Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lismore's CBD feels the pinch of dollar drain

Interesting story in the Lismore Northern Star about the challenges facing retailers in the Lismore CBD where retail sales are down. Part of the problem is apparently due to a revamped Lismore Shopping Square, but Lismore also faces a broader problem.

According to Lismore Unlimited president Phil Hanlon. Lismore shopper dollars are being lured away from its CBD not just by a revamped Lismore Shopping Square, but to a Gold Coast made more accessible by improved roads. “You can be at Robina or Pacific Fair in an hour and a half and shop all weekend – you can’t shop in Lismore all weekend,” he said.

Mr Hanlon suggests that the dollar drain was more dramatic than most people realised, estimating between $200 million and $300 million crossing the NSW/Queensland border from the Northern Rivers each year.

Pressure on Lismore has also also came from the coast where, over the past few years, retail business between Lennox Head and Byron Bay had doubled.

Lismore is fighting back, trying to reach the 750,000 people living just over the border in Queensland. But it's not easy.

I found the story interesting in its own right, but also because it illustrates some of the changes taking place in New England, changes that help explain New England's relatively poor economic performance together with the decline in its sense of self-identity.

Our problem is that New England is squeezed, cannibalised, between the growing Sydney and Brisbane conurbations.

In an earlier story I spoke of the way in which Newcastle in the south was now being treated by the Sydney Government as simply another part Greater Sydney. This story shows the fragmentation process in the north.

Like Mr Hanlon, when I was chair of Tourism Armidale I used to talk about the opportunities offered by the big population concentrations to the north and south of Armidale. But it's very hard to do anything meaningful to fight back when everything has to be done at an increasingly fragmented local level.

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