Magherafelt regeneration scheme could be delayed for years

A start on Magherafelt’s town centre regeneration scheme could be years off with the ratepayers having to pick up a large slice of the tab, it emerged this week.

The local District Council embarked on the project back in 2011 and it was progressing well until the Department for Social Development (DSD) dropped the bombshell that it would only be funding a fraction of the estimated £2.3 million cost due to budgetary constraints.

Only Queen Street has benefited from a £150,000 face-lift in recent years and the council’s bid to obtain similar funding to improve the appearance of Rainey Street was turned down by the DSD.

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The Mail understands talks have been going on with the DSD regarding funding and DSD has awarded £90,000 to the council to appoint a design consultant to carry out ‘preparatory work’.

Many in the business community had hoped the work would have got underway as parts of the town are in need of a spruce-up to make them more appealing to shoppers.

Sinn Fein group leader Councillor Sean McPeake said the council has decided to “plough on to the next stage” in respect of the Magherafelt scheme.

He likened losing the bulk of the funding - about £2 million - to “having the carpet pulled out from under your feet.”

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“It was disappointing for the council as we had been working with various agencies drawing up the scheme over two or three years,” he said.

“There was an expectancy that the funding would be available there would not be the need to fall back on to local ratepayers.”

The Mid-Ulster Council will decide the matter along with schemes for Cookstown and Dungannon - cost for all three is estimated at £9 million.

DUP Councillor Anne Forde said the work needed to be done in Magherafelt in order to restore business and consumer confidence.

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“The important thing is that the scheme has not been shelved and will go ahead,” she said.

“Magherafelt is badly in need of an investment of this kind and it’s something we have been pushing for and will fight for when the new council takes over.”

Work started recently on developing a site at Broad Street which has lain derelict since the bombing there over 20 years ago.

Plans for commercial property and eight apartments were approved for this site some years ago.

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One of the objectives of the regeneration is improving shop fronts and encouraging town centre living or ‘living over shops’, whereby property owners are helped to turn empty upper floors into modern viable residential units.

Others are the creation of a heritage trail taking in the town’s historic buildings and similar to the one which operates successfully in Dungannon.

Development of ‘opportunity sites’ is another in particular the Market Yard at which has been identified as the site for the relocation of the town centre market.

Traffic and parking issues, particularly accessibility, will also be addressed.

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