Learning from past mistakes is key to making decisions for the town's future

Margaret Roddy

Published 16/04/2014 | 05:20

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Local councillor and businessman, Mark Dearey.

'We can't fix the past without examining it,' according to Cllr. Mark Dearey, who believes that the roots of Dundalk's retail malaise lie with poor planning decisions made in the past decade.

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'I genuinely believe that the 2004/9 Development Plan was detrimental to the centre of town as it led to over zoning for wholesale retailing,' he said.

This paved the way for Finnabair Estates being allowed to put mainstream shops into Dundalk Retail Park and displacing the footfall in the town centre, said Cllr. Dearey.

'Unlike a lot of other towns in Ireland which have narrow streets and small shops, Dundalk's town centre has buildings which are big enough to cater for large retail outlets, but because of the changes to the Development Plan, Finnabair were able to appeal to An Bord Pleanala and get permission to bring these shops into the Retail Park.'

He maintains that while the council's approach to planning policy for education, industry and infrastructure was good, it fell down when it came to retail.

'There are towns which didn't do these things. There's not a Tesco in all of Kilkenny because the regulations were such that the company wasn't able to make a successful application.'

He isn't, he said, against consumers having a choice of stores to shop in, but argues that this shouldn't be at the expense of the town centre.

Other planning failures he cites saw the Marshes Shopping Centre being constructed in what he calls 'the wrong direction, facing away from the town centre.'

'The question of linkages between the Marshes and the rest of the town have never been resolved.'

And while it's too late to close the door after the horse has bolted, Cllr. Dearey said that steps must be taken to rejuvenate the town centre.

'For the past six to eight months, I've been working as chairman of the planning policy committee at ways to revive the town centre so that we will have a structure in place before the town council folds,' he said.

'We need to allow people to think of the upstairs of their shops as good places to live and not just apartments to rent out,' he said.

'With the changing economy, not every town centre unit is going to be used for retail, so there's no reason why small IT companies or digital enterprises couldn't locate in a shop premises. And we also need to bring in a social balance with cafes, restaurants and good quality independent retaillers.'

He believes that the BIDS company should move away from promoting events to concentrating on the rejuvenation of the town centre.

'I proposed BIDS initially and got it voted in and now that it enters a second term, there needs to be a re-focusing of its efforts.'

Cllr. Dearey has also welcomed the commitment given by the County Manager that the new local enterprise office will be located in the Town Hall.

'I had pressed for this and I'm glad that the County Manager has given that commitment as it brings enterprise close to the business community, allowing for informal networking and bringing footfall to the town centre.'

Nationally, he said that the implementation of the Core Strategy is to be welcomed as it means that no new out of town development can take place until 85 per cent of the core area is developed.

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