Picture not as bleak as it seems

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LURGAN has been excluded from a recent survey of town centre vacancies.

Neighbours Portadown were singled out as having the highest proportion of vacant shops, however, it’s been claimed had Lurgan been surveyed the results would have been more favourable.

Charles Gardiner, Chair of Lurgan Chamber of Trade said: “I wouldn’t have been afraid to appear on the list. Lurgan compares favourably with other towns in the UK of similar size.

“The vacancy rate in Lurgan is about 12%. That’s below the Northern Ireland average (14.4%) and roughly the same as the UK average (11.2%).”

The study by commercial property company Lisney of 17 towns and cities in Northern Ireland suggested that one in five outlets in Portadown (20.6%) is lying empty. It was closely followed on the list by Bangor, Antrim and Belfast. Craigavon had the lowest percentage of vacant shops (3.6%) according to the survey.

Mr Gardiner commented: “This is detrimental to Portadown. Once there’s a high vacancy rate it leads to a fact investors will not go into the town.

“We’ve been saying for a long time that retail space in Portadown has been grossly oversubscribed over the years. It highlights that Portadown has been developed to an unsustainable level at the expense of Lurgan.”

He added: “The low figure for Craigavon could mean they’ll say there’s room for expansion.”

Regarding Lurgan’s exclusion from the Lisney survey, Mr Gardiner said: “They didn’t do these towns in terms of population. I think the fact that Lisney haven’t come to Lurgan is because they aren’t doing a lot of business in the town.”

Mr Gardiner spoke of the positives of Lurgan: “The advantage Lurgan has over a lot of towns is the fact that the shops are smaller units. They’re suited to new owner driven businesses. The businesses that have really suffered from the downturn are the multiples.

“Nobody can afford 2,000 square foot units to open a new business. In Lurgan we have 300 to 600 square foot units which are ideal for new businesses.”

Mr Gardiner said that unlike some other towns Lurgan Forward and Lurgan Chamber of Trade were actively seeking investment in the town.

To this end ‘Meanwhile Space’, a new business initiative which will help aspiring entrepreneurs start small business and improve the look of vacant properties throughout the town, has been launched.

He added: “You hear a lot about businesses closing in Lurgan, but over the years there’s as many shops opening as there is closing.”

This week work began on the expansion at High Street Methodist Church which will see the old Castle’s building redeveloped into a bookshop and coffee shop.

It’s hoped the improvements to the area nicknamed ‘Death Row’ as well as the forthcoming public realm works in High Street can kickstart regeneration on the southside of the town.