THE number of vacant retail properties in Kilmallock is “a huge concern”, it was heard at a local area meeting where it emerged that 36% of buildings in the town are unoccupied.
The figure was revealed during a presentation on the current business and retail incentive scheme which incentivises the occupation of vacant retail and business units in Limerick city and the county town centres, through the provision of grant aid.
The scheme currently applies in Limerick city centre, Abbeyfeale town, Abbeyfeale – Mountmahon Industrial Estate - Kilmallock town, Kilmallock Business Park, Newcastle West town, Newcastle West Business Park, Newcastle West Enterprise Centre, Rathkeale town and Rathkeale Industrial Estate.
“There hasn’t been much uptake in Kilmallock, Rathkeale and Abbeyfeale,” explained Mary Hayes, administrative officer of the economic development and planning section of Limerick City and County Council, at a Cappamore-Kilmallock local area meeting.
Statistics show that the total number of buildings vacant in Limerick city stands at 21%, while in Kilmallock it’s 36%, in Newcastle West it stands at 9%, in Abbeyfeale it’s 18% and in Rathkeale it’s 18%.
The scheme provides grant relief over two years for occupation of vacant premises with higher order retail type uses and business uses.
Higher order retail use types can include fashion outlets – both multiple and independent stores, lifestyle stores, flagship stores, niche and specialist retailers such as home furnishings, beauty products, jewellery and books
Cllr Mike Donegan of Kilmallock said he was at a town traders’ meeting the night prior to the council meeting and pointed out that the number of vacant properties is “a huge concern” locally.
“I am just using Kimallock as an example, we haven’t benefitted from this scheme,” he pointed out.
“There has to be something for the county in terms of economic development. What about Kilfinane and Bruff, and Hospital which has lost its bank? The periphery towns as well have to be supported. What we are finding here in Kilmallock is that if somebody wants to buy a shirt or tie or a pair of shoes then they will go back to Charleville – that’s where the footfall is going in terms of the Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes Stores. We don’t have that draw here in Kilmallock.”
The presentation heard that the total number of buildings identified in Kilmallock was 118. A total of 76 buildings were occupied while 42 were found to be vacant, giving a vacancy rate of 36%.
The meeting heard that the aim of the scheme is to address vacancy in the core retail area of city and town centres, to encourage higher order retail use in the core shopping area of the city and town centres, to increase footfall and economic opportunities for all retail businesses, to help new businesses in the critical early start-up phase and to promote the city and town centres as vibrant shopping and business environments.
There is a proposal to extend the business and retail incentive scheme until December, 2016.
It is proposed to maintain the current scheme in the current areas as “significant vacancy still remains in these areas”.
Ms Hayes said that the scheme should be applied to a defined area as spreading it too wide dilutes or negates the impact.
Cllr Brigit Teefy said the towns and villages are really dying in the county “and we need whatever support we can get”.
“The focus is very much to get our city and town centres thriving in the main areas,” said Ms Hayes.
“If we spread the scheme everywhere, we will dilute the impact and we won’t see the impact we need to see from the scheme. Let’s address those areas first of all and when we have succeeded in those areas maybe in two years we can look and see if we need to look at other areas where the scheme should apply. We don’t have financial resources to put the scheme everywhere so we need to focus on where the scheme should apply.”
Cllr Lisa Marie Sheehy said that while she welcomed the scheme, she feels “it doesn’t go far enough”.
Cllr Sheehy said that while there are a few businesses in the area, people still seem to go out of the area or out of the county to shop “which is a big issue”.
“Rural Ireland is dying in the background,” she said. “Places are struggling – you can see the shelves are half empty that they can’t afford to stock up anymore and it’s very sad.”
Ms Hayes said there is a very good, positive group in Kilmallock working on trying to get things going in the town.
The meeting heard that close to 400 jobs have been created in Limerick through new openings supported by the scheme and there has been an estimated investment of €4m in Limerick as a result of the scheme.