ENNISKILLEN is more expensive for commerical rent than other towns west of the Bann commercial , according to a local DoE Local Planning Division report.
And, local Sinn Fein MLA, Phil Flanagan lays the blame on a local ‘property cartel’.
“There has been a long held view that there is a property cartel of sorts operating in Enniskillen, with some landlords acting with an unethical approach by holding their rents well in excess of what the property market would normally justify.”
And, he believes that the number of vacant High Street premises are is the outcome of that.
The report, which is for 2013, shows that Enniskillen is now more expensive – and ins ome cases a lot more expeensive – for renting commercial premises than in Omagh, Dungannon, Cookstown and Magherafelt.
The prime zones in Enniskillen, namely Townhall Street and High Street will cost you signficantly more to rent than the four other ‘rural’ towns.
Using poundage per square metre as an index, the annual rent for Townhall Street/High Street is £340 compared to Omagh (320), Cookstown and Magherafelt (250) and Dungannon (240).
But, commercial properties in secondary zones in Enniskillen do not compare any better.
The rate per square metre here is £ 210, decreasing to £180 for both Cookstown and Magherafelt.
So, who and what’s to blame for the discrepancy?
While some will say it’s a question of ‘supply and demand’, with premises in Enniskillen eliciting greater competition than for, say, Omagh, Mr Flanagan and others disagree.
He commented: “The fact that vacancy rates in Enniskillen are so high and, yet the price of property remains far higher than other comparable towns, is extremely worrying.
“It indicates to me that the market is not working for the needs of those who want property, but rather is being manipulated by those who have an interest in driving up commercial rents in Enniskillen.”
He said he was aware of landlords holding onto vacant commercial properties instead of leasing them out at a reduced rate.
Declan Devlin, who operates O2 Enniskillen and Pizza Hut, both on Belmore Street, said the current rents were not encouraging people into the town.
“The towns mentioned are similar in size and population and, certainly with Omagh, the population is bigger, so if you had the opportunity of opening a shop in Enniskillen and Omagh, and Omagh is less rent and more people, you’re probably going to go there.”
He wondered if that was the reason Primark chose Omagh and not Enniskillen for a new outlet.
However, Enniskillen Business Partnership member, Jonathan Styles (Mercers Jewellers), expressed surprise that Enniskillen was in a higher a bracket than the other towns.
“ I’m delighted to say that the business done in the centre of Enniskillen is strong and it appears to be recovering. There’s a bit of confidence coming back into the High Street, and we’re in a better place than we were five or six years ago.
“I would certainly like to see the High street and Belmore Street and Darling Street recover and become vibrant areas. There’s absolutely no reason why not, we just need those entrepreneurs out there to say ‘OK I’m going to do this.”
Local businesswoman, Joanna McVeigh said a landlord was not going to rent a premises for nothing.
“But, on the other hand, they will work as hard as they can to ensure their premises is let because, otherwise, they’re going to be clobbered for 50% of the rates.”
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