Newry And Armagh Forging Ahead In A Challenging World

11 December 2010

In common with virtually every town and city across Northern Ireland, Newry and Armagh continue to work hard in order to optimise their commercial, social and cultural potential within an increasingly challenging and dispiriting economic and financial environment.  Both cities recognise that they have a competitive advantage in terms of their close proximity to the border offering easy access to an all-Ireland market.

The announcement by Newry-based financial software company, First Derivatives, in October that it will create 100 new jobs through its subsidiary, Market Research Parties (MRP) thus establishing a European operation in Newry, provided a major economic boost for the city.  MRP cited factors including the local talent pool available and the city’s competitiveness as a business location as instrumental in its decision to base its operation in Newry. Newry also benefits not only in terms of its position on the Belfast-Dublin corridor, but also due to the fact that almost 3 million of Ireland’s population lives within one hour’s drive of the city. 

Combine proximity and ease of access with a strong retail offer and it’s little wonder that Newry has benefitted enormously in recent years from cross-border trade (assisted greatly at times by near-parity currency levels and competitive pricing), however, it is unlikely that the city will continue to experience similar levels of cross-border trade this year.   That stated, Newry remains optimistic about attracting southern shoppers especially during the Christmas trading period.  Certainly, the completion of the £150 million stretch of dual carriageway between Belfast and Dublin, the final stage of the Newry by-pass  in effect, has substantially reduced traffic congestion both around and within the city, and has been welcomed by traders and consumers alike. 

Evidence of Newry’s strong retail offer was apparent earlier this year when Damolly Retail Park was acquired by London-based Metric Property Investments plc from local development company, Corbo Properties for £34.9 million reflecting a net initial yield of 6.25%.  Proposals have also been submitted to the planning authorities in respect of a £100 million mixed-use development at Carnbane Way on the southern side of the city.  Comprising a 10-screen cinema, food store, office space, apartments and light industrial units, developers, The Hill Partnership, claim that up to 500 jobs will be generated during construction and 1000 new jobs created upon completion.  Meanwhile, plans for the construction of a Tesco superstore on the Downshire Road, Newry if approved will also stimulate job creation within the locality.

In terms of general employment, Newry appears to be less dependent upon the public sector than other locations throughout the province with a growing private sector. This should make the city less vulnerable to forthcoming Government spending cuts.

Armagh is also keen to attract inward investment and greater numbers of visitors if proposals under the Armagh City Centre Master plan are anything to go by. The Master plan recognises that more capital can be made of the city’s cultural and ecclesiastical heritage, which could pay hefty economic dividends.  Implementation of the Master plan, however, is still some way off and this is an issue that needs to be addressed.  On the positive side, work is well underway on the £5 million Armagh City Centre Regeneration Scheme, which aims to create a high quality, pedestrian-friendly city centre.

A quality transport infrastructure has long been a difficult issue for Armagh despite its location 40 miles south-west of Belfast and a mere 15 minutes drive from the border.  Unfortunately, it would appear that plans to develop the A5 Western Transport Corridor have been shelved owing to budgetary constraints on both sides of the border. 

In terms of its current retail offer, Armagh has a number of long-established independent retailers, however, it experiences significant retail leakage to cities such as Craigavon and Newry.  Creating a greater critical mass of shops through encouraging multiples to invest in Armagh whilst retaining and attracting high quality, independent retailers of the city would go some way towards realising such an objective.

The proposed development of Armagh Gaol would also be a catalyst for further regeneration opportunities across the city.  Derelict for over 20 years, the property is the subject of ambitious plans to transform it into a mixed-used development comprising a luxury hotel and spa, restaurants, retail units, heritage centre and residential accommodation. Similarly, the impending sale of the former Drumadd Army Barracks on the outskirts of Armagh City offers a potentially exciting opportunity for development as a mixed-use site subject to the usual planning consents.  Since the principle of development has already been established, the 36-acre site is technically available for development for residential, office, industrial and leisure uses, which should appeal to interested parties.

These are difficult times for all of Northern Ireland, which look set to last throughout 2011. Towns and cities such as Newry and Armagh will need to work hard to realise their vision for future growth and prosperity as opposed to mere survival.  We must make every effort to stimulate commercial and industrial opportunities for these local economies and not simply concentrate on bolstering the economies of larger conurbations such as Belfast and Londonderry as this is within the broader interests of the Northern Irish community.

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