One-In-Five Town Centre Units Vacant In Omagh

One-in-five of Omagh’s town centre units lie vacant according to the latest research

A retail capacity study prepared by consultants as part of Omagh’s new town centre masterplan has revealed that 19.8% of town centre units are now vacant, compared with 14% in 2008.

The report expresses concerns over the 15 vacant retail units in Market Street, Omagh’s town centre retail hub, ahead of 11 in John Street and seven in Castle Street.

In all, there were 71 vacant retail units in Omagh as of January 2015, from a total of 358.

Concerns have also been expressed about the 25 vacant properties in Fintona – highlighting a need for regeneration.

Details of the findings were contained in a report compiled by the DoE’s local planning division and presented to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s shadow Planning Committee last Thursday.

The paper was the fourth of four presented to councillors ahead of the handover of planning powers on April 1. The reports are designed to help inform policy, planning and decisions under the new system.

The vacancy rate among town centre units has risen steadily in the past few years, up from 16.5% in 2013, broadly reflecting the difficulties faced by many high street retailers.

The report states that business rates have been a factor in the level of occupancy in primary shopping streets.

Room For Optimism

But there is some scope for optimism. Rent for Omagh’s prime town centre retail space has taken a tumble since 2009, falling from £420 per square metre in 2009 to £320 in 2013.

The drop in rent is expected to have a significant impact on non-domestic rates from April 1 2015. Land and Property Services’ revaluation of premises in the town centre during 2013 revealed a 25% drop in value for many traders since the last assessment in 2001.

The drop will by-and-large result in a cut in non-domestic rates, offering an extra incentive for businesses to relocate to the town centre.

But the report adds, “This may be difficult to achieve in the present climate as many national and multi-national retailers, who have been the mainstay of Northern Ireland’s shopping centres and high streets, are cutting back on the number of stores that they need, concentrating on fewer but better stores.”

Omagh’s town centre masterplan, which recently underwent a fresh public consultation, contains ambitious plans to double the size of the town centre, largely by developing the Kevlin Avenue area. This development could redress the demand for higher quality retail space in the town centre and improve the negative perceptions of the area. The local planning division point to a shopper survey conducted in 2013, where two thirds of shoppers interviewed viewed the area negatively.

The report states that unsurprisingly, Market Street is currently the busiest when it comes to pedestrian activity in Omagh. Among the proposals contained in the masterplan is the pedestrianisation of a significant area of Market Street.

The study detected low footfall in Old Market Place, however the completion of the OASIS project and the new bridge linking the cobbled street with the Drumragh Avenue car park, is expected to change that.