AS this week’s Leinster Leader went to press, a decision about whether to allow another supermarket to open its doors in Naas was about to be made.
Unusually the application for a new Aldi Store (one already exists at Newbridge Road) was put before both Kildare County Council and Naas Town Council.
This is because the site of the development, which will have a gross floor area of 1,476 square metres, straddles the border which divides local authorities.
The reality however is that while the lion’s share of the land is within the NTC boundary, the decision will be made by KCC because it employs the planners.
Another reality is that planning permission is almost certain to be given for the demolition of two existing buildings at Monread Road (at the Dublin Road end) to pave the way for the food store and off licence business.
After all, Tesco was approved for one of the biggest stores in the State a short distance up the road, Boots are joining them on the same site – but keeping its town centre store open and so is Costa Coffee and Argos.
At first glance it looks like a damaging blow to the centre of Naas, coming as it does in the wake of the Superquinn closure. But this ignores the fact that some new businesses have opened in the town and others, like Eddie Rockets are to follow.
Nevertheless many of the retail enterprises in Naas are not within walking distance of the town centre. This contrasts starkly with what has happened in Newbridge. The Whitewater centre is in the centre of the town, while both Dunnes Stores and Tesco are on the outskirts and within striking distance.
Some business people like Derek Nolan of Nolan’s Butcher have been highly critical of the way retail development has taken place in Naas.
He feels that the roads structure surrounding in the town only serves to facilitate big stores wishing to locate on the outskirts rather that in the town centre.
“The business parks provide these locations and it is difficult to compete with them. There is plenty of parking available and you don’t have to pay for it.
“Also it seems that is relatively easy for these companies to get planning permission whereas if I want to do something smaller with my business it can take a long time,” Mr. Nolan said.
He feels that having to pay for parking and the time restrictions imposed in certain parts of Naas means that shoppers no longer spend a great deal of time in the town.
“People don’t window shop any more. They feel that are on the clock because if they stay too long they will get a ticket.”
The closure of the Superquinn has meant that less people are coming to Naas to shop but there is an upside. “People who used to go the meat section are now coming here and are impressed with the fact that we kill our own meat and all of the products we sell are genuinely traceable.”
Mr. Nolan also believes that the supermarket closure offers an opportunity for new businesses. A bakery has opened and a second is planned.
He believes that the council officials have not done enough to promote business in the town.
“Senior officials are not visible. They don’t come to the town, they dont visit and we hardly know who they are.”
He adds: “We do need to be positive and recognaise that you have to work at business and you have to be flexible to succeed.
“Naas used to be one of the top four business towns in Leinster and there was once six butchers here but no longer.”
Cllr. Darren Scully robustly defends local councillors against any suggestion that they have not done enough to promote business enterprise and feels that bad timing as much as anything else has contributed to problems locally.
Decisions to locate large multi national stores on the ring roads creating a “doughnut” effect were, he said, made a decade ago when most of the sitting councillors had not been elected.
This results in revenue in the form of development levies and rates going into Kildare County Council’s coffers.
He said that the unopened Naas Shopping Centre has been a victim of unfortunate timing as much as anything else.
“I supported the shopping centre to counter the effects of the locating retails units outside the town and many businesses in the town were also supportive. I voted for it in 2005 but this was followed by a totally unforeseen downturn and then the anchor tenant withdrew,” said Cllr. Scully.
He said that if the project had begun a year earlier “we would have a completely different town centre in Naas today.”
He said he did not become a member of Kildare County Council until 2009 and by this time many of the decisions to bring retail business to the outskirts had been made.
Cllr. Scully insisted that Naas Town Council has made the correct decisions to “bring to bring the correct balance to the whole retail side of things”.
He urged people to be positive about the retail future of Naas.
“A new Penneys store will open in time and the vacant shopping centre will find an anchor tenant.
“I feel that everything is in place and the future is bright but we need confidence and the councillors have a role in promoting the town, something I am very interested in.”
He added: “Some people say the shopping centre shouldn’t have been built but it’s easy to say that now. The traders in the town were supportive of it at the time and it will be used.”
Cllr. Scully said the councillors are aware of the difficulties faced by business and as a result rates have not increased but have decreased slightly.
“There is a constant negativity about Naas including claims that there is no parking but there is plenty of parking and businesses have to change they way they operate like opening on a Sunday; you can’t rely on the things you were doing a decade ago.”
He said some traders have not paid rates in 2-3 years while others have and the town council is willing to negotiate payment arrangements.