The first meeting of a new forum set up to support local traders in Bangor has been described as a "fiasco" after not one of the councillors appointed to it turned up.
The aim of the forum had been to open up communication between local business owners and North Down Borough Council following a number of clashes over issues such as the regeneration of Queen's Parade and town centre parking.
Invitations had been issued to the five councillors nominated to sit on the forum, as well as the mayor.
UUP Councillor Marion Smith, who first proposed the forum and supported it in council, was among the absentees. The other members are Councillor Michael Bower (Alliance), Councillor Peter Martin and Alderman Alan Graham (DUP) and Alderman Alan Chambers (Ind).
The forum has not had an auspicious start – the inaugural meeting, scheduled for last month, was postponed at the last minute after the Chamber of Commerce forgot to send out the invites.
Of the five councillors contacted by the Community Telegraph, Michael Bower, Marion Smith and Peter Martin explained that they had excused themselves due to medical reasons or work commitments.
Both Alan Graham and Alan Chambers said that their invitations had been misdirected. A number of the councillors also added that despite their absence, the forum still had their full support and backing.
Mayor of North Down, Councillor Andrew Muir, was also invited to the meeting. He explained that he had not been able to make a firm commitment to attending given his busy schedule, but added that the forum has his full support.
Despite the setback the meeting went ahead with a number of council officials, local traders, representatives of Bangor Chamber of Commerce and a representative from the Department for Social Development who briefed those present on the latest developments at Queen's Parade.
President of the Chamber of Commerce Ken Sharp said that while the lack of councillor involvement at the inaugural meeting was "disappointing", he remains positive for the next scheduled meeting in January.
He said the majority of councillors who had sent their apologies had contacted him the next day to find out how the meeting had gone and to reiterate their support.
"Now we have the procedures in place and the first meeting was a success with some excellent insight into the community and regeneration process from now through to RPA (Review of Public Administration) and beyond, including how we can improve communication and ensure the broader North Down Business voice is heard in the process."
Jim Russell, who represented the group For A Better Bangor (FABB) at the meeting, was "disappointed" that not one single councillor attended.
"FABB were invited on short notice and were pleased to be involved in what we believe is a progressive idea for the future of businesses in Bangor.
"The main aim of the forum since its proposal was to open up a transparent and productive line of communication between local traders and councillors and when the main other party doesn't show up it's disappointing, especially seeing as this was the inaugural meeting."
"The lack of councillor participation in the town centre forum must be soul destroying for the Bangor traders," said Councillor Austen Lennon, on learning of the no-show.
"The very notion of the forum was that the traders would finally get a chance to talk directly to the councillors after a gap of 15 years. This fiasco demonstrates clearly the lack of interest, in the town centre, by the councillors."
The board of the Chamber of Commerce is set to meet this week to discuss how best to move forward with the forum.