A FORMER mayor of Coleraine has called on one of the nation’s biggest retailers, Marks and Spencer, to relocate and “plug the gap” left behind by the demise of Peacocks in the town centre.
Pauline Armitage, a former Ulster Unionist MLA and Coleraine Councillor, said she believed the people of the borough would get behind M&S if they were to make the move to a larger store.
And she further stressed that doing nothing was not an option as the town’s main shopping area has more vacant shops now than at any time during her 30 years in business in the town.
Speaking exclusively to Coleraine Times, Mrs. Armitage lamented the loss of Peacock’s from Church Street and called on Stormont, retailers and Coleraine Borough Council to band together to arrest the town’s decline as a commercial centre.
“Commercial life in Coleraine seems to be in decline. I have never seen so many vacant shops,” she said.
“But does anyone care? Surely someone, somewhere should be more interested and involved in the commercial life of Coleraine. It just seems [people are saying:] “that’s another business gone; so what”?
“We should all be asking - what can we do to sustain business in the town? There should be encouragement and incentive offered to local families. For example, one year rates free and involve shop owners to consider rent less 50% for the first six months or so. Once business has been established and making a living then rent could be discussed and agreed to suit both parties. At one time business enterprises were given a fairly large grant to embark on a new business in the borough.
“I am very, very sorry to see the demise of Peacocks. This is going to leave a very large space in the town centre. These premises would be ideal for Marks & Spencer to re-locate. M&S’s current premises are far from suitable - there is no pleasure in mummies and daddies trying to manoeuvre buggies and prams or just trying to keep everybody safe while holding a toddler’s hand or harness and very difficult for wheelchair users.”
The retired politician also listed a number of questions and answers which she felt highlighted the benefits of moving to larger, “more suitable premises”:
“Toilets, male and female? No. Toilets and changing unit for mother and baby? No. Facilities for the disabled? No. Anywhere to wash one’s hands? No. But if Marks and Spencer were to relocate to the town centre - a building in good condition and ready to move into - it would benefit them and their customers. M&S would not be taking any risks moving to these larger premises.
“The residents of the borough and beyond have always made it quite clear they are prepared to pay “top prices” for “top food,” she concluded.
“And in my days in business... the customer was always right!”