Business districts initiative welcomed

Darren Black.
Darren Black.

TRADERS groups have welcomed an initiative to help improve and revitalise ailing town centres.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) is calling on traders of all shapes and sizes to encourage the Stormont Executive to establish and fast-track Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) onto the statute books.

Nigel Hamilton.

Nigel Hamilton.

BIDs are partnerships dedicated to improving and promoting specific areas, and are funded by local businesses which get to have a direct say in which projects are undertaken. They operate around the world in different countries including the USA, Germany, Japan and New Zealand.

The Executive has pledged to bring primary legislation forward before the summer which would allow for the creation of BIDs.

President of Ballyclare Chamber of Trade, Darren Black, welcomed the initiative.

He said: “We strongly support the need for the introduction of BIDs in Northern Ireland which would give local retailers a greater say on improving their town centres. It is crucial that the government publish the draft legislation immediately.

“While BIDs are important, we should not overstate their importance as getting a town centre friendly planning policy, fair rates and sensible changes to car parking policy are also essential to supporting regeneration in our town centres.”

Glengormley Traders’ Association Secretary Nigel Hamilton (pictured inset) said it was important that larger retailers were involved.

He said: “The idea of fast action to replace the laborious and often tediously slow processes of central and local government are in themselves very welcome and the idea as a concept has much merit.

“To be effective I would like to hear from the larger retailers such as Tesco and ASDA to see how much they are willing to invest in projects which will reinvigorate high streets.

“It is good that the Assembly are finally understanding the need to support local businesses.

“However, it is unrealistic to expect small traders fighting for survival to give large sums of money into a war chest to initiate and fund projects.

“Traders who are in profit are fortunate, but with seemingly little restrictions on out-of-town developments many small, independent retailers are fighting just to keep their heads above water.”

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, said: “Retailers, who are at the heart of our communities know just how badly efforts are needed to revitalise our high streets. There’s a lot of goodwill among businesses to get involved in the necessary projects. We’re just waiting for the right framework to be put in place.

“Our high streets need action now. Legislation inevitably takes a while to put in place but we’re not wasting time. The hope is we can encourage other businesses and local councils to match our enthusiasm for BIDs so they can be put into action as soon as possible.”