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Belfast garden centre owner urges clarification on reopening date after road map set out

Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, said other business owners have told him they are considering opening early despite potential fines.

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Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, urged clarity on when garden centres in Northern Ireland may reopen (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, urged clarity on when garden centres in Northern Ireland may reopen (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, urged clarity on when garden centres in Northern Ireland may reopen (Liam McBurney/PA)

A garden centre owner has pleaded with the Northern Ireland Executive to give him a date to reopen.

Garden centres and other outdoor retail spaces are set to reopen in the first stage of the five-step plan announced on Tuesday by the Stormont Executive.

This first stage could be given the green light at the end of the month, the end of the current three-week review period.

However, ministers are expected to move on a small number of the current measures before then.

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First Minister Arlene Foster, along with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, announced Northern Ireland’s road map for relaxing social distancing regulations (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster, along with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, announced Northern Ireland’s road map for relaxing social distancing regulations (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

First Minister Arlene Foster, along with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, announced Northern Ireland’s road map for relaxing social distancing regulations (Liam McBurney/PA)

Robin Mercer, owner of Hillmount Garden Centre, said they still have not got an answer.

They have three stores in Belfast, Newtownards and Bangor, and are currently doing around 30-40% of their usual trade through their website.

“We are to open stores in stage one, which is great, but really no one knows if it is Friday, Monday or two weeks’ time and that’s the problem,” he told the PA news agency.

“Because garden centres in the rest of the UK are opening tomorrow, southern Ireland opening up on Monday, if we just had a wee bit of clarification.

“The news that workers can be furloughed for another bit is fantastic, but just give us a date to work to.

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Shop assistant Naomi Ferguson holds a potted plant while wearing a face guard at Hillmount Garden Centre on the outskirts of Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Shop assistant Naomi Ferguson holds a potted plant while wearing a face guard at Hillmount Garden Centre on the outskirts of Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Shop assistant Naomi Ferguson holds a potted plant while wearing a face guard at Hillmount Garden Centre on the outskirts of Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We want to bring in staff for training for reopening but do you bring them in this week, next week, you just can’t ring someone and say be here at 9am tomorrow morning.”

Mr Mercer said he had been contacted by other garden centre owners, who he said are so desperate that they are considering reopening early and taking the fine.

“They are at the stage now where they are nearly going to break the law and open,” he said.

“We are not going to do that, I would not do that, but I know for the fact that others are getting desperate, and think it’s worth the fine. If it’s a £500 fine it would be cheaper for them to open and pay the fine.”

PA