Anti-trader policies erode our city’s ethos

Cork City Council is discarding the views of city centre traders, says pharmacist John Minihan

Anti-trader policies erode our city’s ethos

Cork City Council is discarding the views of city centre traders, says pharmacist John Minihan

I am a city centre trader and owner of Minihan’s Chemist in Oliver Plunkett Street — an independent family-owned business employing seven people, which has served the people of Cork for 63 years.

We have survived many changes to our city centre. I supported the pedestrianisation of Winthrop Street in the mid-1970s, followed by the pedestrianisation of Oliver Plunkett Street, and the Main Drainage scheme — all in what I believed and hoped would be for the benefit of our city.

As a former elected member of Cork City Council and member of Seanad Éireann, I have a certain appreciation of the role of the city council and management in setting out policies to promote our city and incentivise a certain regeneration programme.

I pay my corporation and income taxes, my rates, my water charges, my PRSI contributions, my prescription levies, and I feel I am entitled to have my voice heard.

I appreciate our democratic process but equally feel the views of our city centre traders are not taken seriously by the council — we are purely seen as a revenue stream available to balance the budget with commercial rate increases whenever the need arises.

I understand the policy to improve the pedestrianisation of the city centre between the two channels of the river Lee. As a sitting councillor, I supported many such initiatives and worked constructively with management on many issues. I was never one to oppose for the sake of opposition.

Regrettably, as a councillor, I supported the sale of the lands in Mahon to both Owen O’Callaghan and McCarthy Developments. I did so because of the promises made by the council for reinvestment in the city —promises that were never fully fulfilled: no park-and-ride from the western suburbs; no rejuvenation for the city centre; and no incentives on parking.

We need easy access to and from our city centre, be it with a properly functioning public transport scheme or incentivised parking. Clear and direct investment has to be made in this area and it should not be introduced merely as a revenue stream.

The heart and soul of our city are in the city centre. The uniqueness of Oliver Plunkett Street, North Main Street etc is made possible by the many and varied independent small traders with their uniqueness and character. The city centre and its people define the economic, social and cultural heart of our city.

This will never be replaced by the shopping centres of Mahon, Wilton, Douglas or Blackpool with their hundreds of free parking places on their doorstep.

I operate a pharmacy and deal not only with passing trade but also with regular customers, some of whom have shopped in Minihan’s for years, like their parents and grandparents before them. We are an integral part of their lives; like many pharmacies we provide social support and medical advice.

Due to the limited parking now available in the city, many of our elderly customers, after years of patronage, can no longer avail of our service.

They are simply finding it more and more difficult to do business with us and are now forced to change pharmacy at the most vulnerable time in their lives.

The removal of a further 115 parking places in the Morrison’s Island area will directly impact on my remaining customers. Parking places on the South Mall have already been reduced to facilitate bicycles and now we have this further reduction.

This move is short-sighted and further undermines our ability to trade. A fully pedestrianised city centre has to be able to be serviced. The three key ingredients to successful retail are stock, staff and customers.

Staff are finding it harder to get to and from work; stock can’t be delivered; and customers can’t access our pharmacy. Why is our ability to trade being continuously and arbitrarily undermined?

The nature of pharmacy business and deliveries is unique. Our main medical delivery takes place three times a day. This caters for certain prescription medication and high-tech medicines, which have a short shelf life and can’t be held in stock.

When Oliver Plunkett Street was pedestrianised we had to renegotiate deliveries, introduce an early morning delivery and have our lunchtime and evening delivery made on St Patrick’s Street.

However, the latest short-sighted closing of St Patrick’s Street to traffic between 3pm and 6.30pm means my supplier has cancelled my evening delivery, which directly impacts on my business and my ability to provide medication to my customers on the same day of receiving a prescription.

My business is slowly but surely being pulled under not by recession, not by competition but by the anti-trader policies being adopted by Cork City Council.

The policies are simply eroding the very ethos of our city.

If we want to have a pedestrianised city centre, we need an orbital/circular access South Mall, Merchant’s Quay, St Patrick’s Street, and Grand Parade, allowing movement between the main pedestrian areas of Paul Street, North Main Street and Oliver Plunkett Street, and we need to relocate the bus station to Horgan’s Quay, in conjunction with the railway station. In my time on the City Council, I tabled a number of motions to this effect. If you discard the views of retailers and implement policy from desktop analysis supported by elected members who have consistently failed to represent the interest of the city centre, your policy is doomed to failure.

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