Belfast Telegraph

I lost £32,000 in trade after DRD closed the road outside my shop

By Claire McNeilly

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) has been accused of breaking its own rules after closing a road in the run-up to Christmas and leaving an established trader over £32,000 out of pocket.

The closure appeared to go against stated DRD policy and left North Down grocer Paul McLarnon bereft of customers during the busiest time in the retail calendar.

Mr McLarnon is now seeking compensation from the department — and even Alex Attwood, the Environment Minister, said he believed the businessmen may have a case.

Mr Attwood's Department of the Environment (DoE), along with the DRD and the Department for Social Development (DSD), are jointly tasked with helping ease the plight of the province's small traders and private retailers.

Mr McLarnon's financial woes emerged during an inaugural Town Centre Summit on Tuesday involving members of the three departments and scores of representatives of the local retail industry.

The Stormont meeting was called to discuss a 50-point plan, drawn up by Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), to save the high street.

Mr McLarnon said he was only informed of the road closure in the Donaghadee/Windmill Roads area of Bangor the day before it happened.

During the summit, the 57-year-old told the panel — which included Mr Attwood, Social Development Minister Nelson Mc Causland and senior DRD officials — that he had made an application to DRD for reimbursement for his losses during the eight weeks that business was hit.

“In total we lost £32,000 in turnover during the eight weeks the roadworks were being carried out,” said Mr McLarnon.

“Our profit has dropped by 20% over the last five years, so the disruption caused by resurfacing the road at that time was particularly painful.”

It then emerged that Roads Service had placed an embargo on planned roadworks in the run-up to Christmas last year.

Responding to the father-of-two, Mr Attwood, who stressed that he wasn’t giving legal advice, said: “You could have a case for compensation. There could be some issue there.”

Mr McLarnon told the Belfast Telegraph he spoke with a Roads Service senior official after the summit ended.

“I was told that on the point of compensation the Roads Service is a bit like the Bible; The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away,” Mr McLarnon said.

“He said that people who have frontages on the road enjoy a privilege, but not a right, and that has been established.

A spokeswoman said DRD Roads Service had placed an embargo on planned roadworks on major routes into Belfast, Bangor and Lisburn to facilitate Christmas traffic last year.

Story so far

Experts have predicted that 2,000 local shops face closure this year prompting a summit to try and save the high street. NIIRTA — which represents 1,300 traders — also published a report, called Town Centre First, which it believes contains 50 solutions to problems the industry is facing. Bangor businessman Paul McLarnon was among those who attended this week’s gathering at Stormont, describing the difficulties that small retailers face.

Belfast Telegraph