Chamber calls for O’Connell Street revitalisation programme to commence as matter of urgency

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The only trees that are on Limerick's O'Connell Street. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

LIMERICK Chamber has yesterday called for the €9.1M O’Connell Street investment programme to commence as a matter of urgency so that key elements of the work can be delivered in time to support businesses that hope to reopen in the coming months .

Speaking today following the Government’s announcement of ‘Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – The Path Ahead’ plan, Chamber CEO Dee Ryan said: “The Government is plotting a cautious route to the easing of restrictions and, in time, a gradual reopening of customer facing businesses.  It is essential that we use this prolonged time of supressed movement to make as much progress as we can on the

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‘Limerick Urban Centre Revitalisation of O’Connell Street’ project, which the Chamber believes is essential in support of Limerick business.

“We welcome the government’s commitment this evening to extend existing business supports to the end of June and that a National Economic Recovery Plan is at an advanced stage. However, specifically for Limerick also, we must commence the urgently needed work on O’Connell street as a support for city traders into the future.”

Ms Ryan said, that the LUCROC programme will deliver the overall gain that city traders need but it must be allowed get underway, albeit in keeping with public guidelines.

Limerick Chamber has itself commissioned a report on ‘Future Limerick City’  by Indecon which will be completed in Q2. The initiative is part of the Chamber’s commitment to be a driver for positive change in the city centre and to enable Limerick City to achieve its potential to be the economic engine for the wider Mid-West region.

Ms Ryan said: “While the announcement of continuation of existing supports for business is very welcome, more needs to be done in terms of grants for the most impacted sectors of tourism, hospitality and retail who are significant employers in the Mid-West.  Side by side with immediate supports we must also make progress on getting the Limerick Urban Centre Revitalisation of O’Connell Street programme underway. When completed this will deliver significant improvements to the attractiveness of our city centre,” she said.

“The funding is in place and, for good reason, the commencement of works was suspended in January due to infection levels across the country being out of control. However, with infection numbers significantly reduced, it’s time that this essential project is allowed to push on.  As much progress must be made as possible while businesses are closed so that the impact on their trading when they reopen is at a minimum.

“Other urban centres have been cleared to commence their works in recent weeks but if any urban centre needs this to start now, it’s ours,” she said. “We have seen the go ahead given by government on major public realm works in Clare.  We need the same urgency in the delivery of the  O’Connell Street works which are critical to stakeholders’ efforts to make improvements in our city centre.”

Ms Ryan said that priority should be given to improvements that can be implemented in time for the summer season.  “This is a minimum 12month programme, but we should be prioritising works that can deliver a boost to retailers this summer. The longer we leave it before the works commence the less chance there is that anything meaningful will be done for this year. Everything possible needs to be done to support businesses through 2021 and into a recovery period in 2022.”

Regarding the recent discussions on regularising food trucks, Ms Ryan welcomed Limerick City and County Council’s desire to reach a resolution. “I have been in communication with Limerick City and County Council CEO Dr Pat Daly and some Metro Area Councillors on the matter. The local authority is open to looking at this but a motion to amend bye-laws will be needed and this is being explored.

“I informed the CEO that Limerick Chamber is supportive of measures to facilitate food trucks as they add to the vibrancy of the city. But any accommodation should not negatively impact on operation of other businesses, not least given that their rates and rent are based on location and footfall. Consideration must also be given to any impact on Limerick Milk Market which is a key attraction in our city centre with ambitions for further development. Any effort to facilitate food trucks must be inclusive and must protect and support existing businesses at this critical time.”