Help on the horizon for town centres ?
A three-pronged plan of action aims to give a vital boost to North Down's small business and shoppers alike.
The raft of proposals include:
• a special day set aside for people to shop in local stores, in the run-up to Christmas, and
• free parking in Bangor and Holywood town centres next year, during their multimillion pound revamp.
There is frustration however at yet another delay in the launch of a business forum intended to give traders a voice.
Six months on from its conception, the North Down Business Forum was meant to hold its first meeting this week. At the time of going to press, the Community Telegraph was told this has been postponed until next month.
The date and venue has yet to be confirmed.
Local coffee shop owner, Frank Shivers, reacted to the news, saying: "If it has been cancelled I would be very disappointed because they keep cancelling it. We should just crack on, and whatever councillors turn up, turn up."
The proposal for free town centre parking in Bangor and Holywood during next year's public realm improvements has been floated by Councillor Alex Easton MLA.
He said: "As a supporter of the public realms work due to start in 2014, it is vitally important that while the work is being done, which will cause disruption in the short term, that we look after our businesses in the towns during the work period.
"To help out local businesses while the public realms work is being done, I would call for the DRD Minister to allow free parking for the period of the work, to protect and help our local businesses as it will help them attract shoppers. I will be writing to the DRD Minster and submitting an Adjournment Debate to the NI Assembly on the issue."
His party colleague, Councillor Jennifer Gilmour, is calling on the council to back, and promote, the idea of a 'Small Business Saturday' to celebrate and encourage residents and tourists to shop in small, local stores on Saturday, December 7.
Her motion, tabled at Bangor Town Hall this week, will be discussed at a future meeting of North Down Borough Council.
Welcoming the moves, trader Frank Shivers however believes they should go farther. "I think it's too little. I have spoken to a number of councillors about a rates reduction or holiday (during the public realms work) which would go a lot more towards helping the businesses in what is going to be a very difficult time, but I have been told that's a definite no, no. Council don't seem to do a lot. The town centre, or rather the businesses, seem to be a secondary thought to North Down Borough Council," he said.
He intends to contact Newcastle traders to see what assistance they got from their council during the town's recent public realms improvements.
He also wants to see parking charges waived in the run-up to Christmas, as is the case in Belfast.