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University research study shows strong levels of shop occupancy on Cork city streets

You recently reported the comments of Judge Olann Kelleher regarding rates and their effect on businesses in Cork.

The piece highlighted the contentious issue of commercial rates based on Judge Kelleher’s recent experiences in the courts where there was evidence of some businesses in the city experiencing difficulties.

However, the report was misleading in the context of one particular aspect of the judge’s comments and these were afforded significant prominence in the article.

Reference was made to city centre streets like the South Mall and Oliver Plunkett Street being ‘half empty’, creating the impression of a city centre that was experiencing extreme levels of vacancy, dereliction and a lack of activity and vitality.

One of our research activities here in UCC’s Planning school focuses on ways in which city and town centres can retain and enhance their attractiveness and viability as successful locations for retail activity.

Our recent assessment of its performance as a retail centre indicates that although there are certain pockets of vacancy within the city centre retail core and some high profile derelict sites, Cork’s city centre is performing quite well relative to other urban centres.

As part of a comprehensive city-wide employment and land-use study we conducted on behalf of Cork City Council during the summer of 2011, the occupancy levels of each building in the entire city was recorded. Contrary to the impression given by Judge Kelleher’s remarks, neither the South Mall nor Oliver Plunkett Street can be described as resembling ‘half empty’ streets.

The 2011 figures record that ground floor occupancy [the most important measure of street activity and vitality] on Oliver Plunkett Street was 89% and 84.5% on the South Mall. More recent validation surveys (carried out on Thursday, Dec 5) show that occupancy levels on the South Mall have remained constant while figures for Oliver Plunkett Street have actually increased to 94.5%. More detailed land-use analysis in the case of Oliver Plunkett Street clearly highlights it as a positive example of a vibrant city shopping street with a healthy mix of land uses, a varied presence of local, national and international traders, a high quality pedestrian-friendly environment and occupancy levels that are highlyrespectable given the wider economic circumstances.

It is important that the wrong impression about the quality and performance of the city’s shopping and business environment is not allowed to develop through reporting the comments of a high profile figure on the front page of a national newspaper. Although there are valid reasons to raise concerns relating to the issue of commercial rates and instances of vacancy and dereliction, this should not be pursued in a way that serves to distort facts and potentially undermine the ongoing efforts of traders, local businesses and the local authority alike in their collective efforts towards supporting and enhancing the city centre’s economy.

William Brady

Programme in Planning and Sustainable Development

University College Cork


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