Pennies from heaven as shoppers cross Border

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

BELFAST BRIEFING:WHAT DOES £1 get you today in Northern Ireland?

Not a great deal, unless you frequent discount stores or are trying to justify pocket money rates.

So if evidence emerged that showed the humble one-pound coin commanded a little more respect outside of its natural habitat than it did at home, what might that say about what is going on in the North’s economy?

Or, more specifically, the Border economy?

Because it appears that the pound coin is fast becoming the currency of choice south of the Border – or at least it is when it comes to parking meters in Dundalk.

In a nod to its cross-Border location, the town’s parking machines are dual currency.

But locals and visitors have quickly realised a pound coin is worth more than its relative face value these days, particularly against its euro neighbour.

In fact, if anything illustrates just how times have changed in general in the east Border region, it is the new parking meter protocol in this part of the world.

Three years ago at the height of the Northern-orientated cross-Border shopping boom, consumers could not feed their euro coins quickly enough into parking machines in Newry.

Today there is a noticeable absence of euro-spending consumers crossing into Newry but an equally noticeable increase in the number of local shoppers in Dundalk now paying their parking charges with £1 coins.

The Quays Shopping Centre in Newry may still be happy to see shoppers feeding euro into its parking machines.

But with exchange rates such as the £0.75 that Sainsbury’s was offering on the euro yesterday, many shoppers from the South are questioning if it is really worth the cross-Border effort anymore?

Particularly when you compare the Sainsbury’s rate to the parking exchange rate that was on offer in Dundalk yesterday.

On average a £1 coin buys around one hour of parking as opposed to €1.30 if you are using the euro.

It is not surprising, then, that businesses and traders in Dundalk are currently considering a number of euro/sterling promotions to lure Northern shoppers and their £1 coins across to their side.

Many of them still remember not too fondly the shopping frenzy that Newry provoked with its pound-for-euro offers – so it remains to be seen if Dundalk can trump them.

But according to Paddy Malone, president of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, there is no “them and us” mentality when it comes to Dundalk and Newry.

Malone admits that in the past things might have been a little bit cooler between the two but the economic recession on both sides of the Border has levelled the playing field.

In fact, he says, if anything there is a strong determination in both Newry and Dundalk to work together to play to each other’s strengths.

Malone says this is highlighted by the ongoing memorandum of understanding between the Newry and Mourne District and the Louth local authorities.

This formal agreement fosters economic co-operation on both sides of the Border and has created a forum for local authorities North and South to work together to develop joint policies that are mutually beneficial.

But Malone says Dundalk Chamber believes the memorandum is just a start and more needs to be done.

“This memorandum was a first for Europe and it is going to deliver significant benefits. There has been great co-operation but what we really need in simple terms is to create a special economic zone that encompasses Newry and Dundalk.

“That would be a game-changer – because it could give incentives to companies to locate here and create jobs. If you look at Newry and Dundalk, and you forget about the issue of cross-Border shopping, did either benefit from the peace dividend or the Celtic Tiger boom? The answer is no,” Malone says.

Research commissioned by Louth County Council, Newry and Mourne District Council, and the Dundalk and Newry chambers suggests that if a new economic zone was established it could help promote 5,000 new jobs in the area over a five-year period.

Malone admits there would be a lot of hurdles to overcome for such a zone to be established.

“It would require both the Irish and British governments to agree to it, potentially some European input, and there is the issue of whether we could secure certain incentives for the zone, such as enhanced tax allowances, fast-track planning permission or special research and development allowances.”

Earlier this month Dundalk Chamber of Commerce and Louth County Council chiefs briefed Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton in Dublin on its economic zone proposals.

“What’s good for Newry is good for Dundalk – what we are proposing is a win-win situation for everyone.

“It makes no sense for us to have a feast or a famine on one side of the Border. We’ve got to work together – and we can already see in practice that if we work together we can produce results,” Malone says.

It appears the one-pound coin is fast becoming the currency of choice south of the Border

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