Government must take threat to NI shops more seriously says ex-DUP economy minister

A leading lobbyist and former DUP minister has called on the government to make more funds available to beleaguered businesses, as it was revealed Tesco plans to shut its main store in Belfast city centre.

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Simon Hamilton, formerly the NI economy minister and now CEO of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, made the comments after it was revealed at the weekend that the large-scale Metro shop on Royal Avenue, will close.

It will reportedly close its doors once its lease runs out in the next year – although another Tesco Express shop, on a smaller scale than the Metro, is expected to open somewhere in the city centre.

The current Metro premises are located in a mid-19th century bank building, which happens to be very close to the still-cordoned off site of the 2018 Primark fire.

It devastated the city centre because a sizeable part of the main retail district had to be blocked for safety reasons.

Mr Hamilton said that the news – coming on the heels of the planned closure of the large Eason store just a short distance away – was “yet another blow to the city centre”.

“The retail sector has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

The Tesco closure “should send a clear signal to the NI Executive that it needs to take this threat to the future success of our high streets more seriously” he added, and called for “further financial support aimed at facilitating the safe reopening of our city and town centres”.

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