Sunday 18 February 2018 07:03:23 AM

Traders in Crunch Talks at Stormont With First and Deputy Minister
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ONE of the largest ever delegations of local Chambers of Commerce and Traders Groups has met with the First and Deputy First Ministers to press for urgent action to address the huge challenges facing our local town and city centres and the wider local retail sector.

The meeting (Monday 10 September ) was organised by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) and comprised of a dozen different local business organisations from over Northern Ireland. From South Down, the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce was represented.

NIIRTA also discussed at the meeting its recently launched Town Centre First document which has over 50 solutions on how to regenerate town centres and revamp the local retail sector.

Traders and representatives from Chambers of Commerce around Northern Ireland with NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts met with the First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont to diuscuss the issues facing the retail shopping sector. (Photo by Kevin Cooper/Photoline.)

The 12 Business Organisations also announced that it is their intention to establish a new Campaign Group, entitled the Town Centre Alliance, to spearhead an extensive lobbying campaign to save Northern Ireland’s struggling town centres. All interested Business Groups and local Chambers of Commerce will be invited to join the Town Centre Alliance.

Speaking immediately after the meeting at Stormont, NIIRTA Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said: “This was a very useful and productive meeting in which all 12 organisations put forward solutions to the problems facing our struggling town and city centres to the First and deputy First Ministers.

“Northern Ireland has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK and lost 1000 small shops last year. This figure is likely to double by the end of this year, leaving nearly 1 in 3 shops vacant”

“Key issues such as developing a new Car Parking Strategy, new Retail Planning Policy, extending the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, establishing Enterprise Zones and the need to progress the current Corporation Tax talks were all discussed.

“We also pressed the Ministers on the need for a more effective joined up approach by Executive Departments given the current situation of having three government departments responsible for Town Centre Regeneration and Planning and three for the Economy.

“All our organisations are intending to establish a new campaign group-the Town Centre Alliance to spearhead an extensive lobbying campaign to reverse the decline in our town centres and local retail sector. It is our aim that the Town Centre Alliance will be the largest ever coalition of business organisations from every part of Northern Ireland.

Audrey Byrne, President of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, at Stormont attending a meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers, NIIRTA and a number of other chambers from across Northern Ireland.

“We plan to invite any interested business groups to join the Town Centre Alliance and to ensure we get action from Governments at Stormont and Westminster.

“Our next steps will be to request meetings with the Executive’s Economic Sub Committee, the Secretary of State and the local party leaders.”

Newcastle Chamber Speaks Out.

Audrey Byrne, President of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce, attended the meeting with the First and Deputy Ministers at Stormont and presented the Newcastle case to them. She said: “This was a good opportunity for the various chambers of commerce to state their positions to the key players in government.

“There were many key issues raised such as VAT, corporation tax, business rates etc and we did impress upon them the need for a  more efficient path in dealing with the ailing retail sector than the current bureaucratic wall we face. There needs to be a better more joined up approach to working with businesses.

“With the help of NIIRTA we hope to improve confidence as at the moment morale is low in the business sector particularly in the retail, town centre end. We have to keep fighting our corner.”