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Banbridge District
  • Ceantar Dhroichead na Banna
Banbridge in Northern Ireland.svg
Area 453 km2 (175 sq mi) 
Ranked 15th of 26
District HQ Banbridge
Catholic 32%
Protestant 62%
Country Northern Ireland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
EU Parliament Northern Ireland
List of places
Northern Ireland

Banbridge was a local government district in Northern Ireland. The district was one of 26 council areas formed on 1 October 1973, following the implementation of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972. The headquarters of the council were in the town of Banbridge. In April 2015, most of the Banbridge district was included in the merged Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon district.

Location and geography

The district is in the west of County Down and covers an area of 175 square miles (450 km2) of countryside – from Slieve Croob (1,775 ft) in the east to the River Bann valley in the west. It is also the main gateway to the Mourne Mountains, which lie to the south and is bisected by the A1 route between Belfast and Dublin.

The district was formed by the merger of Banbridge Urban District, Dromore Urban District and Banbridge Rural District. In 1993 there was a boundary change, and the Rathfriland area was transferred from the neighbouring district of Newry and Mourne. The other main small towns in the area include Gilford, Loughbrickland and Scarva. According to the 2001 census, the population of the district was just over 42,000 and according to the 2011 census this had grown to 48,339.

Environmental profile

Since the late 1990s more and more attention has been paid both by the local council and residents to enhancing the district’s environmental profile. Over the past decade Banbridge district has repeatedly recorded one of the highest levels of recycling in Northern Ireland. In 2009–2010, for example, almost 52% of household waste was recycled/composted. In June 2009, a bring-and-buy reuse shop, Restore, was also opened by the local council in an effort to reduce waste in the district. In May 2012 the council beat Warwickshire County Council and Cardiff City Council to win the best Local Authority Recycling Initiative at the ninth annual Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management.

In 2007 a biodiversity audit was carried out and in late 2007 a biodiversity action plan was published. Like the rest of Northern Ireland, woodlands make up only a small percentage of the district’s land cover (according to the Forestry Commission only 6.5% of Northern Ireland was forested in 2010). In recent years public funds have been committed to improving access to and the quality of outdoor spaces, including for example Solitude Park in Banbridge, the Newry Canal Towpath which runs through the western part of the district, and Slieve Croob taking in the Legananny Dolmen and the Finnis souterrain (known locally as Binder's Cove). Given the unfavourable topography, the district is not currently home to any wind turbines, but it was announced in May 2010 that a biogas site would be built.

Arts and culture profile

Local government funding for the arts in the district is comparatively very low. In the financial year 2003–2004 the local council spent £1.23 per capita on the arts, which covers arts development and support, as well as spending on theatres and public entertainment. This compared to a mean Northern Ireland per-capita spend of £7.70, putting Banbridge District in 22nd place out of the 26 local councils. By 2006–2007, the mean per-capita spending on the arts by the council had risen to £3.38, but this compared to a Northern Ireland average of £8.44, putting the council at fifth from the bottom of Northern Ireland’s 26 local authorities.

The two main arts venues in the district are the Iveagh Cinema and the F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio. The £3-million cinema, which opened in May 2004, is home to a 300-seater screen that was specially designed and built to double up as a theatre facility for live performances, plays, and arts events. The F.E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, opened in September 2008, houses the contents of the London studio of F. E. McWilliam, a sculpture garden of McWilliam's work, as well as providing a dedicated gallery space for temporary exhibitions.

Review of local government

As part of the review of public administration in Northern Ireland begun in 2002, plans were developed to merge Banbridge District Council with neighbouring council areas. According to the first seven-council model, announced in late 2005, it was proposed that Banbridge District should be merged with three other councils (Armagh, Craigavon and Newry and Mourne). In June 2007 a second, 11-council reform proposal was announced according to which most of the area now covered by Banbridge District would be merged with Armagh City and District Council and Craigavon Borough Council. While some aspects of the review of public administration are proceeding that will affect the character of local councils in Northern Ireland, for example the transfer of the majority of planning functions from central government to district councils, the plans for local-government amalgamation have been put (perhaps indefinitely) on hold.

Banbridge district and the Troubles

Like all other parts of Northern Ireland, Banbridge District was not unaffected by the Troubles. Between 1969 and 2001 twelve individuals (six Catholic, six Protestant) lost their lives in the district as a result of the Troubles: Patrick Campbell in 1973, Joseph Toland in 1975, William, Elizabeth, and Noleen Herron, and Barry O’Dowd in 1976, Robert Harrison in 1977, Alan McCrum in 1982, John Bell in 1985, Terence Delaney in 1988, and Patrick Feeny and Loughlin Maginn in 1989. During the Troubles two bombs exploded in the district, both in Banbridge. The first was in 1982, as a result of which Alan McCrum died. Two weeks before the Omagh bombing, on 1 August 1998, a second car bomb planted by the Real IRA exploded in Banbridge town centre. While this second bomb caused a great deal of structural damage, no one was killed.

Economic profile

Historically, Banbridge District’s economy had its roots in manufacturing (textile/linen and shoe production), agriculture and the retailing/service sector. Ferguson’s, one of the oldest names in the Irish linen industry, still operates in Banbridge, and a shoe factory first opened in 1947 and closed in the early 2000s. It employed 600 workers at its height. According to council statistics the district was home to over 1,770 businesses, the vast majority of which had fewer than 10 employees. One of the most important recent large-scale economic developments to occur in the district was the opening of a discount fashion outlet on the outskirts of Banbridge, which currently has 59 different stores. The outlet forms part of the Bridgewater Park development project, for which Tesco currently has planning permission to open one of its largest stores in Ireland. In late 2010 Asda also submitted plans for a store in Banbridge, with the possibility of creating jobs for up to 250 district residents.

Economic Indicator Geographic Unit 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Median Gross Weekly Wage (£) Banbridge . . 280.4 308.1 294.0 324.8 271.7 280.5
Northern Ireland 305.4 318.7 322.7 329.9 346.5 354.6 356.6 360.0
Mean Gross Weekly Wage (£) Banbridge 250.6 348.3 330.9 399.3 400.0 392.0 354.6 353.9
Northern Ireland 361.7 377.3 379.9 391.3 408.6 422.9 417.9 426.7
Unemployment Rate (claimant count) (%) Banbridge . 1.3 1.2 1.1 1.4 2.8 3.5 4.0
Northern Ireland . 2.6 2.5 2.2 2.4 4.3 4.9 5.2

Sports and community sector

According to information collected by the local council, over 200 community groups and more than 80 sports clubs operated in the Banbridge District. In all probability these figures represent a conservative estimate of the vibrancy and diversity of social capital in the local area as the council’s directory of community groups and sports clubs included some but not all of the many different youth, sports, and other types of groups and clubs that met under the auspices of local churches.

Educational profile

Banbridge District lay within the former Southern Education and Library Board area and was home to thirty-one publicly funded educational establishments. This included: three pre-primary nurseries; twenty-one primary schools (of which ten were “controlled” primaries, one was a “grant-maintained integrated” primary, and the other ten were “maintained” primaries); five post-primary institutions (of which one was a maintained secondary, two were controlled secondary schools, one was a controlled grammar school, and one was a grant-maintained integrated school). There was also a special needs school in Banbridge catering for pupils aged five to nineteen, which lay adjacent to one of six campuses belonging to the Southern Regional College.

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