THE president of Portadown Chamber of Commerce said he was encouraged by the reaction of the First and Deputy First Minister during a key meeting on the future of town centres.
Adrian Farrell was part of a delegation of local Chambers of Commerce and traders groups which met Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness this week over the challenges facing town and city centres and wider local retail sector.
The meeting was organised by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and comprised a dozen different local business organisations. NIIRTA also discussed at the meeting its recently launched Town Centre First document which has over 50 solutions on how to regenerate town centres and revamp the local retail sector.
Mr Farrell said, “We were to try and highlight issues of importance to our town centres and I thought the First and Deputy First Minister gave us a very fair hearing. There is no doubt that the two of them were listening intently to what we were saying and I’m hoping some kind of positive action can take place.”
The 12 business organisations are to establish a new campaign group, entitled the Town Centre Alliance, to spearhead an extensive lobbying campaign to save Northern Ireland’s struggling town centres. All interested business groups and local Chambers of Commerce will be invited to join.
NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said, “Northern Ireland has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK and lost 1,000 small shops last year. This figure is likely to double by the end of this year, leaving nearly one in three shops vacant.
“Key issues such as developing a new car parking strategy, new Retail Planning Policy, extending the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, establishing Enterprise Zones and the need to progress the current Corporation Tax talks were all discussed.”
“We also pressed the Ministers on the need for a more effective joined up approach by Executive Departments given the current situation of having three government departments responsible for Town Centre Regeneration and Planning and three for the economy.”