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Hub plan could spell trouble for High Street

The Erne Hospital site

The Erne Hospital site

PROPOSALS to shift a number of public services from Enniskillen town centre to create a one-stop ‘hub’ at the Erne Hospital site has been met with a combination of cautious support and scepticism.

While some claim the exodus of services from the town centre could be economically damaging others have envisaged a pedestrianised town centre with a collection of retail shops and cafes which they believe will help boost footfall in the area.

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Earlier this month the First and Deputy First Ministers met with MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew and the six MLAs to discuss the landmark proposals and its potential gains for Enniskillen.

However, to date only the South West College has given their pledge to move on to the site. It is currently awaiting approval from the Department of Employment and Learning who are considering the terms of a ‘multi-million’ funding package.

Local GAA club Enniskillen Gaels and the Ambulance Service have expressed an interest in leasing or purchasing part of the site but question marks hang over other services such as the Jobs and Benefits Office, the court service and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

It is believed that Fermanagh District Council is hoping to purchase the site and either lease or sell to interested public sector parties.

John Treacy, manager of Fermanagh Enterprise Ltd, said that while the plans are a “positive development” for the old hospital site, there needs to be a consensus from major parties to enhance vacant buildings.

“It would be good to see the site put to use. It would be a new concept for Enniskillen and Northern Ireland but it needs the major players agreeing to work together,” Mr Tracey said.

“On the other side of things if there was to be a considerable number of vacant buildings on the high street that would create a negative impact so there needs to be funding to use the properties for something else.

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“There also needs to be decent links because (the site) is a little bit outside the town and across the water so it needs more integration or else it will be counterproductive. The geography of Enniskillen is difficult given that it’s an island and to mitigate that we need to provide a link bridge.

“It could have an impact on town trade as people like to take a wander around the town for an hour or two and get a coffee but if these services  are taken away from the town people might not want to go back and that would have a negative impact.

“On a positive note if the South West College was able to bring a third level education hub and develop that over the next five or ten years then that would bring a significant economic spin-off. Enniskillen could be developed as a university town and bring higher standards into the area.”

It is expected that the SWC will be given the go-ahead to move on to the site. Director of the SWC Malachy McAleer highlighted the need for a new building saying the current one will not be fit for purpose in the coming years.

The college building situated on the Fairview campus was built in the 1970s.

Last year there were 3,500 full time and part time students enrolled at the Enniskillen campus and to date there has been 1,000 student enrolments with more expected in the coming months.

There are approximately 40 full time staff members at the Fairview site.

Frank Britton, a local SDLP councillor, is sceptical over the “grand hub” plans.

“These proposals have been around for a long time, this is nothing new. Although I don’t think the police station is being moved or have indicated any interest in being moved,” he said.

“The original plan was a public service hub that would be in one location. But that’s not going to happen or the commitment is not there from what I understand. The only commitment has been from the college.

“The proposal dates back to 2006 so not everyone from then is still interested in moving. They have either withdrawn or scaled back on their commitment. It’s one thing for an organisation to show interest but it’s another thing to put there name on the dotted line.”

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