Belfast Telegraph

Belfast faces retail death, warn traders

By Linda Stewart

Belfast will die as a major retail centre unless the Executive takes urgent action, a traders’ group has said.

In a stark warning to the Executive, the Chamber of Trade and Commerce said the economic life of Belfast is under threat — unless politicians move immediately to save city centre shopping.

Chamber president Joe Jordan has unearthed images showing the city’s two biggest shopping avenues as a bustling hive of activity back in 1912.

But the growing number of ‘To Let’ signs suggests that history isn’t about to repeat itself and Belfast could lose its buzz.

“At the bottom part of Donegall Place as you approach from City Hall, there are a significant number of To Let boards which is an indicator of vacant properties and there are various relocations going on,” said Mr Jordan. “The closer you get to City Hall, businesses seem to get more attractive, and I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that four or five other businesses are talking about closing.

“Through to Royal Avenue, once you get beyond the Primark/Tesco junction, there is only CastleCourt as Harry Corry is moving.

“If you hadn’t the cafe culture and the offices there, it would be dead.”

The chamber is calling for an urgent meeting with government ministers to protect the future of Donegall Place and Royal Avenue. A five-point plan has been drawn up by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce to address the issues.

“The streets which operate as the core of Belfast retail have a bleak future if they don’t get urgent help,” Mr Jordan said.

“While there has been much positive news recently, particularly with the Belfast Streets Ahead initiative and plans for the Northwest quarter and University of Ulster coming to Belfast, there also needs to be an urgent focus on regenerating Belfast’s most iconic retail district.

“I am asking for urgent government help, particularly from ministers such as Arlene Foster, Alex Attwood, Sammy Wilson and Nelson McCausland. The economic lifeblood of Belfast is at stake.”

Factfile

The Chamber of Trade and Commerce’s five point plan to rejuvenate Belfast city centre:

1. Examination of ‘disproportionately high’ rates burden

2. Monetary and fiscal policies to help existing retailers

3. Government initiative to bring inward investment in retailing

4. Significantly better governance for city centre planning policies

5. Overarching strategy for city centre, one minister accountable

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