Traders raise rates and parking issues with Minister
VACANT shops in Portadown town centre was just one of the issues raised at a meeting last week attended by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
The Minister met representatives from the town’s Chamber of Commerce, along with those from Lurgan and Banbridge, as well as traders and MLAs Jo-Anne Dobson and Sydney Anderson.
The meeting, which was organised and chaired by Upper Bann MP David Simpson, came just the day after the publication of a report by commercial property agency Lisney which revealed Portadown as having the second highest number of vacant shops out of 17 in Northern Ireland.
The town’s vacancy rate stands at 22.7 per cent, up from 20.6 per cent last year, and just below Belfast which has a vacancy rate of 23.1 per cent (one in four shops). Craigavon remains the town/city with the lowest vacancy rate, but its rate has risen substantially from 3.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent in the past year.
Adrian Farrell, president of Portadown Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of the shops in Portadown which had closed had been multinationals, such as Peacocks, Game and Bonmarche.
He said, “In terms of independent shops, we are probably holding our own. There are still new businesses opening in the town, such as the Meat Cleaver and Bitty Buttons in Edward Street. Year on year, we are in a better position than others. There was only a shift down of two per cent in the vacancy figures in the past year, while other towns saw a much bigger drop.”
However, he echoed the words of Glyn Roberts, of the NI independent Retail Trade Association, that the rise was “disturbing “ and a “wake-up call to reverse the decline in town centres”, and called for further action on rates.
He revealed that there could still be movement from the government on car parking charges in Portadown, with Minister Sammy Wilson confirming that he was currently in talks with Minister Danny Kennedy on the issue.
MP David Simpson, who described the meeting as “constructive”, said parking was a major issue and that figures showed that the extra revenue generated by increased charges was minimal.
He added, “They are of no benefit to Portadown. Maybe there are other ways of charging, such as having the first hour free. We believe the message needs to get through to Minister Danny Kennedy that parking charges are having a detrimental effect on town centres.”
Other issues discussed rate initiatives such as the small business relief scheme.
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said action on rates was needed to enable town centres to continue to grow and expand. She said, “Important steps must be taken now to avoid the devastating effects of redundancies on families and the knock-on effect on the local economy as a whole. The small business rates relief scheme is helping businesses, but we need more innovative solutions to deliver for those businesses who, at present, fall outside this scheme and in many cases provide an anchor role within our town centres.”
Craigavon Borough Council pointed out that, in partnership with Portadown Chamber of Commerce, it had introduced a range of initiatives to reduce vacancy, encourage footfall and grow businesses in the town. These include the Meanwhile Space project which permits aspiring business owners to use and transform vacant shops to grow their business ideas.
The spokesperson added,”There is also the £150,000 Portadown Revitalisation project which will reinvigorate the town centre by building on the success of the completed public realm scheme, town centre management activities and council events.
“Other initiatives to address vacancy and improve the physical appearance of the town centre include a town centre planting scheme, a shop frontage painting scheme, and a shutter media scheme and creative contravision scheme which will see life and colour injected throughout the town.”
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Weather for Portadown
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 4 C to 14 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North