Motion: Town and City Centre Strategy:
That this Assembly expresses its concern over the on-going pressures on small businesses, in particular those in the retail sector; notes the current and forthcoming policies and programmes in relation to business rates, planning, Business Improvement Districts, public transport, the development of a shared space and urban regeneration and calls on the Minister for Social Development to produce an overarching strategy for town centres, high streets and urban villages to ensure the effective co-ordination of the current and future initiatives.
Judith Cochrane MLA said: “Town and city centres are continuing in their battle against the changing nature of retail and consumerism in Northern Ireland – the pressure of which is becoming unbearable for many small businesses and retailers who are struggling to keep their doors open. It is becoming increasingly clear that Northern Ireland requires a single overarching policy.
“People are increasingly using online services for shopping and banking, we must therefore make sure that a trip to the high street can become a more positive broader experience.
“There are already a number of Government policies from several Departments. Although good intentioned, without one single overarching strategy that results in a joined up approach, these individual policies will not adequately promote and enhance our town and city centres and urban villages.
“The Assembly recently passed legislation which will see the development of Business Improvement Districts – this is a positive move for Northern Ireland, as it provides small businesses and retailers with the ability to exert more control over their space on the high street. However, politicians still have a role to support the small businesses in our constituencies to realise their interests and drive the success of this scheme to ensure the sustainability of the high-street.
“I believe an overarching strategy with a lead Department will provide a greater focus to this important issue and deliver better results for our businesses and traders. An inter-departmental working group will ensure that the work of individual Departments will complement each other and give greater impetus to progressing the policies in a joined up manner.”