The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities announced Round 2 of the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund in April 2022. This fund aims to support investment in infrastructure and schemes that improve everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport options, and investing in cultural, heritage and leisure assets.
The outcome of round 2 of this competitive capital grant programme was announced on 17 January 2023.
The Council submitted three applications in line with guidance, and successfully secured funding for one of these: the Maghera Regeneration Programme.
The Maghera Programme was chosen as the projects to be delivered by the Programme were most closely aligned with the Levelling Up funding criteria. In addition, they addressed long-standing challenges in Maghera and were developed to deliver transformational improvement, benefitting residents, stimulating business growth and creating jobs for future generations.
Maghera Regeneration Programme
The Council has successfully secured £9.1m from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities' Levelling Up Fund to support the regeneration of Maghera to include a town centre Public Realm Scheme, the redevelopment of the former High School site as a Business Park, and the creation of a Wetland Park.
Maghera is one of Mid Ulster’s key settlements. Located on two main arterial routes, the A26 and A29, it is an area that has considerable economic and social potential.
The Council has also committed a substantial amount of additional funding to support regeneration, resulting in a total investment of over £10m in Maghera and its surrounding area.
The Council has an ambitious and integrated vision for Maghera, and this once in a generation opportunity will bring together planning, design and management of public spaces and local community assets to create areas that promote health, happiness, and well-being, while providing an economic bedrock to support future prosperity.
The overall programme has three core project elements:
Town Centre Public Realm Scheme
This project will create a vibrant high street environment where the local community is at the heart of place-making; where a mix of commercial and residential uses complement each other; and where businesses, large and small, feel welcome and the community feels safer.
Maghera Business Park
This project will provide the commercial space and infrastructure for local businesses to grow. It will encourage external investment to create high value jobs and fuel employment in the local area.
Maghera Wetland Park
This project will create more greenspace and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, with the aim of promoting more social interaction, and better health and well-being outcomes.
How much funding did you apply for?
The Council secured the full support for the £10.06m programme. The Levelling Up Fund capital grant is for £9,058,971m. Council will contribute £1,006,552M from its capital reserves. All project elements and capital spend are anticipated for completion by 31 March 2025.
Why is this important?
The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measures 2017 identifies small area concentrations of multiple deprivation across Northern Ireland. Maghera ranks in the lower third of NI for many of the key deprivation indicators including income, living environment, health, and employment.
When complete, the Maghera Regeneration Programme will transform the overall economic, environmental, cultural, and social wellbeing of Maghera.
Enhancing Maghera’s public realm is key to strengthening the attractiveness of the town as a place to visit and invest. It will support the growth of commerce in the town, reflect the local culture, and facilitate social interaction.
The proposed public realm scheme is a central part of the wider Maghera Regeneration programme, supporting a broader holistic vision for the town. It will seek to build on what makes Maghera distinctive by celebrating key heritage attractions such as the Walled Garden, St Lurach’s Church and Graveyard, the town’s independent retailers and the high-quality buildings in the centre.
It is critical for Maghera to find ways to strengthen pedestrian activity, encouraging more people to explore the qualities of the town, to stay longer, to enjoy the range of cultural activities on offer, to meet one another and to spend more money in local businesses.
Economic growth and development in the area is currently constrained by the lack of serviced sites to meet the demand from local indigenous businesses needing space to grow. Restrictions in accessing land significantly impact on the ability of businesses in Mid Ulster’s key sectors to expand and deliver investment and job creation in the local area.
The issue continues to stifle economic growth in Mid Ulster and threaten the region’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Local businesses have been forced to look outside the district which is unacceptable, and the area is losing out on investment.
For many years, there has been strong representation from local businesses, Maghera Development Association, community leaders and constituents for greater support for the creation of new employment opportunities in the Maghera area. A key feature of this feedback has been a gap in the availability of industrial land to support business growth and investment. The second element of the programme – the Maghera Business Park - will help to plug this gap.
The third element of the proposed Maghera Regeneration programme will see the creation of a Maghera Wetland Park, a new outdoor recreational facility that will seek to enhance the natural environment and link to existing facilities at Maghera Walled Garden.
Enhancing biodiversity through habitat creation will be a key factor in developing the wetland site as a quality green space. Other features will include a high-quality walking trail network to allow visitors to explore the site and experience nature; natural play areas for children to engage and play creatively in a natural setting; nature interaction points with integrated seating and platforms to allow viewing and pond dipping; the installation of a bird hide; a covered outdoor event space and picnic facilities; and a dog exercise area.
When will the work take place?
It is anticipated that the three projects will be delivered by no later than the end of March 2025.
All work will be scheduled well in advance, and local people and businesses kept fully informed, especially if there will be any temporary traffic lights or street / road closures.
Who has supported this programme?
It is important that the programme has support from a wide range of stakeholders. Each of the three programme elements has been the subject of extensive community and stakeholder consultation and engagement, including consultation with residents, community groups, businesses, MLAs, NI Executive Departments, statutory agencies and Non-Departmental Public Bodies.
All three programme elements have received almost universal support. There is strong need in the Maghera area for additional recreation and greenspace, the Council considers that the proposed 40-acre Wetland Park, which will be adjacent to the former High School site, offers a viable alternative to the former High School site, much of which is brownfield in nature with some potentially hazardous areas.
How will this programme benefit local people?
Maghera’s public realm has not been invested in since 1996 and is now considered to be dated, unattractive, unappealing and ready for a major refurbishment. Street surfaces are in a very poor condition in places and a lack of drop kerbs makes it difficult for pedestrians, particularly the visually impaired and wheelchair users. In addition, the need for additional recreational space and commercial land has long been recognised by residents and businesses in the Maghera area.
This programme will invest in the town’s public realm and support the Council’s ambitions to revitalise the town, enhance its attractiveness and to support Maghera to become a destination in its own right. It is anticipated that the development of high-quality streetscapes and shared spaces in the town centre and via the proposed Wetland Park will enhance the area’s social vitality and provide safe and welcoming spaces for the local community to mix and meet with one another. Children and young people will be supported in achieving good health by accessing a quality physical environment with space to play.
Through investment in the Business Park the programme places economic growth at its heart, facilitating the creation of quality, high-paying jobs in a stable and thriving economy. Local residents will benefit from sustained prosperity, and be able to enjoy improved quality of life through the overall economic, social and environmental benefits delivered by the programme. By giving local businesses the space to grow or to invest in the area, the projects will support a strong, regionally balanced, inclusive economy, thus tackling the social and economic challenges facing the area. This will provide the platform to allow everyone to reach their potential, giving people access to better jobs across different sectors.
Each project will provide an accessible environment for those in society with disabilities, improving their quality of life and enabling everyone to live their life in a fulfilling way as valued members of an inclusive society.
The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper recognises that people’s lives are shaped by the social and physical fabric of their communities. The programme will help position Maghera as a place where people want to live, work and visit.
Is it possible to find out more?
The three projects that make up the programme will be further refined over the coming months as delivery progresses; this will include further engagement with various stakeholders to explore ways to work together to facilitate delivery.
Residents and stakeholders will be kept fully informed as the programme progresses over the coming months, including regular Council social media posts and website updates on key milestones. There will also be a series of information and engagement events at appropriate stages to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to share feedback.