MLA John Stewart has launched a petition in support of three Carrick town centre businesses which have displayed “inappropriate” signage.
Three businesses at Castle Street have been told by Mid and East Antrim Council planning office that they must remove the signage outside their premises or face “significant fines and possible legal action”.
Mr. Stewart said he understands that the signage is considered to be “not in keeping” with a conservation area.
The MLA stated that he believes that there is “nothing offensive or excessive about the signs being used by the Yoga Loft, Halo or Axiom Dynamics”.
He added: “These are just small local businesses trying to promote themselves and get by. When the businesses opened they never received any correspondence from conservation officers or planners to say what would be acceptable.
“Instead they have received letters out of the blue demanding the signage is removed and that new planning permission is submitted at significant cost.
“At a time when all efforts must be focused on developing business opportunities in the Carrickfergus, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council
“Now is the time to be creating the environment in which new businesses can start and existing ones can flourish. This decision flies in the face of that.
“From a local economic development point of view, it is madness.”
Lisa Holmes, owner of The Yoga Loft, said that the council’s demand has the potential to close her business.
She explained: “We first received a letter some months ago telling us all to remove all signage or face fines of £2,000 per business.
“When asked to clarify what was actually wrong with the signs, they said they were ‘garish’ and ‘not in keeping with the Carrickfergus town heritage image.
“Having lived in Carrick all my life, I’ve never noticed a heritage theme. We have been left so confused, frustrated and saddened.
“I have worked so very hard to try and grow my business, to provide an extremely beneficial service to the people of Carrick. Only a few months ago, I invested in taking on a second unit within the building.
“It was only upon installing my signs that I began to get more enquiries and calls about the studio, This slight upturn gave me the confidence to invest in a second unit.
“In a time when Carrickfergus is finding it challenging to fill empty units and to encourage people into the town, why oh why are they forcing the existing, hard working businesses out.”
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said: “Growing our economy is our top priority and we work closely with local businesses to do all we can to support, promote and facilitate trade in Carrickfergus and throughout our borough.
“As we have previously outlined, the signage in question is currently positioned within a Conservation Area and fails to comply with the necessary regulations.
“We remain eager to work with all our local traders to advise on more suitable signage (which is in keeping with the surroundings) to promote their business.
“We recently secured more than £38m of investment for Carrickfergus through Belfast Region City Deal. Our mayor along with councillors Robin Stewart and Billy Ashe were instrumental in securing this funding, which will help transform the town and unlock its tourism potential.
“This is in addition to significant planned tourism and heritage funding, with a substantial sum earmarked for Carrickfergus as the gateway to the Causeway Coastal Route and one of the most historically important towns anywhere in Ireland.
“We are in no way trying to force anybody out of business.
“It is vital we balance our commitment to deliver strong economic growth with our responsibility to protect the environment and our heritage.
“Our officers are keen to meet with this business owner to discuss this matter further, talk through the policy and advise on what steps we can take together to rectify this issue.
“Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has one of the lowest numbers of planning enforcement cases in Northern Ireland due to our pro-business approach and eagerness to negotiate with and advise on issues, rather than take legal action.”