David Fizsimons, CEO of Retail Excellence Ireland.
A new plan to breath life back into Tipperary town’s struggling retail sector was presented at this month’s Cashel Tipperary Municipal District meeting.
Town centre revival expert David Fizsimons, CEO of Retail Excellence Ireland (REI), told councillors that the main ways to revive a town are to concentrate at all times on doing things which will motivate locals to use their own town, define where the inner core of the town is and start there, establish a Town Team involving all stakeholders, and to design a deliverable town plan.
Mr Fizsimons said he would ban discussion regarding rates, parking fees, and pedestrianisation.
Cllr Tom Wood pointed out that in Cashel, 21 businesses had closed in the town centre: 20 years ago there were 26 pubs in town, now there are only 10.
Some 16 beauticians or hairdressers operate in the town of Cashel, “and while we’re delighted to have them” it’s a sign that other businesses have left leaving empty premises.
“In the next 20 years there will be little or less small businesses in the town centre. People simply cannot make a living. You have online shopping, which is massive.
In Cashel, the four major retailers in the country are located in the town centre, outcompeting smaller local shops. “Our towns have to be residential. We have to get more people living in the town centre,” said Cllr Wood.
Some solutions include boosting online support for small busineses, said Mr Fizsimons. Cllr Martin Browne said they need to “think outside the box, and generate different types of business” to attract shoppers back into the town core.
Cllr Denis Leahy said consumers want “variety. That variety has declined.”
“If you have economic stagnation, you will not have variety in the shops. We need to start from the beginning. We are a patient that is critically ill, that needs all the help we can get.
Mr Fizsimons said parking charges need to be “commensurate with the offer, and at the moment the offer in Tipperary is substandard.”
Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan said she had tried to help a Limerick businessman set up shop in Tipperary town, but rates of €20,000 meant he couldn’t afford to.
Cllr Roger Kennedy said rates across the county are being harmonised, but “Limerick’s are cheaper.”
Mr Fizsimons said the problems impacting towns include: out of town retail preference, a weak town centre mix, greater consumer mobility, car parking charges and enforcement, mixed landlord base, accessibility, changing consumer behaviour, E-Commerce competition, planning policy, and being ‘over-retailed’.
Improving the town ‘offer’ would include three strands, firstly: motivating retail and hospitality providers to open for business, innovative uses of buildings such as town créches, visitor offices, town galleries, and designating a part of the inner core as a rent and rates controlled zone and invite small artisan providers to come and trade.
Secondly, improving the public realm by appointing street ambassadors who would conduct street standard audits; painting, planting, and awning schemes, street furniture, and ‘civic’ spaces.
Thirdly, create a citizen database and a town brand, send texts and alerts outlining reasons to come into town, and develop reasons for citizens to use their town, such as outdoor cinema nights, food events, and family days.