CORK County Council has been urged to do more to tackle increasing vacancy and dereliction rates in Douglas.
Councillors Mary Rose Desmond and Seamus McGrath (FF) will meet with council officials later this month to seek a progress report on the Douglas Land Use Transportation Study (DLUTS) — part of a 2013 County Council masterplan to ensure a vibrant urban centre with a more efficient transport network for Douglas, an improved public realm, reduced congestion and a higher quality of life for locals.
The representatives believe a scheme needs to be developed to encourage new businesses to move into empty units in the core of the village.
There is currently a 20% vacancy rate in the village — in-line with some of the highest vacancy rates in the country — despite many large retailers springing up on the periphery of the village in recent years.
In stark contrast, nearby Carrigaline has the lowest vacancy rate in Munster at 9.1% — according to the latest GeoView Commercial Vacancy Report published earlier this year.
The current commercial vacancy rate in the whole of county Cork is 11.8%.
Ms Desmond said something needs to be done immediately to tackle the issue in Douglas and help the small retailers and business owners who are still operating out of the village.
“We have a population in Douglas in excess of 21,000 and it deserves a vibrant village and a vibrant centre. Nothing is being done specifically to try and address the issue,” said Ms Desmond.
“There is great credit due to existing businesses that are in the village and have survived tough times to remain open, even during the flooding issues in 2012. Business encourages more business, more footfall and life in the village. These empty units are an eyesore and are giving a sense of dereliction to the village. The public realm of the village centre is also lacking.
“I’m living in Douglas all my life and people are saying to me ‘Douglas is destroyed’.
“They are the words that they use. We have had some very poor planning decisions in the village and an overkill of certain businesses. We’ve got very imposing buildings that have landed in Douglas over the last couple of years and the flyover has been built.
“These are a fact of life now but a large number of vacant units are leading to dereliction on the main street.
“There are supports that come from the council but it’s not having the impact on the ground that is needed so we must be smarter and more imaginative with how things are being addressed in Douglas.
“Douglas LUTS is there since 2013 and if you mentioned it to most people, they would be aware of it but they wouldn’t be able to pinpoint anything, specifically, that has been done to improve the village.
“You look at the population and the property tax that is being paid in that area, it is a source of major frustration. There are so many new families moving back to Douglas and for such a sought after residential area the village is lacking investment,” Ms Desmond added.
Mr McGrath said there is a perception that Douglas is booming but while this may be the case for large businesses, there are huge issues with commercial properties lying empty in the village.
“Many people would say Douglas is doing very well because it’s obviously close to the city but when you look at the core of the village there is a serious amount of vacancy and dereliction and also on the west side of Douglas as well,” he said.
“There have been longstanding units vacant and we and other councillors have been raising that for a long time. The core of the village is the problem and it’s not really a village anymore,” he added.
The village is set to be subsumed into the city as part of the boundary extension that is due to take effect before the 2019 local elections and the councillors have said the County Council cannot leave the issue further deteriorate until this happens.
“Twelve months is a long time and businesses and residents can’t wait that long and Cork County Council has to hand over Douglas in a healthy state and unfortunately it is not currently in terms of the core of the village,” said Mr McGrath.
“There are initiatives that need to be devised. [A] rates incentive is one example but getting out on the ground and getting the information, contacting property owners and trying to incentivise and pressure them to act on their properties. The old TSB is an example. I would say it has been vacant for 20 years and is in the heart of the village.
“Planning policy has a role to play as well and putting the right fit in terms of commercial entities into Douglas Village.
“The shopping centres are great but they have sucked the life out of the village. The other thing is parking. The shopping centres provide it for free but there is obviously a parking charge system in place in Douglas village.
“The level of enforcement is very high. People constantly say they see the warden walking around and it just puts people off going into the village and if you’re someone who wants to pick up a small few messages, you’ll probably just go to a shopping centre instead because they have launderettes, butchers and a range of retail units,” he added.
In the entire county, there are 1,625 commercial properties classed as vacant.