IS FERMOY OVER SHOPPED?
While the decision by the town executive not to award planning permission for the Shipton Group has, with some exceptions, been roundly criticised by town council candidates in the June elections, many may look at the Blackwater Shopping Centre on the northside of the town as ample warning that the days of businesses flocking to commuter towns are long gone.
Almost 10 months since it opened in September 2008, Blackwater Shopping Centre remains mostly idle, a sole bookmakers the only commercial shopfront to currently operate from the development which totals 7 retail units, restaurant space, and a number of office spaces upstairs. Despite its central location and free parking for dozens of potential customers, the centre remains mostly empty.
A shattered window in one of the units that has remained unfixed for months is an indication of the lack of activity at the once promising commercial centre, a stagnant scene that is mirrored at numerous building developments across the country, both retail and residential, as the roar of the Celtic tiger diminishes to a mere whimper.
Blackwater Shopping Centre is the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to questioning the possible success of any Shipton Group development. No one wants to admit it, but even if the Shipton development had gone ahead as planned, once completed, as things stand it would face years of empty units.
Ardent supporters of the proposed centre will argue that it is not a matter of matching like with like, that a significant ‘anchor name’ on the Cork Mart site will give the Shipton development a significant pull, a draw that will ensure that quality businesses gravitate towards Fermoy.
Numerous established shopping centres are seeing units and associated businesses struggle to cope; are they in any position to even consider expanding their empires with a new store in Fermoy? New centres built towards the tail end of the boom are struggling to fill out spaces, leaving an isolated ‘big name’ surrounded by blank storefronts.
None of this, of course, came into the equation when Fermoy Town Council planners or an Bord Pleanala made their decision, which was largely based on the infrastructural issues arising from the proposal. It is, however, a factor that local election candidates should bear in mind when banging their drums on the issue when trying to rally votes.
In an ideal world everyone wants the very best facilities in their town, but candidates need to take the moral courage to be leaders, not followers and should avoid capitalising on the unrealistic and unfeasible hopes of some of the public. We are not living in an ideal world, and the growing number of companies going out of business stands testament to that fact.
By all means Fermoy deserves development, and the Cork Mart site could be the ideal site for this. Any project, however, must bear the future of the town in mind and be realistic in its expectations of the fortunes that future holds. The massive development that so many canvassers call for could in time prove to be an idle millstone around the town’s neck.
Be careful what you wish for, and if in any doubt as to the health of the Irish economy, look north of the river at Blackwater Shopping Centre.
Thursday 28th May 6:35pm