Newry Street, Banbridge
Category: The Great Street Award
Date of visit: July 2016
Assessor: Alistair Barr
1. Council and business working together
The assessors were impressed by the way the Council have appointed and nurtured strong effective people at all levels and supported their initiatives. The town centre team ensures that a fully integrated vision is being applied to the whole high street with a real sense of ownership and partnership.
2. Small projects as catalyst
There have been three evolving masterplans since 2000 but the Council has resisted the grand gesture in favour of smaller deliverable actions. They have been diligent about obtaining grants and maximising the local impact of every pound. The Council has bought together many different government departments for the greater good of the street.
3. Business community links
There is a strong sense of community and mutual support across all businesses in Newry Street.
4. Don’t wait for “experts”
Although the council has commissioned plans they have learned lessons from changing social situations to keep the ideas fresh and evolving. They have the confidence to nurture local independents and entrepreneurs.
5. Consultation is key
The last 16 years have proven that a strong community lead by a listening council can affect great changes. The assessors were very impressed by the breadth and depth of the collaboration.
The vitality and unique character of Newry Street plays a key role in delivering the Vision for Banbridge (May 2016) as a ‘prime destination of choice to visit, invest and live.’ Whilst horse drawn coaches no longer travel through the Cut on their way from Belfast to Dublin, local businesses now offer a warm welcome to visitors from the rural hinterland and further afield.
Leadership and Governance
Following the recent amalgamation of local councils the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council now provides leadership for the enhancement for Newry Street.
The masterplan emphasises the place of Newry Street within the town centre. Everyone we met was committed to the vitality and health of Newry Street. The Town Centre Manager controls a system of street wardens which runs until the two big nightclubs close. There are also safety wardens, event hosts, a visitor information team and a town twinning association. Garnet McConnell is not only the litter warden but also the Council’s ‘face on the street’, ever helpful to locals and visitors alike.
86% of the businesses on Newry Street are local and independent. The shop owners have roots here and have a sense of community. Family businesses have been passed down but this has not stopped them from embracing new technology and welcoming new businesses.
Public realm improvements started in 2000 following a large bomb blast in 1998. At this time access was restricted to the town centre, vacancy rates were at 26% with two large derelict sites and plans for a large out-of-town retail development. Heavy planters had been added to prevent further attacks. The improvements removed the planters, widened and resurfaced pavements, added an avenue of trees and a new pedestrian crossing. The central landscaping adds a feeling of pedestrian control when crossing.
The town is an 18th century coaching town made unique by the Cut which allowed the carriages under the hill. The Cut is used for events and there are plans for a pocket park above it. The drumlins surrounding the town give exhilarating views across the streets and the restored old town hall at the top of the hill is a great marker.
Newry Street has high quality independent family retailers. At the southern end of the town is an excellent example of a new building, Blend and Bake, a new coffee shop which opens until late. It follows the footprint of an abandoned building but creates a distinctive new gateway to Newry Street. The backlands have been developed over the years and seem to offer more scope.
The street has active frontages and a coherent pedestrian network. Unfortunately the main pedestrian crossing is disjointed and the layout impedes easy crossing. The assessors debated whether more cars could be encouraged off the main street. The boulevard of trees is a particularly successful addition. An internet radio station sits alongside a community theatre project and a very large bakery with a shop adds vitality to the street. We were impressed by Mechelle Brown, the town centre and events manager. Her background is in the arts and this added a creative edge to a much organised system.
Commercial Success and Viability
John Dobson, Chairperson of Banbridge Community Regeneration says the town offers “a balanced mix of retail and leisure pursuits. Visitor numbers are on the up and investor confidence is high.”
The Council’s plans to support economic vitality are exemplary. They help train businesses for Click and Collect, have a landlord mentoring project, a shopfront scheme and promote many marketing initiatives. The assessors were struck by levels of employment along the street, indicating the important economic function Newry Street plays in the town.
The Council is certified with ISO14001 and has a robust series of policies for the street. Pedestrian links, cycle routes, and electric vehicle charging places are all being developed.
The new Solitude Park has been developed within the flood plain of the River Bann to mitigate flood damage to buildings or infrastructure, and is an excellent piece of recent design.
Community Health and Wellbeing
There are numerous initiatives which are enhancing community cohesion. The Circuit of Ireland rally stops here, the annual Buskfest, the Autumn Arts festival, an outdoor cinema and many more events are centred on Newry Street and spill into Solitude Park.
The park and surroundings offer places for exercise and relaxation and a new connection to the bus station will create a safer link through a high quality public realm.
Banbridge has excellent connections within Ireland. Parking is £1 for five hours and the town is a major attraction. The mix of cafes, bars, night clubs and sports facilities offer multiple activities for all residents. The council recognises that the topography offers difficulties to less able people, and pram users, mitigating these with the centralised shops and wide clear pavements, and a desire to continue improving this aspect to make Banbridge more welcoming.
In 2000 Newry Street had bomb damage, security measures and economic stagnation. We were extremely impressed by the dramatic changes since then. It is apparent that the Council has plans in place to continue the momentum of these urban improvements in the future. This is a great street which is moving rapidly to a planned direction with lots of activity and vitality. We believe it would be a worthy winner.