Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Tesco in Banbridge: A double-edged sword for Ulster’s economy

Banbridge traders are worried that the new Tesco superstore will damage their livelihoods and turn this once-thriving Co Down commercial hub into a ghost town. However, some retail experts argue that the new complex will bring more consumers to the area and ultimately everyone will benefit

Once again planning permission has been granted to Tesco, enabling the multi-national food giant to continue expansion across Northern Ireland.

However, Tesco is by no means a new phenomenon in the local community of Banbridge.

While a few years ago Tesco established a presence in the town centre, the approval for Tesco’s development at Bridgewater reflects a much longer and contentious battle.

Despite a three-year defence upheld by local independent traders and the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association (NIIRTA), Tesco’s planning application has been approved, albeit a scaled-down version in comparison to the proposed store.

The decision has been made, but the debate still persists.

The arguments for and against are well made, yet it is unknown to what extent this is a double-edged sword for the Northern Ireland economy.

On one hand, it may threaten the survival and growth of retailers in Banbridge town centre. For independent retail stores, the current economic climate and growth of internet shopping has already created challenging times.

So, retail business owners may wonder where their support is in a highly competitive and unlevel playing field.

The importance of this sector extends beyond the significant contribution to the local economy to include a strong cultural and social presence in the high street. On the other, the prom

ise of 400 new jobs creates some hope for the large percentage of unemployed people in the area.

For consumers the attraction of convenient and free parking at Bridgewater is important to older shoppers and consumers with young families.

There is no crystal ball to aid predictions of the consequences of yesterday’s news.

In reality the debate is less centred on Tesco and more focused on the development of out-of-town retail parks.

While it is important that the business owners of retail stores in Banbridge maintain a positive and proactive stance, the power to support local traders in the town centre lies in the hands of local government.

Therefore, the promise of a new bus station and car parking facilities for the town centre is not a future option, but a necessity to ensure survival.

Tesco’s pledge of employment may bring some advantage, but it is critical to remember that when independent retailers thrive, the country thrives.

Dr Karice Hutchinson is from the Ulster Business School at the University of Ulster

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