THE manager of The Diamond Centre says urgent action is needed on providing businesses with rates relief following the closure of several tenants in the shopping centre.
Gwyneth McQuiston was speaking to The Coleraine Times following the closure of clothing retailers Petroleum and Editor and two cafes, Riverview Restaurant and Café Tiki recently.
Speaking about the closures Gwyneth said she was saddened and deeply concerned.
“Recent times have been extremely difficult for everyone at The Diamond Centre.
“It is not nice to see shops closing down, which in turn means someone has lost their business, staff have lost their jobs and the centre has vacant units.
“Our national retailer, Petroleum went into administration in March 2011 with no notice period to their staff.
“In one weekend we lost Editor, Riverview Restaurant and Café Tiki and while staff from one store had ample notice support staff from another did not. Overall it is a very sad story for all the people involved and it pains me as a centre manager to see the closures.”
Gwyneth said many businesses were struggling to pay high rates.
“Landlords have moved on rental values being adjusted where appropriate and have done it in line with the economic situation we find ourselves in but the Rates Division have done nothing to match that.
“They do not assist any of the retailers known to me – they have brought in some relief for small businesses but the middle to large retailers definitely need urgent help.
“From what I have been told by my tenants the Rates Division has no understanding towards their circumstances and will not negotiate with them in difficult times.”
Gwyneth stressed: “We can be proactive in Coleraine by bringing rateable values into line with the new rental values and I would also call for a rates ‘holiday period’ of six months to a year to encourage new businesses to start up, otherwise a business will not sustain, grow or prosper.
“If nothing is done the end result overall for the town of Coleraine in the face of this economic hardship will not be good.
“It would be a crying shame for Coleraine not to unite in the adversity of where we find ourselves. Every business has to look at their bottom line and make drastic business changes, which unfortunately have a massive knock on effect in many directions. To sit and do nothing constructive would be catastrophic.
“Only a few days ago I was invited to respond to a public consultation that is only commencing, which can be found on the Rates Division website.
“One of the proposals is to continue the small business relief but in order to support this they propose to put a levy on the larger retailer.
“This would be too severe on the larger retailers who find themselves in a very precarious position already. One has to question how long will this process take?
“The private sector need to have action now and are well frustrated with how slow the wheels in the public sector turn.”
On a more positive note Gwyneth said there was “significant interest” in the vacant units and hoped that a new eaterie would be opened within weeks. Feettastic Fish Foot Spa has also recently opened in the centre.