Planning is currently being considered for the development of the Lakelands Retail and Leisure Park on the former Unipork site in Enniskillen.

However, the Enniskillen Business Partnership, which represents shops and businesses right across Enniskillen town centre, has alternative suggestions for the 15 acre former factory site.

Speaking on behalf of the Enniskillen Business Partnership, Jonathan Styles told The Impartial Reporter that the Partnership have been working “diligently” for the last year and a half on how they would see the former Unipork site developing and what they would see as an advantage to the town.

“It’s a 15 acre site and it’s really important. It’s in the main thoroughfare heading in the Omagh direction but it’s slightly too far away from the town centre, in our opinion, to have a retail value that would add to both environments. In other words, we would add to it and it would add to us and when I say us, I mean Erneside, town centre and the surrounding shopping streets of Belmore Street, East Bridge Street, Darling Street etcetera,” said Mr. Styles.

He noted that Enniskillen currently has around 45 empty shops: “That’s really worrying. The level of empty shops has grown significantly over the last year. It’s grown significantly in the last six weeks since Covid measures were released and retail was encouraged to open up,” he commented, adding: “What does that tell you? It tells you that retail is on its knees. It tells you that the chance of a business doing well is significantly reduced, it tells you that the young, budding entrepreneur who might fancy opening up his own shop to offer a new skill or service is less likely to do it because the economy is just going in the wrong direction. And it tells you that if there was to be an alternative retail area, in a disconnected fashion, in an area such as the Unipork site, it would be really bad news for Enniskillen town centre and the shopping centre with the established businesses that have managed to survive this far.”

Offering an alternative view on the development of the site, Mr. Styles shared: “Another way of looking at it is it’s an absolutely brilliant site for all sorts of purposes. It’s 15 acres, it’s just where you want it, it’s a designated white ground area which means with suitable planning, you can build whatever you like on it, whether it’s industrial, retail or housing.”

He continued: “So what does Enniskillen need? It needs a new school for Holy Trinity Primary School, which is currently split over two sites. That school would accommodate several hundred pupils. It would need acreage and it would need to be close to main bus routes etcetera. That site is perfect for that sort of thing and whatever wouldn’t be used could be used for good quality housing that Enniskillen seems to be very short of. Housing at the right price, offering the right sort of facilities, properly designed with a recreational area for kids. That would add to the community along the Cornagrade Road which I think would benefit hugely from it.”

“Elm Grange will always say that there isn’t space or opportunities for them to fit into Enniskillen town centre for what they are offering but I would argue that there is. If the town planners really want to earn their crust, I think they should look at Enniskillen and if there is a demand for this range of product, then they should find space, working from the inside out rather than the outside in,” Mr. Styles told this newspaper.

The owner of Mercers Jewellers, Mr. Styles noted that his business has been based in the same town centre location since 1881. “My job is to keep it going, we employ some people who have been with me for in excess of 30 years and we have a long tradition of working for the greater good of Enniskillen and I would like to think that that is a picture that people will find encouraging and also, not necessarily inspiring, but something that they would see as a model that could be copied.

He continued: “If you get the right service and the right product and you work hard at it, it’s a great town for creating a business. There is essentially a great business community in Enniskillen and we work very well together, we share ideas, in a lot of senses we share customers and the customers that find good service and nice product in one shop are quite likely to feed off that feeling and find the same thing in another shop 20 yards away.”

“If we were to throw caution to the wind and say, ‘well, we’ve had enough of that now’ and try this shopping centre idea then I think we are on very dodgy ground.”