Two cheers for City Fathers and Mothers

By Staff Reporter

Last week’s investment package from Belfast City Council, announced in a fanfare of publicity, gets the thumbs-up from this paper today.

Or at least a thumb-up.

For the missing part of the regeneration budget was a groundbreaking initiative around the small businesses and independent retailers who are the engines of the South Belfast economy.

It would be churlish in the extreme not to welcome the hard-won political unity — all six of the City Hall parties gave the package their blessing — and the increased sense of urgency at Belfast City Council. Indeed, the boldness of the plan, which embraces all parts of the city, is a breath of fresh air at a time of recession.

However, the perfect accompaniment to this visionary strategy — complete with costed investments in named projects — would be to bring a fresh focus onto the largest independent retail hub in Ireland on the Lisburn Road.

When the Lisburn Road Business Association members gather for their annual meeting this evening (Wednesday), they will reflect on a difficult year — though some of the worst of the pain has been offset thanks to funding for the traders’ group from City Hall.

And merchants and independent retailers will not have missed the fact that the new investment package has come handcuffed to a rates increase. While councillors may argue it is the smallest hike in a decade, it still represents an additional cost.

What would give traders and small business owners — over 200 along the Lisburn Road alone — hope that their contribution to the city is not being ignored would be a Council-backed initiative to put our independent retailers along the road at the very heart of the Council’s plans: dare we say it, a mega-model of our very own Buy Local Campaign. Yesterday, Minister Nelson McCausland revealed his determination to act on the welcome proposals of Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to put the heart back in our main streets.

Belfast City Council should steal a march on the Minister by being the first local government authority in the country to put the independent retailers at the heart of the city’s growth strategy over the next 10 years.

 

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