adjacent Brownlow House. Portadown could capitalise more on its under-utilised river frontage with the Bann to include water-facing residential, commercial and leisure developments.
Beyond retail, the Craigavon commercial market is very limited. It is acknowledged that an opportunity exists for a cinema-led leisure scheme similar to the successful Lisburn Omniplex development. Rushmere Shopping Centre has consent for a large extension to include approximately 148,000 sq ft of retail floor space, a five screen cinema plus restaurants, however, additional land needs to be acquired and there seems to be little short-term prospect of the development proceeding.
Craigavon possesses excellent natural amenities such as Oxford Island’s award-winning Lough Neagh Discovery Centre, which has excellent water sports facilities and a 269-acre nature reserve, the Balancing Lakes in central Craigavon in addition to the dry ski slope outside Lurgan. With only 83 hotel rooms available in Craigavon, surely this points to an immediately identifiable tourism/leisure opportunity?
Although Craigavon has a very strong manufacturing base and major local employers include Almac, Ulster Carpet Mills, Glanbia and Moy Park, most facilities are owner- occupied with little trade in these properties consequently. While the traditional industrial estates such as Annesborough and Seagoe feature largely dated property, a beacon of success is undoubtedly the re-branding and continued growth of the former Goodyear factory at Silverwood now known as Silverwood Business Park and home to a wide range of office, warehousing, distribution and manufacturing occupiers, some occupying up to 100,000 sq ft.
Overall, Craigavon has a lot to offer albeit significant challenges exist not least concerning how to facilitate the continued expansion of central Craigavon without further damaging the traditional town centres of Lurgan and Portadown - unfortunately, there are no easy answers.