Vicki O’Sullivan, chairperson of Newcastle West Business Association
BRINGING together the business people of Newcastle West and opening up a conversation about the way forward will be the prime focus of Vicki O’Sullivan’s year ahead as chairperson of the Newcastle West Business Association.
Ms O’Sullivan, who owns the Newcastle West Book Store, is back at the helm of the association as Seamus Hunt steps down.
“There are a lot of business in town and we have to try to bring them together. We have to look at our customer base and ask why people are not shopping in the town,” Ms O’Sullivan said.
“People will tell you parking is an issue. If parking comes up, we need to address it,” she added, observing that a designated parking area for business people might be a solution.
But she believes that the over-riding solution is to provide what people want. “Newcastle West has always been a traditional market town for the hinterland but a lot of their needs are not being catered for now.”
“We need to research where the gaps are, what is not there and encourage people to fill the gap but not replicate what somebody else is doing,” she said.
Widening the range of goods and services available would boost footfall and trade, she believes.
She was critical however of the scheme introduced by Limerick City and County Council scheme to address vacant premises. The scheme, which allows part of the fit-out to be set off against rates, was not far-reaching enough and was ill-thought out, according to Ms O’Sullivan. But she believes a scheme to support new start-ups is necessary, provided it does not involve displacement.
She also believes the council should be more proactive in obliging the owners of empty buildings going into dereliction to take action.
“We definitely have to get the council on board. The council needs to get behind the retailers,” she continued, adding that there were a lot of practical actions which the council could take, such as footpath cleaning which would be beneficial.
Ms O’Sullivan welcomed the arrival of US company Ortec in town but feels that this break-through needs to be followed up by more activity to secure further, new projects. In job terms, she argued, Newcastle West had been a forgotten town.
Developing the town’s tourism potential is also crucial, according to Ms O’Sullivan and she believes the Desmond Castle complex is central to that. “It needs to be open all year round,” she said. “That would be very positive. It would drive commerce in the town.”
“We have a lot of positives but we are not maximising them,” she added.
On the issue of the five-year plan commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce and the Community Council, she said: “We would like to see it. It needs to be dealt with. People lose interest when something drags on.”
Ultimately, good-will and fresh thinking are needed, according to Ms O’Sullivan. But first things, first, she argued. “What we need to do in Newcastle West is start the conversation. You can’t foist things on people. If you can take a few ideas and deliver them in the year, you have made some progress.”