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Omagh could become 'ghost town' if parking issues not resolved

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Omagh could become 'ghost town' if parking issues not resolved thumbnailLynn McKinley, proprietor of She Boutique, Omagh, the new chairperson of Omagh Town Centre Forum.

TRADERS in Omagh town centre fear that unless the parking spaces for cars and coaches is increased in the near future, businesses will suffer and the area could turn into a 'ghost town'.

The newly-elected chairperson of the Omagh Town Centre Forum, Lynn McKinley, has warned that the lack of adequate parking was already costing the town thousands every year and could well place jobs in jeopardy too.

"Car parking is an ongoing issue in the town centre. There is not adequate spaces for customers and staff. Maybe there needs to be something done to encourage staff to park outside the town centre car parks to free them up. People are struggling to find a space and they are very conscious of the 'men in the red coats' because they are quite vigilant".

She added over the years they had also failed to capitalise on the thousands of visitors that came to the Ulster American Folk Park because there was nowhere in town the coaches could park if they wanted to come in afterwards.

"There has been talks between the Folk Park and the local businesses to find a way to link the two. It attracts thousands to its events all the time but they are not getting the opportunity to explore Omagh town and all the great shops and businesses we have here."

She said she appreciated the tour guides and companies were probably on a tight schedule but was confident they could also be approached to make time in their itineraries to bring the tourists a few more miles up the road to the town.

 

"But the problem for a coach to come into the town centre there's no allocated coach parking spaces. We feel for the town centre businesses - this is a wasted opportunity. We feel there should be a provision made for these coaches. Maybe they could open up some of the car parks that are vacant over the summer months like the college car parks. I am sure there must be scope for something."

The chairperson said Omagh was a town that unless you had to go through it, it could be easily bypassed and that deprived businesses of custom.

"We do need people to come into the town. I think businesses would find footfall has probably declined in recent years and people are not coming into the town. Omagh has great potential and is a great town for shoppers but it's wasted if no one comes here. I'd say money is being lost and there's a danger that if no one comes in and in a few years' time the schools are out in the new education campus, the town centre could turn into a ghost town.

Ms McKinley, who runs the 'She' boutique on Market Street, said businesses were finding it hard enough in the current economic climate with limited disposable incomes that opportunities to maxmiise the potential of visitors coming nearby should not be missed.

She added in relation to the council's proposed parking strategy that unless something was done quickly and effectively, it could place their futures in jeopardy.

 

"If people can't get a place to park they will go somewhere else. We need to think outside the box and explore all options and get creative. Let's not waste any more opportunities. If nothing is done jobs will be lost. We are slap bang in the middle of Ulster, we should be attracting more and more people here instead of pushing them away," she said.

The matter also surfaced at the monthly meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. It heard that the council's coach parking provision and parking strategy had been discussed at the Omagh Town Centre Forum meeting and, according to councillor Dr Josephine Deehan, the traders were not happy that all that could be done, was being done to help them.

She said the councillors who attended the meeting said that the council's parking strategy would consider all their concerns.

"But the mood amongst the traders, in particular, was the whole issue of parking in Omagh town centre was of such urgency and is impacting so seriously on trade that this matter has to be addressed as quickly as possible."

The meeting also felt the question of transporting visitors from the Ulster American Folk Park into the town centre would require facilities for coach parking. She proposed they 'fast-forward' the car parking strategy in view of these concerns.

 

"It is a major attraction in our area and yet when coach loads of tourists come to that venue, and there are lots of promotional activities throughout the year, the tourists do not visit Omagh and this is an opportunity lost. One of the factors preventing people travelling the short distance from the Folk Park into Omagh centre is the lack of parking for coaches."

She added the Omagh and Fermanagh districts had wonderful tourist attractions but she did not believe they were exploiting them to their fullest potential and that was something that had to change, she said.

Cllr Errol Thompson said he, too, attended the meeting and recognised the issues had stirred up strong feelings."The feelings at the meeting were very, very strong," he said.

Cllr Sorcha McAnespy suggested the traders also be consulted for their input and felt it was important their feelings were listened to.

The council's director of environment and place, Kevin O'Gara, said the strategy was out to tender at the moment and part of the process, when they had consultants appointed, would be to do a wide consultation with a range of people and they would be keen for the traders' concerned to get involved.

"We are aware of the urgency and we will be trying to push the process as fast as possible," he said.

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