Coming Like A Ghost Town

By a few hundred metres, my house is inside the current local government boundaries of Craigavon Borough. Craigavon was a “new town” scheme from the mid-sixties, which notoriously and completely failed.

The plan was to create a new urban centre to reduce the requirements for development in Belfast (over half the people living in Northern Ireland today are in Greater Belfast). The Unionist government of Northern Ireland had decided not to make the obvious investment in Derry, which had clear potential to become a thriving city, because it was deemed to be too far from Belfast to allow commuting. Besides, it was full of fenians.

Future CityThe new town of Craigavon, named after the first (Unionist) Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, was supposed to be a linear town development, linking and absorbing the two existing town centres of Lurgan and Portadown (10km apart), and adding two new urban centres, Brownlow and Mandeville, between them.

The economic core of the new town was to be the huge Goodyear factory, which in the early years did provide employment for a substantial proportion of local inhabitants. Unfortunately, the company closed the factory, said thank you very much for the government grants, and moved production elsewhere.

When it became obvious that population estimates had been wildly over-optimistic, cash bounties were offered to encourage more individuals and familes to move into the waiting houses. This was particularly attractive for the poorest people in run-down housing in Belfast (although it was claimed that many only pretended to move house and simply took the money). Those who did move to Craigavon found that their new houses had been built with “experimental” technologies and materials, and had significant problems of robustness, insulation and weatherproofing.

Since the whole area had been planned on the trendy (and now discredited) concept of “single-use zoning”, new residents found that there were no local shops: the idea was to have everything in one central mall. There was also little public transport from the “housing zones” to the “commercial zone”. Plenty of fine new roads for the cars they didn’t have.

By the 1980s, about half of the new houses had been demolished, after lying empty since being built. Left to themselves, they would have fallen to pieces anyway. Only half of the planned housing had been built in the first place due to lack of demand.

The two old towns of Portadown and Lurgan have carried on exactly as they did before Craigavon. Brownlow became nothing more than an area of dilapidated housing estates, and Mandeville doesn’t really exist as an entity at all. The planned central shopping zone is now a reasonably sucessful mall complex, although there is still no proper access for locals. The rest of the central area is desolate and empty, with the ridiculous road infrastructure (and many roundabouts) built for a 1970s motor city.

But in many of the areas originally planned for housing, there are new housing developments, due to the demand in the last decade. Some of them are quite nice. Features of the original plans included two large lakes with recreational facilities, parks, cycle paths, and even a ski slope. All these still exist, so it’s not all bad.

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