TULLAMORE is “dying” and a plan is required to restore it to a centre of commercial and retail activity, members of Tullamore Municipal District Council were told last week.
Making the call for such a plan to be urgently put in place, independent councillor Sean O'Brien said business in the town centre had been decimated from the 1990s onwards due in part to the development of out of town retail centres.
He recalled landmark businesses which had once dominated the town centre including Quinnsworth, Texas, Hayes Hotel and the Manor public house.
“We need to breathe some life back into the town,” he advised.
Cllr O'Brien said a lot of work was currently taking place in the town centre as part of the enhancement programme but he didn't think there was an overall plan to rejuvenate the area.,
“I would like to know where Tullamore will be in five, ten, 15 years time,” he outlined pointing out that rival Midland centres, Portlaoise, Athlone and Mullingar “have gone ahead of us.”
“We are in decline and we have to face up to it,” he declared.
Cllr O'Brien suggested that different organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce, residents associations, businesses and the council should form a working group to pursue the idea.
“We have to look at initiatives, proper planning and new anchor tenants that will bring people into the town,” he added.
Cllr O'Brien pointed out that the existing 2016 development plan had clearly stated that development would be encouraged in the existing centre of the town but in practice the exact opposite had taken place.
He claimed the development plan had also called for a master plan to be put in place identifying potential development sites in the town centre and asked where this master plan was.
“We simply cannot allow our town to decline further before out eyes,” added Cllr O'Brien,
Cathaoirleach Cllr Frank Moran said he totally agreed with Cllr O'Brien's sentiments and asked if he was looking for a co-ordinated body with the groups he had identified to be formed.
Cllr O'Brien replied that he wanted such a group to be led by the council.
Cllr Tony McCormack said the development plan had been aspirational and commercial reality decided the course of events.
He said some businesses were doing well in Tullamore at present and stressed that the shopping centres on the outskirts of town were providing employment.
Cllr McCormack said four new coffee shops had opened recently including one in O'Connor Square which was currently being dug up as part of the Town Enhancement Scheme works.
He added that many of the former retail outlets in the town centre would never be filled by businesses again and should be converted into living accommodation.
Cllr McCormack agreed that the council should take the lead on any plan.
Director of Services, Tom Shanahan stressed that “Tullamore was very much open for business and there are a lot of positive things happening.”
Re-entering the debate, Cllr O'Brien observed that “about half of Harbour St is empty.” “Some empty businesses are lying there for ten years.”
“We can't stand idly by and say it will all be grand in the end,” he pointed out.
Cllr O'Brien suggested that the old Texas site should form the cornerstone of any redevelopment of the town centre.
Cllr McCormack noted that a feasibility study had been undertaken by Waterways Ireland to redevelop the canal harbour on Harbour St.
He added that there were plans for a big shopping centre development with the council at present and big names had been mentioned as possible anchor tenants.
Cllr Neil Feighery suggested major retailers should be encouraged to set up base in the town centre.
He also pointed to the successful conversion of a former pub on Harbour St into a number of town houses.