West Lancashire Borough Council announced how sorry it was to hear about the closure of the Dove Mill Outlet shop, but “unfortunately the company did not contact the authority to say it was having difficulties. The only contact that has been made with the Council was regarding a property search in 2015 which staff helped them with. The Council offers a variety of support to local business and has contacted Ormskirk businesses over a number of initiatives, including several in the last 12 months.
‘In February 2017 Council staff hand delivered invites to town centre businesses for a stakeholder event. This gave businesses the chance to find out about the Ormskirk Town Centre Management Group, and those who attended were given information about town centre events and the Ormskirk Business Action Group.
‘Over the summer the Council has hand delivered ‘keep in touch’ cards to local businesses so they could be sent information about town centre matters and added to the Discover Ormskirk mailing list. It has also publicised the launch of the Discover Ormskirk website, telling firms how they can be features on the new website.
‘Dove Mill outlet did not engage in either of the above initiatives to support local businesses nor did they take the opportunity to feature the business on Discover Ormskirk. The Council welcomes businesses getting in touch and would be more than happy to pay a visit to their premises to discuss how they can get involved in town centre initiatives and events. We can also put them in touch with Ormskirk Business Action Group who represent town centre businesses”.
But now a response, published on the QLocal website suggests otherwise. Local cafe owner John Reed wrote with this “enlightening and thought provoking” letter. “I have just read the article regarding Dove Outlet on Church Street, Ormskirk, and I am astounded with the council’s reply. As far as the business groups invite, yes, I received one, but it was held in business hours so I couldn’t attend.
“I contacted the Council regarding what markets were being held over Christmas, and I was given the wrong phone number, they gave me the number for Chapel Gallery. I telephoned the number I was given by Chapel Gallery and was told there were no extra markets. We found out that the Christmas lights were getting switched on the day it happened.
“It appears that the only thing that the council are concerned with is anything that raises revenue. Planning is a joke! Once again a retail shop is closing and a number of bar/restaurants are waiting for planning. The old Home Bargain on Moor Street has not yet got planning permission, but it has scaffolding up, I wonder why?
“What the council are doing is what is the best for the council, not what is best for Ormskirk and its future. If the council do not halt the number of drink and food outlets in the town, there will be nothing left but food and drink related businesses; the council will receive the planning fee and the business rates and we will have a ghost town.
“If the council takes no notice of the residents and business owners maybe the problem is the elected bodies that control the council, after all that is what they are elected for”.
Elsewhere we read about how “The buoyancy of the local property market is a manifestation of wider economic trends. Though some of these trends may be outside of our control there are a number of factors that can be influenced locally. This strategy must analyse Ormskirk’s ability to compete with similar neighbouring centres and work to position Ormskirk town centre to be as vibrant and attractive as possible.
“The UK retail sector is undergoing a fundamental change and this change can be seen in all high streets across the Country, including Ormskirk. The type of retailers in the town centre has changed reflecting national trends. Whilst the Council welcomes opportunities for vacant units to be brought back into use, it will be important to ensure that Ormskirk maintains a varied mix of units providing a mix of retail and non-retail units.
“Council records showed that in October 2015 vacancy rates for ground floor commercial units in the wider Ormskirk town centre area were 4.5%. Given the current economic climate this was an extremely positive figure and showed that the Ormskirk town centre property market was buoyant. According to Springboard UK (which is a market analysis company) in October 2015 the average vacancy levels were 12.3% for the North West and 9.1% for the national average. Source: Springboard, October 15, Vacancy Rates Survey.
“However, there may still be opportunities to improve the buoyancy of the local property market, reducing vacancy rates further and even improving the types of units that are available providing a greater offer than presently exists. Although in real terms vacancy rates may be low, the perception may be higher, given the prominence of some of the units that are currently vacant”.
In August 2016 Love Ormskirk ceased trading due to a lack of volunteers and funding. For the past four years the organisation had helped businesses and has worked with other partners to try and change the town. Love Ormskirk was independent from the council and was given funding in 2012 and 2013 from the High Street Innovation Fund which was a central government initiative and which West Lancashire Borough Council helped to administer. The money was provided to assist Love Ormskirk in putting on events during this time, buy branded merchandise, carry out advertising, and market the town .
But from 2014 the organisation was given no further funding and since then they have been using the income from their members to enable them to pay for the running of the website, social media platforms and the running costs of the business. Unfortunately, with the business members diminishing to only 23 members this year, the decision had to be made to end as it was no longer financially viable.
Ian Moran, Leader of West Lancashire Borough Council and portfolio holder for Economic Regeneration, said at the time “We are sorry to hear that Love Ormskirk has ceased trading. The Council has provided as much support as it could to Love Ormskirk’s activities to promote Ormskirk, and will continue to work with businesses and other partners through the Ormskirk Town Centre Strategy to ensure the town has an even more vibrant future. Actions in the strategy will ensure that Love Ormskirk’s work to promote the town will continue”. And there’s that “vibrant” description again, perhaps used flippantly?