THE Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce and Industry breakfast had a very firm focus on expelling any concerns raised by the recent report by The Chronicle about vast shop vacancies in the region.
Local experts Phil Lawler of LJ Hooker, First National Real Estate’s Tony McTaggart and Sandy Warburton from Warburton Estate Agents were on hand to field questions about the state of the area’s thoroughfares.
They were positive about the sector and said the likes of Muswellbrook, Scone and Singleton were actually better off now than they were 10 years ago in terms of economic dependability.
They praised the Muswellbrook Shire Council’s efforts to promote business interest – and added they’ve had a great 18-month patch over the past five years, which Mr Lawler stressed is more impressive than it sounds externally.
Mr McTaggart cited the retirement of some shop owners and the increased influence of major market complexes headlined by the likes of Woolworths and Coles as a reason to why less people visit small businesses.
Mr Warburton also noted a couple of problems that will need to be dealt with before a serious upturn occurs.
“We’re probably looking for a bit of consistency before investment comes back into the region,” he said.
Mr Lawler looked towards the future, saying some of the old buildings on Muswellbrook’s main street may need reconstruction before more “mixed” infrastructure can be introduced.
That term refers to when residential and business tenants occupy the same building, which can be a major driver of increased trading in the area.
One major project that all three men highlighted as a substantial factor in increased foot traffic is the potential of a Muswellbrook Bypass.
Having been touted for years, the development has picked up steam in recent times but is still a long way off confirmation let alone completion, which is a point of frustration for Mr Warburton.
“It does make it difficult to plan if they (investors) don’t know what or when it’s going to happen,” he said.
They did, however, dismiss the sentiment that the high rate of fly-in fly-out workers is having an effect on retail and therefore scaring off potential suitors.
So, perhaps the sector isn’t looking quite as bad internally, but until some real aesthetic changes are made it will still be an issue thought about by locals on a daily basis.