Media reports of fake shops are "wholly inaccurate" says Fermanagh Council

Published: 4 Jun 2013 11:070 comments

Environment Minister hits out at Fermanagh MLA's "huge lie" remark

Fermanagh District Council has rejected suggestions that it has created fake shops in order to hide the economic hardship.

147 properties across the county have been spruced-up as part of a Department of Environment dereliction programme worth £374,000.

One aspect of the dereliction work involved the window screening of 28 vacant properties, which were principally retail premises, across Fermanagh.

The move has resulted in media outlets across the world reporting that fake shops and pop-up villages have been created in the county to hide the effects of the recession before the G8 summit in two weeks.

One report even suggested Belcoo was building a "Hollywood set."

This morning Fermanagh District Council hit back at the criticism, saying the Department of Environment's 'Dereliction Intervention' scheme was open to every Council in Northern Ireland and not specific to Fermanagh or the G8.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Council said the specific measures included minor repairs, external painting and decorating, window screening, landscaping and small scale demolition.

The Council spokesperson said the window screening work programme represented a minimal level of window screening of properties over a large geographical area.

"Some media reports have described the window screening piece of work as 'putting up fake store fronts on shuttered businesses' or the 'establishing of pop up villages'. These media reports are wholly inaccurate," said the statement.

The spokesperson added: "Enniskillen is an attractive shopping destination. The retail industry is buoyant with the local shopping centre in Enniskillen recently submitting an application to extend its premises.

"Businesses in County Fermanagh face the same challenges as businesses around the world with sectors like agriculture and construction in decline. However, County Fermanagh has a strong entrepreneurial base with a large number of small and medium sized businesses in the county and a growing agri-food sector."

Some media reports have also suggested that Fermanagh is an economically depressed area with high unemployment. In response, the Council said: "The unemployment rate in Fermanagh is 5.1 per cent - lower than the Northern Ireland average of 5.6 per cent."

In another statement this morning, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said the dereliction work was "accelerated by G8 and the Irish Open."

"Northern Ireland is in the international spotlight so it is entirely right that we should portray it in the best light possible. We should do everything we can to make these areas as attractive for residents, tourists and consumers. If we want tourists to visit and stay longer, then tackling major eyesores and dereliction will certainly help.

"In the past two years I have released almost £2 million pounds to tackle major eyesores and dereliction in a total of 9 council areas. For moderate monies, big improvements. The dereliction funding has been a big success and my ambition is to have it rolled out across all council areas. I will be making that argument for new money in the June monitoring round."

Mr Attwood hit out at Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan who described the work as "a huge lie" in an interview with the Irish Times last week.

"It is a strange place that, useful and visible improvements are derided.  I note the criticism from a local MLA. He should speak to his own colleagues, who rightly look for dereliction monies in their constituency.  To portray it as a 'big lie' is downright wrong - what would the MLA have us do - spend nothing and let the area not measure up to the opportunity to showcase Fermanagh?"

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