I was taking a dander up the town in Enniskillen, last week when a visitor stopped me. “Excuse me,” he said. “You couldn’t tell me where I could buy a paper?”

Er, I had to think, and realised that in the centre of the island town, from the east bridge at the War Memorial to the west bridge heading out towards Portora, there isn’t anywhere that I could think of that sells newspapers.

At least not along the main streets; or for that matter a pint of milk or a packet of biscuits. Perhaps the shop down at the police station is the nearest and no doubt readers will point out other places.

It's a far cry from years gone by when small grocers such as O’Reilly’s in Townhall Street, the two Miss Chambers in East Bridge Street and SR Elliott in Darling Street were among those whose personal friendly service catered for the many thousands of residents who still lived on the island.

Now though, a town of the size of Enniskillen isn’t overly blessed with smaller shops of this nature. Does it really matter? Indeed, what constitutes a town nowadays, and what does your home town mean to you?

And does the changing nature of towns now mean the idea of community is being further diminished.

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A walk through my home town of Enniskillen is an experience that brings a roller coaster of emotions; so many improvements aesthetically, yet the down side is the grubby nature of so many empty premises. Apart from the bad look, it’s worrying for the commercial life of a thriving town.

I’ll tell you what you can get in Enniskillen, though. A decent cup of coffee in one of the proliferation of places around town. It’s great, certainly a far cry from my earliest memories when the adults of the house put a sickly syrup-like black mixture poured out of a bottle and made coffee, the smell of which didn’t endear me to the drink as a child.

Coffee isn’t the only thing that has improved since those days and the developments in infrastructure have certainly enhanced a beautiful town by taking advantage of its scenic location. The most recent of these is the town centre scheme, with its footpaths and seating, and the added signs and murals all add something. It remains to be seen what the Diamond will look like.

The recent addition of the new hospital was wonderful and it would be an awful disgrace if we lose services there. Over my lifetime, the building of the marvellous Ardhowen Theatre and the Lakeland Forum were great additions to the town and it’s good to see modernisations being planned for both.

The museum at the Castle is also welcome and as traffic increased the new through pass and a second bridge at the Castle were needed. Recently, some younger people were surprised when I recalled that there used to be only one bridge at that end of town, bringing traffic in and out from Henry Street and the Portora end.

And with the building of supermarkets, it all adds up to a thriving, modern town.

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Despite the many positive developments, though, there have been mistakes as well.

Not least of these was the denuding of the town of people who wished to live there. A photo up on Facebook recently showed the hundreds of houses in what was know as “the streets”, that is the whole area from the library across to the police station.

This area was nicknamed “the Dardenelles” after the area in the Gallipoli Peninsula (in modern-day Turkey) where so many men from the area died in the First World War. This was a part of the town occupied by the Catholic community and by the 1960s the housing was so badly neglected that the conditions people were living in were a disgrace.

It was right that they were pulled down, as were houses in places like Wellington Place (along where the through pass now is near the Castle) the Broadmeadow, now between the BT building and the Forum. And other areas.

The planners’ answer, however, was a disingenuous piece of social engineering.

For example, I was born in Cornagrade, a mixed estate, but we moved briefly to Dungannon in my father’s native Tyrone. By the time we came back, the housing being built saw Protestants like us moved to Coleshill or Derrychara, while Catholics were given homes in Kilmacormick or Hillview.

All these houses were off the island, but more negatively it meant dividing people up on the basis of their religion which was sad as Enniskillen was a town of very good relationships.

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I suppose it still is; I read an author recently writing about a poor beginning not being able to be “washed off”. But now, many people once embarrassed about being brought up in a rundown area are actually very proud of their upbringing in a working-class area which made them the people they are today.

My point, though, is that decisions taken about housing all those years ago had major implications for years for the nature of the town. And still have.

It’s the same today, and the worry for people like me, born and reared here, is how those decisions are taken by people who don’t quite have the same feel for Enniskillen as those of us with an affinity for a magnificent town which we want to hand over to succeeding generations.

There has been much debate about the planning approval for the new development on the former Unipork site, which will now go ahead. I do understand that the area from the Johnston Bridge right out to the roundabout at Donnelly’s garage has been much neglected over the years.

The new development will give the area a boost, but in my opinion only if it doesn’t become a town within a town as many similar developments have in other areas which now regret building them. One of the issues will undoubtedly be the ease of parking at the new development, whereas in the town centre parking can be difficult to say the least.

I read an article recently which suggested that the trend to keep traffic out of towns in Ireland was, in fact, damaging; better to accept that most people still rely on cars and cater for coming into town.

Despite the figures of the number of spaces in town suggesting plenty of parking, in fact I find the difficulty of parking in the new layout very off-putting.

Not to mention the nightmare of car parks.

The onus, therefore, is for the authorities to show some vision in protect our existing town centre. And that should include a proper plan to protect its commercial heart.

It’s been disappointing to hear some of the criticism of town centre business. In my long experience, many people have shown great commitment and hard work to keep the town going throughout many difficult days.

A walk from one end of Enniskillen, from the empty Topping’s garage and vacated South West College will show the scars of many business premises now lying empty.

As the new developments show, Enniskillen has a lot going for it, an attraction for locals and tourists alike. Those responsible for making decisions need to make sure we retain this jewel in the crown.