Belfast Telegraph

Belfast shops in £5m bid to attract even more spenders

By Rachel Martin

A £5m improvement scheme which includes cameras to monitor shopper numbers is aiming to boost trade in Belfast city centre.

Clare Maguire, the head of a body striving to improveBelfast’s retail trade, said boosting footfall is the key to reviving the area.

Belfast One, the company behind Belfast’s Business Improvement District (BID), was formed in April 2016.

In October, 84% of Belfast companies in the BIDs area voted ‘yes’ to the concept, which will cost city centre traders 1.5% of their business’s rateable value.

The body aims to promote Northern Ireland’s capital city.

Ms Maguire said the scheme would provide £5m to

the city centre over the next five years.  It’s drawn from contributions made by traders who have joined the BID scheme.

She said: “We are working very closely with our levy payers to ensure they get the absolute best return on their money invested.

“We have one overarching goal — to make Belfast the very best it can possibly be, by promoting, enhancing and supporting what is already in place, and what makes it such a great city to work, live and do business in.”

“The next few months will see us begin to roll out a new marketing strategy which will showcase the city’s unique offering and

help us drive footfall,” she added.

With analytics company Springboard, it will install several footfall cameras to monitor the number of shoppers hitting Belfast’s high street. The data will then be shown to members who can use the information to gauge how their sales have performed in relation to footfall.

Ms Maguire said: “Sometimes you will have large numbers of people in the city centre who aren’t necessarily there to shop.

“They could be there for an event or a concert, or another reason, but it’s a way for retailers to judge whether they have been able to capitalise on that and consider how they can in future.

“There are a number of different challenges for retailers in the city centre and footfall is one of the greatest challenges, because if you don’t have people coming in to your business everything else pales into insignificance.”

Over the last decade more than 200 BIDs have been established across the UK and Ireland, including Newry and Ballymena.

Those behind the scheme also hope that a collective agreement to use the same utility suppliers will give the group more buying power, even helping businesses get a better deal for trade waste disposal and energy.

Ms Maguire said: “We will also be helping to further support businesses, aiming to save them money by carrying out a trade waste and recycling audit in the city centre.

“It will be our mission to negotiate a better and, more importantly, lower priced service with enhanced buying power and more accountability, and we are working with experienced consultants to draw up a tender for this at the moment.

“We looked at Bath BID as a model and their scheme has been extremely successful, with average savings of up to 50%.

According to the latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, footfall has been growing across the province.  NIRC said footfall numbers grew by 0.5% during July — slightly more than the average of 0.3% in the UK as a whole. 

And separate figures for the UK as whole from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales were up 1.4% in July.

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