High Street lobby group Retail NI has launched a plan it says contains radical proposals to help regenerate the sector across the province.
Launched at the Regeneration NI conference at Queen’s University Belfast the 47 point plan includes establishing a Northern Ireland Town and Cities Partnership to manage and co-ordinate town centre policy, devolving regeneration powers to local councils and a five-year fereeze on and off-street car parking charges.
“Our Regeneration NI report is a radical plan to create 21st century town and city centres, updating our policy priorities and setting out new thinking for Northern Ireland’s high streets,” said Retail NI CEO Glyn Roberts.
“Too many of our villages, our towns and our cities are testament to a failure in regeneration policy to date.
“For the past 15 years, Northern Ireland has not only had the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK, but nearly double the UK national average.”
While the Primark fire had had a huge impact on the economy, Mr Roberts said the one key achievement had been to make the issue of regenerating town centres a priority policymakers.
“Fixing our broken and antiquated system of business rates is vital,” he said.
“The Rethinking Business Rates proposals presented by the last Finance Minister, which were based on ideas put forward by Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster, need to be a top priority.”
Among the keynote speakers at the conference were the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Local Growth and High Streets, Jake Berry MP; Andrew Carter, CEO of the influential think tank, Centre for Cities; and Prof Greg Keefe, Head of the School of Natural and Built Environment at QUB.
Prof Nola Hewitt-Dundas, head of Queen’s Management School at Queen’s University, said regeneration of towns and cities was an important topic and a necessary discussion.
“This is a time of both challenge and opportunity for Belfast and beyond,” she said.
“At Queen’s, we value our strong relationship with Northern Ireland’s business community and firmly believe in the unique role that Queen’s University can play in both driving and supporting economic growth, promoting prosperity, encouraging innovation and promoting global thinking locally.”