THE Department of Social Development (DSD) has launched a string of meetings of its ‘High Street Taskforce’ aimed at arresting the decline of town centres across Northern Ireland.
And despite there not being a visit planned for Newtownabbey, the groups representing businesses in Ballyclare and Glengormley have said they are satisfied with the support they have received from the government.
The new taskforce will hold 26 meetings in towns and cities including Belfast, Carrick, Portadown and Newry throughout the month.
Announcing the meetings, Minister Nelson McCausland said the taskforce will review his department’s support and make recommendations on how it could be strengthened.
A spokesman for the DSD said venues were selected to reflect a broad range of high streets across the province and if a second round of meetings was required other towns and cities could be considered.
In recent months the DSD has announced hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of funding for Glengormley and Ballyclare town centres to help existing businesses and attract new traders.
President of Ballyclare Chamber of Trade Darren Black said: “Every provincial town in Northern Ireland is facing the same challenges of traffic, parking problems and decline in businesses as Ballyclare is.
“Nelson McCausland at our AGM in April told us he was holding these meetings and it is good that some initiatives are being taken by our Stormont ministers to stop the decline of our town centres.
“We take every opportunity to raise our issues about Ballyclare with local councillors, MLAs and ministers and it is good to see that action is now being taken.”
Secretary of Glengormley Traders’ Association, Nigel Hamilton added: “We have kicked off our own initiatives and there is funding in the pipeline from the DSD for those projects that will be coming our way.
“So we are satisfied with the level of support we have gained from the government and of course we will be lobbying for much more.
“Unfortunately the Planning Service has already done the damage by allowing huge out of town retail developments to be built which attracts large numbers of people - the high street has had no chance.
“Out town centres are dominated by husband and wife teams who are struggling and we are encouraged by these meetings and efforts to bring people back into town centres.
“And it is important the community is consulted on those developments and town centres are promoted as shared spaces.”