Empty units up, but towns are faring well - councillor

THE number or empty properties in Cookstown and Magherafelt has risen in the past two years, bringing the total to more than 800 across both areas.

The vacant properties include shop units, offices and warehouses and latest figures reveal the impact of the economic climate on the Mid Ulster area.

But the relatively low numbers, when compared with other council areas, are a sign that the area has weathered much of the storm when it comes to business and retail, according to councillor Trevor Wilson.

Cookstown had 417 units lying empty as of March this year, compared with 395 two years ago.

Mr Wilson said the nature of business in the town has ensured it has not been hit as badly by the downturn as some other areas.

“While it’s good news that we haven’t had a massive change in terms of the figures, I believe it is down to the fact that we have small, family-run businesses here in the town,” he said.

“Those businesses and those people are loyal to this town and it is fortunate that we have people who have stuck by Cookstown.”

The pro-active approach taken by Cookstown Council regarding refurbished shop fronts, advertising and the ‘Living over the Shops’ scheme have also been instrumental in keeping the town centre vibrant, said Mr Wilson.

“The council has done a lot to promote the town in recent times,” he said. “They have run an extensive advertising campaign which has drawn people in to Cookstown.

“The campaign in this area to provide housing for people in previously empty and unused property above shops has been one of the most successful in Northern Ireland and with funding from the Housing Executive and facilitation by the council it has really been very worthwhile.”

When it comes to Magherafelt the number of vacant non-domestic properties has increased only slightly. The figures come just a week after a £150,000 facelift for the town was announced by the Department of Social Development.

Magherafelt Council will oversee the initative, which includes improving street appearance and providing small grants for business owners.

Speaking last week council chair Ian Milne said the makeover will be very welcome.

“We are delighted to have received this funding to help improve the appearance of Queen Street,” he said.

“The type of work that will be supported by the funding includes refurbishment and repairs to building frontages, painting, renewing shop signage and lighting.

“In addition floral features ahnd street signage will be considered as part of the project.”