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New model required for local businesses

By Staff Reporter

As we move into the second month of a year which is already bringing further dire economic warnings, voices are being raised for a new approach to saving our imperiled ‘high streets’.

Undoubtedly, areas like the Lisburn Road present a unique proposition in the city of Belfast. Nowhere else are so many indigenous businesses clustered together to create a bustling thoroughfare serving a diverse community.

Indeed, the Lisburn Road Business Association estimates that there are over 200 small businesses on the road from the City Hospital to Finaghy Crossroads.

However, as the closure of many of the area’s once thriving businesses has shown, this commercial hub is under intense pressure from the double whammy of high business taxes — rates in particular — and a downturn in business linked to the wider recession.

And yet, recent studies across these islands show that these retail hubs are central to strong communities.

In fact, in her recent report for the British Government, retail tzar Mary Portas set out a recovery charter for ‘main streets’ in danger of “disappearing forever”.

Many of the recommendations Mary Queen of Shops makes involve government and the retailers associations themselves but there are calls to actions too for one group which has thus far stood above the travails of our small shopkeepers: the landlords.

Ms Portas argues that they must do more to support local businesses, find tenants for empty shops and contribute to programmes which will make retail thoroughfares more attractive.

Thus far, the landlords have refused to enter the debate about the future of our ‘main streets’. That situation can no longer be tolerated — unless we are content to stand back and see more business go to the wall.


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