Belfast Telegraph

Experts in call for a united push to save Northern Ireland's high streets

By Clare Weir

Retailers and planners need to join forces to ensure the survival of Northern Ireland's high streets, according to a new campaign group.

Urban Exchange NI (UENI), a collective of regeneration experts, says that a more collaborative approach is needed to revive town and city centres.

UENI has claimed that the current planning policy climate needs improvement and says that an extra layer of planning governance that Local Government Reform will add to the existing system could further stem growth.

The group is now working on a report which will outline in detail its vision for healthier urban spaces and has developed a website with information on planning policy and to allow interested parties to share findings and to spark debate.

Sharon Scott, director and founder of Place Solutions and member of the advisory board for the National Association of Town and City Centre Management, said that Northern Ireland's town and city centres were "struggling to survive".

"Retailers large and small have been forced to shut up shop due, amongst other reasons, to the financial crisis, the meteoric rise of internet shopping and the convenience factor offered by of out-of-town sites," she said.

"UENI has brought together a diverse range of individuals with a common goal, that is fully understanding the barriers to urban space development and finding a way to demolish them.

"We feel that many of the existing policies are not translating into positive results. UENI is keen to deliver an alternative solution that can deliver for our high streets.

"Local Government Reform and the transfer of planning powers to newly elected district councils provides a unique opportunity to deliver a framework which can safeguard against further decline. UENI would like to see more focus on the promotion of an advanced digital infrastructure, greater integration of Northern Ireland's heritage and provision of training and resources for retailers and business owners.

"We are keen for as many people as possible to get involved and share their ideas for healthier high streets."

Two weeks ago renowned Canadian planner Joe Berridge presented Urban Strategies, a report identifying eight policies to develop the city centre. His ideas included attracting a major retailer to revitalise Royal Avenue.

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