Stormont has urged councils to prepare ‘shovel-ready’ plans to spruce up decaying town and city centres in the New Year
The self-help initiative comes as the recession bites deeper with around one-in-six town centre shops having pulled down the shutters — worse than in Scotland and Wales.
Local Government Minister Alex Attwood hopes the projects could coincide with the next cash handout from the Executive’s departmental quarterly monitoring in January.
But after having three bids turned down in the last six months, the SDLP MLA denied being in a “stand and deliver” stance with the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
His proposals follow hot on the heels, however, of schemes which boosted Portstewart and Portrush in the run-up to the Irish Open.
In each resort around 20 specific deteriorating or derelict sites were identified and given a makeover, improving the appearance of the general area.
Mr Attwood’s party colleague John Dallat claimed: “Some people now describe Portrush as a northern version of Kinsale.”
Mr Attwood said: “I made a bid for moneys for Derry in June monitoring, but that was denied. I also made a bid for monies in September monitoring and in the recent economic package, but that was denied.
“However, I think that the argument is gathering pace around the Executive table that deploying a relatively small scale of monies to address decay and dereliction in towns and cities across the North has added value in this time of recession.
“That is why, at the moment, (I am) asking all councils to bring forward proposals.”
The Environment Minister said if money was available between five and 15 councils which have brought forward costed proposals could be given the go-ahead.
“I am not saying this in a stand-and-deliver moment to the Minister of Finance and Personnel. Without breaking Executive confidence, although that has not stopped me before, he said at a recent Executive meeting that he thought that the Portrush and Portstewart model had worked very well,” Mr Attwood added.
The plans would not only tackle town centre decay and dereliction across Northern Ireland but improve trade, sustain some local businesses and “give confidence to people at a time of economic downturn”, he said.
Northern Ireland has more boarded-up shops in town and city centres than any other region of the United Kingdom. More than one in six stores are shut — significantly more than Scotland (11.1 %) or Wales (13.4 %) and well ahead of the next worst-performing region — the North of England and Yorkshire (13.1 %), according to research by the British Retail Consortium.