The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) has issued its New Year message.
NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “In the short term getting a comprehensive agreement on Parades, Flags and the Past is crucial for political stability and the future economic growth of Northern Ireland. We urge all the parties to go that extra mile for agreement and for a genuine shared future which helps to build prosperity.
“NIIRTA will be giving a special focus on the elections to the new eleven local Councils in May. These councils will be powerful players in urban regeneration, planning, economic development and town centres.
“It is vital that the newly elected Councillors in May are able to hit the ground running with a coherent agenda for change when power is passed to them in 2015.
“We plan to publish our own Local Council Manifesto in the next few months setting out our new policy priorities and engaging with candidates from all parties.
“Given our huge problem of having the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK, we need urgent action.
“Firstly, the First & deputy First Ministers should devote a special Executive meeting to address this problem, drawing up a Marshall Plan of measures. We need to see a comprehensive joined up plan covering Business Rates, Planning Policy, Car Parking and Town Centre Regeneration.
“We believe that this new plan should include the creation of Retail Incubator Units to support the next generation of retail entrepreneurs and a new Vacant Shop Strategy.
“The Executive should organise a major conference to bring together international experts in retail and regeneration to identify how other towns and cities across the world have successfully dealt with these problems and more importantly, how we can learn from them.” added Mr Roberts.