Belfast Telegraph

Councils face 'critical decisions' on business in absence of Stormont

Aodhan Connolly, NIRC and (right) Derek McCallan, NILGA
Aodhan Connolly, NIRC and (right) Derek McCallan, NILGA
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Business will be looking to newly elected councillors to make critical decisions as the province continues into its third year without devolved government, it was claimed today.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) made the claim as it joined the NI Local Government Association (NILGA) in a call for councils to work with businesses to create economic prosperity.

The bodies emphasised the importance of working with local government in a new initiative following the first election since Northern Ireland's 11 councils gained jurisdiction over planning, tourism, car parking and local economic development.

Following Thursday's election, counting has now taken place to fill 462 seats in 11 council areas.

NIRC director Aodhan Connolly said: "Our industry is going through a fundamental change and Northern Ireland councils are not simply bystanders in this change, rather they are strategic partners that, through working with our industry, can make their council areas a better place to live, work and invest. By working together we can make our villages, towns and cities more competitive, not just in Northern Ireland but globally."

He said that councillors could help economic development by backing the private sector-led business improvement district (BID) concept - but that other action was also needed to help the retail sector, as statistics show one in seven shops are now empty.

"Our long-term partnership strategy is built on a few key themes that are essential for true partnership working."

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He said City Deals for Belfast and Londonderry would help matters but added there was a deep transformation taking place in retail, leading to smaller store numbers and "fewer, but better jobs" in the industry.

"These changes will have profound implications for our local councils, especially for employment prospects in communities reliant on retail jobs, the health of our town centres, and the revenues from the district rates that councils rely on."

Derek McCalllan, chief executive of NILGA, said retail was the economic bedrock of cities, towns and villages.

"Working together, NIRC, NILGA and the 11 councils will be contributing not just to a vibrant economy, but to social cohesion, wellbeing, pride of place and a sustainable environment in Northern Ireland."

According to figures from information service Springboard, NI high streets did enjoy an increase in footfall over Easter.

Easter Monday footfall here was up 8.6%, compared to 12% in the UK. Footfall was also up by close to 10% on Easter Saturday and 18.5% on Easter Sunday.

Belfast Telegraph