THE new economic director of service Tom Enright has set out his goals for his time in charge.
Mr Enright was this week confirmed as the new economic director for both Limerick City and County.
The first director to be appointed to the new merged local authority, Mr Enright’s chief goal is to bring in a high-end retailer into Limerick’s ailing centre.
He confirmed that two big-name retailers, one believed to be Marks & Spencer, have held meetings with council officials in the last fortnight, with a view to opening in the city.
But he also stressed there is a need for special economic ‘zones’ across the county in a bid to try and reduce the 20,000 plus people on the live register.
A new economic plan, due out this side of Christmas, is to identify a suitable site for a new retailer to move into, with the Opera Centre site and derelict lands near Arthur’s Quay front-runners.
Mr Enright has also said he wants to see a new public space in the city centre, away from the traffic, possibly by the river.
Limerick is one of the few areas in Britain and Ireland where Marks & Spencer does not have a presence.
Many feel that if it did open in the centre, it would help revive the area’s ailing fortunes.
He revealed that a meeting was held last week, with a major retailer. “To bring a major retailer into the city centre is important. It is not the solution by any means, but it is important to give confidence back to he city and help the smaller retailers,“ Mr Enright said.
For the last 20 years, the Dungarvan native has worked for Limerick County Council in the areas of planning and environment and emergency services.
He said he will put job creation at the top of his agenda, saying: “I see great challenges facing Limerick but I also believe that there are real opportunities. Local government must play a pivotal role in ensuring the city and county are excellent places in which to live, do business and to visit.”
He said many city retailers would be interested in expanding in the centre, if suitable premises can be found for them.
As for the location of the new high-end retail, he said the new economic blueprint for the city would identify a suitable site for a big retailer.
As well as the Opera Centre site, he said: “There is also the whole Arthur’s Quay area. It is underdeveloped. The old Dunnes building on Sarsfield Street has also been empty the last few years. We need to encourage development there which would bring people into the city.”
Mr Enright - who wants to work with the Enterprise Boards and the third level institutions to revitalise the city - also wants to bring in office developments.
He added: “We need a new public realm in the city centre to give more control back to pedestrians, make it more pedestrian friendly.”
Asked what he feels is stopping people coming into the city centre, Mr Enright said: “It is not attractive at the moment. There are a lot of empty shops. If you take Cruises Street, which was once the flagship of the city centre, it is 25% vacant now. The city centre has lost vitality to the out-of-town shopping centres, so there is a need to focus back on the centre.”
However, he refused to blame county planners for the demise of the city.
“Many of those shopping centres and extensions were granted quite a number of years ago when the economy was such that people’s disposable incomes were much greater. Retail strategies had shown there was a need for a greater retail offering both in the city centre and outside. Then suddenly things changed.
The fact some of the suburban shopping centres went ahead, and the Opera Centre did not happen, made the problem a lot worse,” he opined.
Mr Enright said although much of his strategy will be focused on the city centre, it is necessary to also include a focus on the county area.
“We must not put all the focus on the city. There are problems facing the county. There is a need to develop strategic sites and bring jobs there,” he concluded.