Monday 22 July 2019

Big Data tells Dundalk town centre story

There's an old saying that 'the devil's in the detail' and that's certainly the case with the

Dundalk Collaborative Town Centre Health Check Report 2019 which was launched in the County Museum last Friday.

The report is based on the survey results of a number of key indicators of the overall health of the town centre including the level of town centre activities, land use/commercial/cultural mix, pedestrian footfall patterns and business operators and consumers' perceptions of the quality of the environment of the historic town.

The Heritage Council, Dundalk BIDS and Dundalk IT, set up a town centre baseline project last September as part of the National Collaborative Town Centre Health Check Training Programme, supported by various departments within Louth County Council, Dundalk Chamber and Dundalk Credit Union.

The result is a lot of 'Big Data' which hopefully will inform local businesses, Louth County Council, the Government, and all those who have a say in the future of Dundalk.

Town Centre Commercial Manager Martin McElligott of Dundalk BIDS said that the results of the Red C report has already influenced some of the programme of events undertaken this year.

Dundalk, he pointed out, was the second town in Ireland to establish BIDS (Business Incentive District Scheme) in 2008. This public/private partnership has allowed the business community to get directly involved in decision making in the town centre, with €750,000 being pumped into events from money collected from ratepayers over the past five years.

BIDS, he said 'had been a real game changer for the town centre' and they will work on the findings of the report to make improvements to help business in the town centre.

He revealed that one of his first undertakings as TCCM was to get a footfall counter which gave them a clearer insight as to how the town was being used, and this survey built on this as it lets them know the areas that are working well and those that need attention.

For example, the survey showed that people wanted late night shopping - an extra hour in the evenings, and they wanted more festivals and events.

Already, the Seek Festival, which saw professional artists painting murals telling Dundalk's story, had gained international attention.

The survey gives a detailed insight into how people use the town centre, how they perceive it and how they would like it improved.

It revealed that the town centre is busier on a Friday than Saturday, that people show here because it is handy and convenient, that people would like to see big name stores like Marks and Spencers, TK Maxx, and Debenhams opening here, that they think there is a good selection of cafes and restaurants.

Most of those surveyed were in town to shop, with younger people being the most likely to go to cafes and takeaways.

While most people said they use the town centre at least once a week, 13% also visit Newry every week, with 10 % going 2/3 times a month and 19% going once a month. Drogheda also proved a popular destination with 9% visiting it every week.

The challenge posed by online shopping is spelt out with just under a half of respondents shopping online, with over a third making online purchases more than once a month. Clothing and clothing accessories were the most popular items bought online followed by technology and devices.

Over half of those surveyed travelled to the town centre by car with almost a quarter walking, and 13% getting there by bus. Only 5% cycled into the town centre. Most people parked in surface car parks and paid to do so.

Just under two thirds of those surveyed in the town centre said they noticed a decline in activity around town since the announcement of Brexit, with two thirds believing that it will have a negative impact on the town.

The Health Check also looked at how the business sector view the town, with 74% of the business respondents in town centre feeling that shopping, banks and businesses are the main factors that bring people to the town centre. Interestingly half expect trading to improve over the next two years, while a similar figure Brexit will have a negative impact on town centre businesses.

Despite the numbers of people shopping over the internet, 77% of business owners in the historic town centre do not currently sell online.

The Argus