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The 'lost' city of Craigavon to be unearthed in BBC documentary

PORTADOWN writer and satirist Newton Emerson is to unearth the 'lost' city of Craigavon in a new BBC One documentary to be screened on Monday night.

Newton, who was editor of the renowned Portadown News website, presents the 35-minute programme which marks the 40th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone in the greenlands of North Armagh, of what was to become Craigavon.

The documentary studies the origins of Craigavon, which was part of Prime Minister Terence O'Neill's vision of a 'modern' Northern Ireland in the 1960s, and the product of that era's pseudoscientific town-planning concepts which included recreation zones, 'mixed' housing, cycle paths and roundabouts.

However, for Newton - born in Lurgan but raised in Portadown - the making of the documentary led him on the journey of rediscovering the experimental city.

"I suppose I had the attitude that many people in Portadown have towards Craigavon – that it was just a couple of bad estates on the edge of Lurgan," he said.

"Personally, I now think it was a crazy idea, though a very interesting one. I think Craigavon was the product of something which was very much of its time – cities like it were being built all over the world during the 1960s.

"As a child, I didn't notice the failure of Craigavon. The new city was an enormous playground of hidden cycle paths, roads that ended suddenly in the middle of nowhere and futuristic buildings standing empty in an artificial landscape. It had a magical quality," he said.

Nevertheless, on his return to the stomping grounds of his childhood and youth, Newton was surprised by the attitudes of the original Craigavon residents he interviewed for the programme. He said, "What really struck me was how positive they felt towards Craigavon and just how ambitious the plans for the city were."

insight

The programme also gives a computer-animated insight of how Craigavon would have looked today, had the planners' original vision come to fruition. And it tells the stories of the farmers who had their lands vested by the government for the construction of the city.

Director of 'The Lost City of Craigavon', Brian Henry Martin, said, "For me, Craigavon was one of the great mysteries of our recent history. It was the biggest social experiment in the history of Northern Ireland. To create an entire city from scratch in the middle of the country and re-locate thousands of families with the promise of permanent employment and a better way of life. So why did this hugely ambitious project fail?

"Today it feels like Craigavon has come full circle, with new houses and shops springing up everywhere and people not just from Northern Ireland but from all over the world moving there.

"The future of Craigavon, which for a long time seemed lost now feels very bright indeed for the futuristic city."

That is a sentiment echoed by Newton. "On a sunny day when you see people standing chatting to each other or smoking a cigarette outside the Rushmere Shopping Centre, you can feel that for the first time that it has a 'city-centre' feel about it," he said.

"Craigavon will survive and it will thrive, not in the way it was planned to be, but it definitely has a future."

'The Lost City of Craigavon' - a DoubleBand Films production for BBC Northern Ireland - will be screened on Monday (December 3) at 10.35pm.

Text us your views on this story to 81800, starting your message with PTTEXT and then a space. "On a sunny day when you see people standing chatting to each other or smoking a cigarette outside the Rushmere Shopping Centre, you can feel that for the first time that it has a 'city-centre' feel about it," he said.

"Craigavon will survive and it will thrive, not in the way it was planned to be, but it definitely has a future."

'The Lost City of Craigavon' - a DoubleBand Films production for BBC Northern Ireland - will be screened on Monday (December 3) at 10.35pm.

Text us your views on this story to 81800, starting your message with PTTEXT and then a space.

 
 
 

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