Belfast Telegraph

Battleplan aimed at saving Northern Ireland’s town centres

By Claire McNeilly

A new strategy has been launched to prevent Northern Ireland’s town centres turning into ghost towns.

Belfast City centre manager Andrew Irvine has voiced concerns that Antrim and Lurgan have already been “blighted” by out-of-town shopping outlets, exacerbating the so-called death of the high street.

And he stressed that others, such as Lisburn, were in “severe danger of being abandoned”, or becoming full of charity shops and vacant sites, if urgent action isn’t taken.

Indeed, Mr Irvine, chairman of the Northern Ireland Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), said a failure to act would result in complete catastrophe.

But he also explained how the new strategy aimed at “injecting new life” into beleaguered commercial areas could help rejuvenate Ulster's central economic hub and stave off commercial collapse.

“In the worst case scenario we're looking at more ghost towns and cities across Northern Ireland,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “We’re already faced with deserted, derelict units and sites in Antrim and Lurgan, which is detrimental to these towns from a residential or visitor point of view. There is the perception of safety that comes into play as well and that is crucial for an area’s economic well-being.”

He added: “In a struggling economy it is vital that we realise how important town centres are to the economy.”

Launched as the Regional Manifesto for Northern Ireland, the new strategy centres upon eight pivotal points, including partnerships. The project is backed by the ATCM, an umbrella body which represents towns and cities across the United Kingdom and Ireland, and comprises 21 cities and towns in Northern Ireland.

And the idea is for members to speak with one voice about how they can become successful centres of community and drivers of the economy.

The manifesto

1. Create sustainable town centres

2. Public, private and |community partnerships

3. Attractiveness is good for business

4. Town centres are the hub of the community

5. Core funding is essential

6. Car parking issues must be resolved

7. Town centre monitoring must be ongoing

8. Streamlined Government is needed

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