Ghost town: Cork traders threaten rates revolt over city centre car ban

Traders in Cork City have threatened to withhold their commercial rates unless city bosses scrap the St Patrick’s St car ban.

The possible rates revolt emerged as business owners on the city’s main street claimed afternoon trade has been decimated and jobs are now at risk since the city council introduced a three-and-a-half hour daily car ban on the street just over two weeks ago.

The council chief executive, Ann Doherty, accepted last night that the new traffic plan has created difficulties but insisted that it needs more time to work.

She stressed that the city is open for business but confirmed she is preparing an incentives package — including free parking deals in city council-managed car parks — to encourage people into the city.

The news emerged following a meeting of city officials and representatives of the Cork Business Association (CBA) some of whose members have reported a 40% decline in footfall and a 60% slump in turnover since the time-regulated bus lane was established on St Patrick’s St.

 

Frank Lee, who runs the street’s landmark Tung Sing Chinese restaurant, employing 25 people, said the drop in footfall has been “frightening” and he is prepared to withhold payment of his commerical rates unless the car ban is lifted.

“The city will become a ghost town,” he said.

“We’re not thriving. We are surviving. People are saying just give this time but they’re not the business owner seeing their turnover fall and fall and fall.

“They are not the ones whose livelihoods are at risk. City Hall seems not to be listening.

“If they don’t listen to people who are paying the rates, they then can wait for the payment. My priorities will be paying my staff, my suppliers, my insurance, those things first.”

 

Michael Murphy, who has worked in Tom Murphy’s Menswear for almost six decades, said footfall in their shop is down 40% and turnover is down between 20-25% on

the same period last year.

He said he is also considering withholding rates.

“I’ve been working in this shop for 57 years and I’ve never seen it so bad on the street,” he said.

“We had just two customers in the shop from 3pm to 5.30pm on Tuesday. If we don’t do the business now between 9am and 2pm, we can forget about it. People seem to be afraid to come in to town.”

Pam O’Regan, a co-owner of Gentlemen’s Quarters, said businesses which were just getting back on their feet after the recession have now been hit with the car ban.

“A city centre is meant to be a hub of activity, with the buzz and hustle and bustle. But they have closed off a prime street at a prime time. It’s ridiculous and doing desperate damage. The message seems to be town is shut down from 3pm,” she said.

When asked if they would consider withholding rates, she said they would consider all options.

Ms Doherty said she has listened to traders’ concerns and wants to work and engage with them.

“There is no doubt we have challenges. But it is early days and this new traffic management system needs time to bed in,” she said.

“But I have pledged to put in measures to incentivise and encourage people into the city, which will assist traders through this period.”

The Cork Cycling Campaign said the ban needs to be given more time. Spokesman Dean Venables said while short-term difficulties are unavoidable in the early stages, the long-term benefits will outweigh those.

Meanwhile, the Green Party, which supports the car ban, will hold a public meeting on the issue tonight.

Spokesman Oliver Moran, said there are teething problems and worries about it: “That’s all the more reason it will take leadership — leadership to listen, to make changes, to win people over, and to make it work.”

Meanwhile, Cork Chamber president Bill O’Connell has said that plans to axe 115 parking spaces from Morrison’s Island to facilitate a flood relief scheme are necessary to transform the city centre.

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