‘MACROOM is no different to any other town,’ according to Pat O’Connell, chairman of the Lee Valley Enterprise Board, which represents up to 70 business owners in the town.
Speaking to The Southern Star, Pat was responding to recent reports that claimed that there were over ten vacant retail premises in the town, which, he said, were inaccurate.
‘I went around the town and counted just eight empty retail units and, as far as I’m concerned, compared to other towns, Macroom hasn’t lost a lot of businesses,’ said Mr O’Connell.
‘The fact that we have big retail stores coming into the town centre is significant, as they wouldn’t be coming if the town wasn’t viable.’
He also pointed out that Macroom is different in that respect, because the big retail stores are in the heart of the town, unlike in other towns where they are located outside the main town centre.
‘We, the Lee Valley Enterprise Board, are an established body here in Macroom for the past 30 years and we put up all the festive lights and promote the town through our website and through festivals, including the Macroom Food Festival,’ said Pat.
He said he was surprised to hear that a meeting was held recently by some business owners and residents about issues in Macroom, such as shops closing, parking and derelict buildings in the town.
Fin Hayes of Fin’s Garden Centre, one of the organisers of the meeting, told The Southern Star that he and some other business owners are looking at setting up a Macroom Business Association, that would be independent and funded by its members.
‘We decided that before going down that road, we will approach the local enterprise board to see if there is something that we can set up together,’ he said.
Fin believes that at least 10 businesses have closed in the town since last December, but agreed that it is hard to get a definite figure, as some other closures may be due to retirements, etc.
‘There are a lot more businesses gone than are opening in the past six months, and we invited local councillors and TDs to this meeting to discuss a wide range of issues affecting the town – including closed retail units, derelict buildings, signage and parking among other things,’ said Fin.
He said that a total of 19 businesses were represented at the meeting, with five others unable to attend on the night. Cllr Ted Lucey attended, as did TDs Michael Creed and Aindrias Moynihan.
Earlier, Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias Moynihan called on the government to do more to stem what he called ‘the worrying trend’ of businesses closing in the town.
Deputy Moynihan said what is needed is ‘action and not plans and schemes’ and that the Government would be better off implementing existing new plans on town and village renewal, rather than launching yet another scheme.
‘In the last number of months, a very popular local café, a veterinary surgery and an electrical shop – amongst others – have closed. There seems to be no end in sight when it comes to the hollowing-out of the commercial heart of Macroom and other towns and villages in Cork,’ said Deputy Moynihan.
Deputy Moynihan highlighted the fact that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who recently visited the town to much fanfare, walked down the Main Street and saw the vacant units.
‘In 2017 a Town and Village Renewal Scheme was launched by the Government. Designed to return vacant commercial units and underutilised housing units back into use, it has been a failure. We now hear that another scheme is being launched. People have had it with plans and schemes launched by this government. They don’t see any delivery and they don’t see any impact.’
Deputy Moynihan said that if half as much effort went into the implementation, as goes into launching schemes, they might see some progress for our towns and villages.
‘Macroom and towns and villages like it need action from the Government. They cannot suffer any more losses when it comes to commercial activity on the main street,’ added Deputy Moynihan.
Issues such as the Macroom by-pass, the refurbishment of the Briery Gap Theatre and the need for the building of the new fire station in the town were all recently highlighted by local councillor Gobnait Moynihan at a meeting of Cork County Council. Councillors were discussing the Capital Programme for 2018 -2020 and Cllr Moynihan said it was encouraging to see these three issues listed in the plan.
However, she said that the refurbishment of the Briery Gap, which was gutted in a fire two years ago, will cost €4m and that there is a shortage of €1.6m.
‘To see it on this as a priority by Cork County Council is encouraging, as unfortunately the Government don’t see it in the same way and have only funded us 6% of the €4m. I hope that because it’s on this list that it pushes the government to fund the €1.6m that we need,’ said Cllr Moynihan.
Cork County Council is putting €1m into the cost of the refurbishment and it is expected that €1.1m-€1.2m will come from the insurance company, but the government is only providing €250,000 towards it. This was criticised by other councillors at a meeting of the Blarney Macroom Municipal District in June.
Following the fire last month at the Palfab timber processing plant in Lissarda, Deputy Moynihan has again highlighted the need for progress to be made on the new Macroom Fire Station and is calling on the government to move forward with its development as quickly as possible.
‘The recent fire and the injuring of two members of the Cork Fire Service once again highlights the important work of the men and women who serve the service. The current situation is highly unsuitable due to its town centre location, meaning that access can be severely restricted at times,’ said Deputy Moynihan.
‘The new site near Millstreet Cross has already secured planning permission and we must now wait for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to allow the project go out to tender. This process needs to be expedited as quickly as possible and the local community wants to see real, tangible progress made on this really important piece of local infrastructure.’
Deputy Moynihan said he has raised this issue a number of times in the Dáil and he will continue to pursue it as a matter of urgency.
Wi-fi pilot town
Cllr Gobnait Moynihan has welcomed the news that Macroom has been selected by Cork County Council as one of four towns as pilots for the roll out of wi-fi in the town in the coming months.
Cllr Moynihan had raised the motion at a recent meeting of Macroom Blarney Municipal District and said that the pilot scheme will not only will bring huge benefits for the town through tourism, but also increase retail activity in the town.
‘Free wi-fi in Macroom would mean the tourists in the town would know what’s happening right now in the town, whether that meant a local arts exhibition or special offers being made available at the local bookshop,’ said Cllr Moynihan.
‘It could also have all of our what to do activities and tourist sites around the town, like the Gearagh, for example. Locals shopping in the town can also benefit and would be able to see what’s on offer in shops on that very day at the click of a button on a phone. If used effectively, businesses could advertise their special offers on the home page and entice customers to their doors.’
Cllr Moynihan also proposed that the Council should approach local business and local tourism entities and gather their valuable input as their role could be integral in the success of this free Wi-Fi scheme.