Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clonmel Chamber Conference - Developing our town

On Friday, 10th October, I attended a conference organised by Clonmel Chamber entitled ‘Developing our Town’. The conference was held in the Hotel Minella and was sponsored by Abbott Vascular. It was extremely well attended with 116 pre-registered attendees and approx. 50 walk-ups.

Declan Byrne, President of Clonmel Chamber opened the conference stating that while many projects were in the pipeline for Clonmel, many were just that, ‘in the pipeline’.

The Borc Development of a multi-storey car-park at the Clonmel Arms Hotel site is still in the planning process – 3 years later. Planning Permission has been granted twice by the Local Authority but on both occasions, appeals to An Bord Pleanala has held matters up. A decision on this is due shortly, we are told.

The development of the Marlbrook Golf Course and Hotel at Marlfield has been put on hold due to economic circumstances. There are a number of vacant units in the town centre – still. I am pleased to note that he mentioned the Ormonde Centre, which we are promoting, being the only conceivable hope of town centre development coming to fruition in the short to medium term. This development of the former Tesco unit is now approx. 50% full and lettings are progressing well.

The County Council owned lands at Ballingarranne have shown a distinct lack of activity. There are however some positives, Clommel won a gold medal in the Tidy Town’s competition and Declan also announced that the World Military Cycling Championships will be based in Clonmel in 2009. Congratulations to Declan for that.

There were a total of 7 speakers including Martin Cullen, TD. Here is a short summary of each.

Michael Lynch, Senior Executive Planner, South Tipperary County Council
He described himself as a Cork man working for Tipperary and then went on to outline (as he said himself) Council plans for Kinsale! He quickly recovered however and went on to inform us that Phase 1 of the Flood Relief Scheme was now complete with €9m of the €25m allocated spent. This means that the river edge is now available for residential development, such as owner occupied apartments, etc. A new Draft Town Development Plan is being prepared for 2009-2015. While the catchment population of Clonmel is in the region of 50,000, the Borough Boundary is exceptionally small so moves are afoot to move the Borough Boundary. He also stressed that the town centre is becoming a non-residential area. This is a common theme in many towns throughout Ireland. He, like most of us, would wish that the town centre would be more ‘lived in’. It is important that strategies be put in place to ensure this, such as more leisure areas close to the town centre, pedestrianisation, etc.

Fiona Macrae, Market Dynamics, Kilkenny
Market Dynamics recently carried out a study into the way forward for Clonmel and Fiona presented the findings. She was a very confident and competent speaker. Her main points being that Clonmel has 25% of South Tipperary population, and that in excess of 50% of this population is in the 15-44 year old age bracket. Disposable income in the town is higher than average and we have very strong employers and a young population with great opportunity for investment in food, shopping, hotel and tourism. She advised that 50% of the South Tipperary retail space is in Clonmel and 44% of Clonmel shoppers come from over 10 miles away. Clonmel, however, is missing a number of big brand retailers and there is leakage to other retail centres. We need a multi-storey car park. We need at least one high profile 5 star hotel and at least one 5 star restaurant. At the moment, a lot of corporate and personal dining is done in Dungarvan and Cashel. She feels that tourism is very underdeveloped here. We have a lovely town with mountains, the river and some fabulous buildings, Clonmel needs to develop a defined tourism product with more festivals, theatre and even a marina. Her motto
“Keep those who travel to and through Clonmel, in Clonmel”.

Margaret Ryan (CEO of Laois Chamber)
Margaret spoke on the Portlaoise regeneration story. Originally from Cloneen in Co. Tipperary, Margaret is lively and entertaining, a real ‘no-nonsense’ speaker. Her experience in Laois showed that the best way forward with the Local Authority and other parties is to establish Working Groups which meet regularly and to quote Margaret, “cut out the formalities”. She said that Clonmel, being the Administrative Capital of South Tipperary was very poorly signed from the M8 and other towns. We need to market and promote the town and its events nationally. Her over-riding wish was to “create a town for its people”.

Martin Cullen TD, Minister for Arts, Sports & Tourism
I had never met Martin Cullen before. From what I saw of him in the press and on television, I had formed a negative opinion of him. However, having heard him speak, brilliantly, on how our town and region could compete against a national and global market place, I am totally won over. I now see how my friends in Waterford say that he is a fabulous politician and a great Minister for the South East Region. He complained about the ‘same-ness’ in National Planning Guidelines saying that we need to be more creative in planning and while conservation is good, that some conservation tends to restrict this creativity in planning. As a town and county, we need to be more individualistic and make each area more unique. He says that planning is a reflection of the conflict between past versus present versus future and his over-riding view from a planning point of view is that ‘nothing lasts forever’. He further went on to say that regarding planning, we are ‘over-democratised’. On some occasions, all facets of the law are used against the majority wish by a vocal minority. I asked him what he thought Clonmel should focus on to compete on this national and global level. He said we must focus on our strengths; Clonmel is a great commercial town in a fantastic scenic location. Tourism should be very important to Clonmel so once more, he is another speaker pushing tourism which, strangely, is not really a primary focus in Clonmel at all. He continues to push for a University in the South East

Brid O’Connell, Welcome Marketing
Speaking of tourism, next up was Brid O’Connor. Brid has huge experience working with Kilkenny, both city and county and has been responsible for the development of kilkenny.ie. She said that while Clonmel could not compete with Kilkenny in relation to historic buildings, our scenery, proximity to mountains and river gave us a huge advantage. She also said that if we linked with Cahir which has Cahir Castle, Cashel which has the Rock and other areas in South Tipperary, we could brand the county as a whole and empower communities to “make tourism theirs”. She says the biggest hurdle with tourism is apathy and urged the County Council to put tourism on the agenda. Brid was a very energetic and positive speaker (and very speedy). She fitted a huge amount of information into her 20 minute slot.

Myles McHugh, Irish Rail
Myles explained Irish Rail’s plans for developing the services to and from Clonmel. He explained how this year we have extra services to and from Clonmel at more suitable times and said that Iarnrod Eireann (not CIE!) is open to any suggestions by the town’s people in relation to new services.

Conor Norton, Loci
Conor was the final scheduled speaker. He is a Private Planner/Urban Designer. Being his first visit to Clonmel, he said that he was impressed immediately and that due to its location, the town has great potential. He stressed that rejuvenation is a long term project and the town’s philosophy should be sustainability, quality of life and cohesive communities.

Colin Henehan of Abbott Vascular, the sponsors then thanked the Chamber and the speakers and Declan Byrne, the President wrapped up what was a great morning.

Congratulations to all involved. All we need now from the people of Clonmel and it’s legislators is some action!

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