Ballymena shops seeking damages as town facelift hits trade
Traders in Ballymena are demanding compensation for disruption caused by public realm works in the town centre.
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has written to his DUP colleague, Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey, whose department is overseeing the work.
And Mr Storey, who is also an MLA for the area, has already met Ballymena councillors to discuss the upheaval over the summer period.
Around £4.6m has been earmarked for the scheme, which started on May 18 and is due to last for around 80 weeks - with a completion date of November next year.
It is the fourth major town or city in the province where retailers have been up in arms as a result of public realm improvements, following Lisburn, Larne and Bangor.
Mr Paisley said: "I am very grateful to the minister for agreeing to look at the issue of compensation, but I am not sure he can do very much about it.
"To be fair, the traders' gripe - and my gripe - is with the new Mid and East Antrim Council rather than the minister or his department. It is the council which is directly responsible.
"The case, however, is where traders are suffering from a substantial loss of footfall over a significant period of time, that they should be entitled to compensation.
"Of course, the counter-case is that it will significantly improve the city-scape when it is completed and traders will benefit from increased shopping. However, that is unproven."
Another North Antrim MLA, Jim Allister, said when the scheme in Church Street began, pavements were dug up and then "everything was at a standstill for days on end".
"No further work was done, much in contradiction to the assurances given to the traders in advance of the work starting," the TUV leader added.
Mr Storey said he had asked the council and the contractor to ensure that everything was done to minimise the disruption, and he wanted to learn from other public realm schemes.
The council said the work will make the town "fit for purpose for the next 15 to 20 years" and added that local businesses, which had been consulted on the scheme, have weekly meetings with a senior officer to discuss concerns.
In Lisburn, traders in Haslem's Lane said their business was being severely affected by the ongoing public realm work in the city centre.
In Larne, a scheme which included Main Street and High Street, sparked complaints over a loss of business, while in Bangor shop owners complained that they were losing up to 50% of their takings due to a heavily-delayed revamp.