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New ABC Council sets out priorities for first Corporate Plan

The new ABC Council will invest in state-of-the-art leisure facilities, as well as outdoor and adventure activities using the beautiful natural environment.

Town and village centres will be attractive, clean and accessible, offering quality shopping and restaurants, as well as cultural and entertainment experiences, which are inviting to everyone.

There will be a step change improvement in areas of deprivation and dereliction.

These are just some of the pledges which the new ‘super-council’ is making ahead of assuming control of the largest of the new local government jurisdictions outside Belfast.

ABC – which is currently operating in shadow form – is in the process of finalising its first Corporate Plan, which will cover the period from 2015-17.

But first and foremost, it will have to agree on an actual name and strike the new rate!

Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council will open public consultation on the plan and its priorities this coming Monday, December 1.

And  it wants to hear YOUR views.

It has set up a plan based on three key areas – People, Place and Position.

And it says it wants to make the most of the area’s “unique tapestry of contrasts” –  ancient – modern; urban – rural; industry – agriculture; waterways – road and railways, that sets it apart from anywhere else in Northern Ireland and offers “exciting opportunities for the future”.

Despite the challenges of the recent economic recession, the draft Corporate Plan says the area can boast a vibrant and growing economic sector.

There are more than 7,700 VAT or PAYE registered businesses. The majority are small medium sized business, employing 50 or less, with notable large employers such as Moy Park, Tayto, Fane Valley, Almac, Irwins, Turkingtons and Wilsons.

There are some 66,000 employee jobs in wholesale, retail, health and social services, and manufacturing.

There is a total work force of 123,000, of whom 84,000 are economically active.

In 2013 the Gross Value Added of the ABC region was £2.7bn – 9.4% of the Northern Ireland total and second only to Belfast.

The new council itself will employ approximately 1,400 staff – both full and part-time – led by the 41 new councillors.

And it will cover seven district electoral areas with a budget of more than £90 million at its disposal.

The Corporate Plan states: “A new beginning means a new start. We are clear about what we are here to do, what we want to achieve, and how we want to achieve it.

“The council will proactively build the economic prosperity of the area by developing the infrastructure that connects businesses and citizens to markets and employment opportunities anywhere in the world. Council services will be modern, reliable and efficient.

“The council will facilitate the thriving business community in growth sectors including pharmaceuticals, engineering, rural diversification, agri-foods, creative industries and tourism as well as supporting small enterprise development and entrepreneurship.

“Strategically located on the Belfast-Dublin cross border commuter and transport corridor, the council will work together with other partners to attract new investment and resources.
The area offers a good quality of life for all its residents, and will be safe and affordable for families and older people to live in.

“Local communities will be actively engaged on key issues in an inclusive manner. Young people will be able to realize their potential and develop their dreams through first class education and training provision, employment opportunities, as well as participating in sport, arts and community life.  The council will support communities to tackle social issues to improve cohesion and tolerance across the area.

“The rural character of the Orchard County, the upper Bann, Lagan valley and Lough Neagh southern shoreline will be preserved with care and developed for residents and visitors to enjoy.

“The people who live in rural areas are to be afforded good services, transport and digital accessibility to ensure they fully participate in all aspects of civic life and the economic development of the area. Effective systems for waste management and environmental protection safeguard nature for future generations.

“The council will support the diverse and colourful cultural heritage of the area: the buildings and architecture; its customs, stories, songs, poetry, music and sport; the traditions of the countryside and towns; the food and entertainment.

“Armagh’s ecclesiastical prominence underlines the significance of the area regionally, nationally and internationally.

“The council will invest in state of the art leisure facilities as well as outdoor and adventure activities using the beautiful natural environment. Town and village centres will be attractive, clean and accessible offering quality shopping and restaurants as well as cultural and entertainment experiences, which are inviting to everyone. There will be a step change improvement in areas of deprivation and dereliction.”

The Plan states that it will target priorities under:

Place – increasing prosperity through developing the economy, employment,  connectivity and environment.

People – improving everyone’s quality of life, opportunity, safety and wellbeing.

Position – giving the leadership to tackle the issues that matter and influencing decision makers at all levels.

In terms of what the ABC wants to achieve under these three categories, Armagh I selected the following highlights worthy of note:

Maximise external funding opportunities.

Campaign to increase inward investment.

Bid for large scale signature events.

Safeguard public administration jobs.

Support local businesses to grow and increase jobs.

Planning and Regeneration – Create an integrated Masterplan to maximise the potential of city, town and village centres, regeneration, tourism, land and property development.

Progress existing regeneration plans.

Complete all environmental improvement and regeneration schemes.

Develop the transport linkages to enhance travel, access and connectivity.

It will aim to achieve these through drawing up a new regeneration and development strategy for the area and Council Capital Programmes; Delivering programmes and support in partnership with the Southern Regional College and higher education; providing pre-enterprise and business start up training through links with business support providers

It intends implementing current Masterplans for towns and villages; influencing the Northern Ireland Regional Transportation Strategy and the Regional Strategy to develop connecting linkages, ring roads, one-way systems and rail links; developing a new comprehensive Area Plan.

In terms of People, the council has set its sight on developing a coherent cultural package for the area based on its rich heritage, including St Patrick, Lough Neagh, The Brontës, Ecclesiastical centres, the Armagh Museum, the Orange Order, Navan Fort and the Iron Age.

It is aiming to run programmes and projects in partnership with other agencies and the wider community; implementing environmental health enforcement duties and public awareness raising; enabling access to leisure facilities and the outdoors though placement of access paths, signage, trails and interpretation information; developing and implementing existing anti poverty strategy and health and well being strategy.

It wants to realise Good Relations Action Plans and Rural Development Strategies; developing a new Policing and Community Safety Partnership Action Plan; extending programmes in Council facilities and community centres to reduce anti-social behaviour

Under the banner of Position, highlights include:

Promote civic pride in the Council and the community Create productive partnerships for collaborative advantage.

Enable online citizen engagement and business/service transactions.

Promote a learning culture to drive innovation.

Keep citizens, elected members, staff and external parties well informed.

It aims to influence regional policies and strategies, focussing on the next Programme for Government at the NI Assembly, scanning opportunities to bid for European funding; building partnerships with other public and private sector bodies, including the implementation of Transforming Your Care with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.

Ahead of all of that, the new ABC Council has 10 immediate priorities, which include transferring functions from  DETI, DSD and DARD into existing service areas to achieve positive economic and social benefits.

It must yet agree an integrated finance system, capital and revenue budgets and strike the first new rate.

It also aims to implement an asset management strategy to ensure the council’s physical estate is maintained safely and in good operational order and put in place new local planning system and procedures.

And it has yet to agree “our new identity” as a council to “unify the people and the place”.

The Corporate Plan consultation period will begin on Monday, December 1, and the public can have their say up until Friday, January 23.

To view a copy of the draft Corporate Plan click here.

Comments will be considered and responses should be sent to: Mrs Dawn McDowell, PA/Executive Assistant, Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon District Council, c/o Civic Building, Downshire Road, Banbridge, BT32 3JY.

Or email your response to dawn.mcdowell@armaghbanbridgecraigavon.org

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