Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council area has a population of 205,711 (NISRA 2014 estimate).  The rural population at the 2011 census was 93,509 (DARD Guidance) however the most recent population estimates place this figure at 99,294 (NISRA 2014 estimate).

The council area is one of great size and variety, covering some 554 square miles within whose boundaries contain, to the west the historic Navan Centre and Fort, to the north the scenic southern shores of Lough Neagh with the Mournes foothills providing a backdrop to Bronte country in the east and the Newry-Portadown canal leading to the our southern boundaries. With a population in excess of 205,000, outside of Belfast, it is the largest council in Northern Ireland. 

The new district brings together important environmental areas and topography of great contrast including the wet lowlands along the southern shores of Lough Neagh, the Drumlin belt of mid-Armagh the landscape varies from the Upper Bann floodplain to the Dromore lowlands through the Iveagh Slopes to the Mourne foothills. Different local rural economies and communities developed across the Cluster area, often related to specific local ecosystems: many of these ecosystems still survive.

Over the centuries, and particularly since the Plantation of Ulster, the heritage underpinning of the Cluster area has broadened and deepened.  It is home to a unique (in Ireland) orchard landscape (and associated economic activity) and the legacies of the linen industry are still visible in most rural communities in the form of many businesses that are not directly related to farming.

Historically the area was strongly influenced by the development of the Ulster, Lagan, and Newry Canals.  These remain in place as potential tourism/leisure assets.  So too do many archaeological and historic remains, buildings, and sites.

Although NIRDP is a rural development programme, focussing on the Cluster’s “non-urban” areas, those rural areas cannot be looked at in isolation from the main local urban centres.  Armagh city is Ireland’s ecclesiastical capital and enjoys a living heritage matched by few other places on the island, north, or south.  It is also an important sub-regional administrative centre.  Craigavon (which is made up of Portadown, Lurgan and Craigavon Central Towns) is home to nearly 60,000 people and remains NI’s only 20th Century planned “new town”.  Banbridge continues to grow as an important commercial centre strategically located on the increasingly significant Belfast/Dublin corridor.

Despite these key urban areas, the population density indicates that much of ABC is rural and the settlement statistics indicate that at least 50% of the rural population lives outside of even the smallest settlements.

What defines a RURAL area?

The Department’s preferred definition of rural areas (which covers all rural Northern Ireland) is the ‘settlement patterns’ definition whereby those settlements defined as small towns and above (i.e. a population above 5,000) would be classified as urban and those settlements with populations below 5,000 would be classified as rural.

However when considering increasing economic activity and employment rates in the wider rural economy (through the Rural Business Investment scheme only) it is within the gift of the LAG to extend the population boundary up to 10,000 where the benefits of the investment go to rural area.

SOAR (ABC) have agreed to include Dromore for the purposes of the Business Investment Scheme. The remaining rural areas which are eligible are all outside the urban development limits of Craigavon Urban area (Lurgan, Portadown & Brownlow), Banbridge and Armagh City.

If you are on the periphery of an urban area and are unsure if you are in a rural area or not please contact a member of SOAR (ABC) staff as we can assist in determining whether you are in an eligible area or not.