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Craig Calls For Re-Introduction Of LOTS Scheme For Town Centres
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BALLYNAHINCH Councillor  Garth Craig (DUP) speaking to his motion at the Down District Council full meeting  (Monday 25 November) proposed that the DSD Minister tbe asked to re-introduce a previously successful scheme regarding accomodation above shop premises. The scheme he said could be a significant driver to address the decay facing many provincial town centres.

DUP Ballynahinch Councillor Garth Craig has proposed a re-introduction of the LOTS scheme to encourage accomodation to be built above town centre shops.

DUP Ballynahinch Councillor Garth Craig has proposed a re-introduction of the LOTS scheme to encourage accomodation to be built above town centre shops to help stem decline in small towns.

He said: “Back in 2002 the NIHE introduced the concept of town centre living initially as a pilot because of pressure from Councils to regenerate town centres by bringing them back to life in evenings and weekends.  Under this scheme NIHE provided grant aid to landlords to convert upper floors of shops or offices into apartments, convert commercial properties into apartments/houses or renovate existing dwellings. As peace returned, more and more people were becoming interested again in the idea of living in the centre of towns.

“In 2009 the NIHE suspended the Living Over The Shop (LOTS) scheme due to budget reductions with grants only available in exceptional circumstances where there was a health and safety risk to existing tenants or to provide disabled persons facilities.

“Town centres in our District, such as Ballynahinch and Downpatrick, have too many empty buildings and under utilised space above shops and offices resulting in the town centres only being alive during shopping hours. I am therefore calling on Council to write to the Minister to reintroduce the scheme.  I believe there is a demand for such housing in our District and this scheme would provide affordable private rental property. It would also develop a more attractive sense of community spirit within our town centres.”

Councillor Craig added: “I believe too that  the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations have a role to play with regard to empty space/derelict buildings within our town centres in order to provide housing where its needed. It does not make sense to have social housing on the outskirts of towns where residents have a long distance to walk to schools, shops and other services.

“Now that our main towns have public realm schemes completed/or in progress, a LOTS scheme would make town centre dwelling a more attractive option and one that Council should facilitate with the Department in order to provide the regeneration so badly needed.”

The proposal received unanimous support from councillors in the chamber at Down District Council.

Councillor Eamonn O’Neill said: “This is a very significant scheme and has a good track record. The main challenge is to find funding for it. The scheme presents good value for money to government.

Councillor Gareth Sharvin said: “Councillors will be looking at the upgrading of the properties in Irish Stret in Downpatrick and this initiative could be very relevant here. It would certainly add to the overall regeneration package.

Councillor Billy  Walker  said: “It will breathe life into the town centres across the district and I would likle to see it target the smaller provincial towns such as Crossgar and Killyleagh and Saintfield.”

Councillor Liam Johnston said: “There was not a great uptake in Downpatrick last time – there could have been a better response. Maybe the advertising for the scheme could be improved. “