COLERAINE Alliance Councillor, Barney Fitzpatrick, has expressed shock at the rising number of vacant town centre shops which is now above the national average.
Figures released by the British Retail Consortium this week show that over 17% of town centre shop units are now standing empty - 5% more than the average figure for the whole of the UK.
Cllr. Fitzpatrick said: “This is a staggering figure and it is very important that action is taken to help support town centre businesses and encourage entrepreneurship.
“It is vital that strong support is provided for small and medium-sized retail enterprises and that there is pro-active work to encourage entrepreneurship in our towns. It’s also crucial that we look at radical approaches to help boost our town centres.”
He went on: “The sight of vacant shops is a very sad symptom of the global economic situation and it demonstrates the impact that these tough times are having on local business here.
“Again I am very troubled that the figure for the whole of Northern Ireland is so much higher than that of the UK average.
He concluded: “Our town centres play such an important role in our economy and they are the key focal point of communities.
“It is vital that immediate action by whatever means is taken to address this deeply worrying trend,” he said.
A recent meeting of the Town Traders Association heard concerns over rates and other costs which were crippling local businesses.