A MULTI-MILLION pound ‘Master Plan’ was announced this week for Richhill, with a £4m upgrade of the decaying castle and a brand new health centre project on top of the list.
The plan - prepared by the village’s go-ahead Richhill Building Preservation Trust (RBPT) - is envisaged as a major follow-up to the £1.3m regeneration scheme starting soon, involving 19 “architecturally significant buildings”, and for which the funds are already in place.
In announcing the plan, Councillor Jim Speers, chairman of the RBPT, said that the proposed Health and Well-Being Centre and the castle project were the centrepieces of the entire plan, and they would be complemented by a parkland at Sleepy Valley, a new modern service road for the village, allied to significant environmental improvements.
There is much optimism that The Castle project will come to fruition as the main catalyst to the overall plan. The Master Plan - a copy of which has been sent to every home in the village and beyond - states that negotiations to transfer the Grade A listed building from private ownership are at an advanced stage, and that the £4m funding could be drawn down from bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund, Action in Rural Areas, the NI Environmental Agency, the NI Tourist Board and Armagh City and District Council.
Not only would the 17th century building be transformed into a major tourism and history centre, but the six acres of land would be turned over to the community, with attractive gardens, walkways and cycle ways. “Restoration work would ensure that the architectural and historical significance of the buildings would be preserved for future generations”, said Mr Speers, who added that the campaign for the return of the ornate gates - “taken in 1936 by the government for Hillsborough Castle” - would be stepped up.
The HEALTH AND WELL BEING CENTRE plan is for a three to four storey building, based on the Portadown Centre project and replacing the out-of-date health centre at Maynooth Road, built in 1973 and inadequate for the fast-growing village. It would be a one-stop centre, with GPs, pharmacy, dental services, opticians, a village library and a gymnasium.
Said Dr Alan Turtle, a retired GP from the centre and secretary of the RBPT, “It’s the way ahead, and maybe an advance on Portadown, with services like the library, opticians and gymnasium - they are popular in England.” And Mr Speers said that discussions were being initiated between the RBPT and health agencies, adding that private input would probably be included.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS are also a vital element in the Master Plan, encompassing Tandragee Street, Irish Street, Main Street and Castle Square, with a one-way traffic flow along Main Street, a “rational approach to car parking”, new wider footpaths, outdoor spaces for cafes, market stalls and seating areas.
Discussions are ongoing with the Royal British Legion to relocate the village war memorial to tone in better with the newly-planned main streets, and there would be a new square to act as a primary pedestrian link between Main Street and the new Health and Well-Being Centre. All this would be shown off by nigh-quality lighting, paving, street furniture, trees and area planting.
The SLEEPY VALLEY PARKLAND would be a major facelift for the famous area - footpaths and cycle paths would be the main elements, with attractive landscaping to make it “a linear park, and a more intricate part of the overall village of Richhill, creating a new link between the residential areas and the main thoroughfares”
Finally, there is a proposal for a MARKET HOUSE, “drawing influence from the typical Ulster market houses of the past”. This would be on a site in Main Street where there is currently a storage building fronted by a blank facade.
The ground floor would be opened with arches to allow access from the new pedestrian area at the front and there would be a courtyard space at the rear, creating a meeting place for the villagers and a venue for special occasion.
Meanwhile, the forthcoming £1.3m scheme is focused on existing buildings which are being upgraded and restored, paving the way for the main proposals.
Villagers can have their say on the master plan wish list at a public consultation series in the Women’s Institute Hall on Main Street, from Thursday September 20 to Saturday September 22 - Thursday from 1.30-3.30pm and 5.30-8pm, and on the other two days from 10-am-1pm. Or they can e.mail the Trust on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website on www.richhillbpt.org at any time.