RADICAL ACTION TOWN’S ONLY HOPE

DROMORE is in need of radical action on a scale beyond anything yet attempted if it is to have any hope of a reversal of fortune.

That was the claim to emerge this week amid news of Dromore Partnership plans to meet with the Environment minister in the hope of winning a rethink on the town’s once sought-after Conservation Status.

Partnership Chairman and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Conservation Status - conferred on Dromore 20 years ago this month, with the hope of drawing down funds and stimulating development - was now helping to stifle town centre regeneration by hemming in property-owners.

“We have received several representations,” he said, “from property-owners in Dromore town centre who are saying they are being deterred from improving or replacing properties because of the restrictions imposed by Conservation Status.”

Those restrictions mean would-be developers must retain existing buildings, some of which are in a state of advanced disrepair, rather than pursue the less expensive option of demolition and newbuild.

Voicing hopes of a compromise, Mr. Donaldson said the key question was whether conservation should mean maintaining old buildings at any and all costs, or rather conserving the character of an area while at the same time allowing provision of modern retail and residential accommodation.

Dromore solicitor Drew Nelson, a local councillor in 1992 when Conservation Status was sought and established, backed calls for a rethink, saying it turned out the added restrictions on development outweighed any additional funding sources such status afforded.

But Mr. Nelson said too that any let-up in restrictionsin common with plans for cosmetic improvements in Domore Town Centre - while welcome, accounted for less than five per cent of the answer to Dromore’s problems.

The town, he said, could well be the worst town in all of Northern Ireland in terms of the percentage of unused commercial space; it was suffering from every possible economic misfortune, while at the same time unable to cash in on what he believed to be its greatest asset, industrial land.

“If Dromore town centre is to be turned around we need very, very radical action,” he said.