Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: House of Fraser may have been given a reprieve for now, but the big challenges remain for our high street stores

The upmarket chain House of Fraser, which had gone into administration, has been bought by another chain, Sports Direct, for £90m, and this has provided a lifeline for the well-known store and its staff in Belfast.

However, it is unnerving that yet another household name is under such pressure.

Already, British Home Stores has closed, as has the chain Toys R Us, and even Marks and Spencer is facing challenges. Part of the problem for these once iconic traders is competing with online sales, and although Amazon made a pre-tax profit of more than £72m in the last financial year, it paid only £1.7m in tax, because it was able to defer nearly £3m in tax payments.

There is a significant change in our shopping and leisure habits, as well as the attraction of out of town stores.

Added to these factors are the high parking charges.

There is also the uncertainty about Brexit, and a lack of confidence in household spending.

More needs to be done to save our high streets, because there is an individual, collective and indeed community enjoyment in shopping as such.

This in turn helps other businesses, including restaurants and cafes.

Given the stark commercial realities, it is encouraging to note that the Victoria Square's key tenant is being given a reprieve for now, but the main trading challenges remain.

Undoubtedly, as in so many other matters, these challenges facing retailers and other businesses in Northern Ireland would seem less daunting if there was a functioning Stormont Executive to examine the myriad of pressures they face, and to try to help them with a solution.

When the impressive Victoria Square complex was first conceived, with its landmark glass dome seeming to represent so much of the new Northern Ireland that was envisaged, no-one could have imagined then that it would still be lighting up the sky today, while only a few miles away, Stormont itself would still be shrouded in dismal darkness.

Belfast Telegraph

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