Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

'Belfast's bus lanes, traffic restrictions and parking charges do more damage than Union flag protests'

An artist's impression of the planned John Lewis store at Sprucefield, Co Antrim
An artist's impression of the planned John Lewis store at Sprucefield, Co Antrim

UKIP is a party that understands the needs of business and wants a system that takes big government out of the way and allows business a freer path to create the local jobs and wealth that Northern Ireland so desperately needs. 

UKIP wants town centre family businesses to thrive and they can be helped by reducing the crippling rates burden being imposed on them, ending high street car parking restrictions and charges.

Trade in our capital city of Belfast can be boosted by putting a stop to the daft bus lanes and traffic restrictions and parking charges that are doing more damage to city centre retail than any amount of flag protesters ever will. But it’s now nine years since John Lewis first proposed building a store in Northern Ireland.

Today, the earmarked site remains empty - the 1,500 proposed jobs were never created. The project became a victim of a planning system which is unfit for purpose and an indecisive and incompetent political class, out of touch with reality. 

Arguments for and against the John Lewis proposal have been extensively rehearsed. Suffice to say, many of those arguments were previously employed by objectors to the original M&S led development at Sprucefield, which opened in 1989.

Despite predictions of doom and gloom, neither Lisburn nor Belfast became an economic wasteland. And a short distance away in Moira, the independent retail scene remains alive and well.

Earlier this year, the SDLP’s Alex Attwood tried to scupper the John Lewis project in its entirety.

His decision was subsequently rubber-stamped by his successor and SDLP colleague, Mark H Durkan.

Despite what Attwood and Durkan may claim, the issue isn’t a choice between independent retail or quality, national retail. In the era of online shopping, it’s a choice between the creation of high quality, retail jobs locally, and the creation of warehouse jobs at a fulfilment centre in Great Britain.

It’s a choice too, between fighting planning battles, lost in the 1970s, and fighting for jobs, investment and a modern world class, retail infrastructure. 

It was therefore downright laughable last week to hear SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell berating Northern Ireland’s poor record of job creation. He even went so far as to call for a ‘mini Marshall Plan’ for Northern Ireland.

In understanding why Northern Ireland remains an economic basket case, and understanding why too many businesses give Northern Ireland a miss, Mr McDonnell might do better by consulting his party colleagues and reviewing his party’s failed business policies instead.


 

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