COLERAINE DUP alderman James McClure is calling for all interested agencies to come together to examine ways in which new life can be breathed into Coleraine town centre.
Speaking following a report which indicated that a high percentage of derelict properties now exist, Alderman McClure (right) said it was time to take action to help rejuvenate the commercial heart of the town.
“Boarded up shops can undermine business confidence,” he said. “I believe that we have to come together and examine what can be down to not only regenerate the centre of Coleraine in terms of encouraging businesses in but also ways in which we can make the area even more attractive.”
Alderman McClure added: “Let’s be honest, local shopping streets have been hard hit by the recession. Many businesses are struggling because the consumer does not have the same disposable income to spend with household budgets also squeezed to the limit.
“I am determined to keep our town centre vibrant and attractive to shoppers and visitors. Firstly that means keeping local shops open and trading with the help of Government measures such as rate deferments.
“Business people I talk to all refer to the crippling cost of rates and in a recession that has sent many of them over the edge and forced closures.
“We must bring partnerships such as the Chamber of Commerce, Town Centre Partnership and the DoE to evaluate the situation.
“If the worst happens and an outlet closes we must be willing to think creatively. That might mean new community advice centres, new spaces for arts and crafts, new premises for small start-up businesses, community cafes and spaces for social enterprises and the voluntary sector. Empty shops are a real no no.:
“The downturn has really hurt high streets. There is no need to see unused shops on our high streets going to waste, especially when we know that it doesn’t take a lot to turn a vacant shop into something beneficial for the community.”
Alderman McClure added: “Perhaps the Assembly should be examining the provision of grants will would help to transform and re-open empty shops as a realistic way to provide real help to keep town centres vibrant and combat the recession.
“Let’s face it. The most likely economic scenario sees the economy recovering only slowly and not reaching capacity for a decade and with further public sector spending cuts planned, that will further constrain wage growth and lead to less employment.
“Real personal disposable income is likely to fall further and continue to constrain spending.
“This means that ‘normal’ service is unlikely to be resumed any time soon as far as retailers are concerned. For the town centre it is clear that the current high levels of vacancy are likely to remain and this eventually brings forward the prospect of alternative uses being made of the space.
“We should be coming together locally and examining ways of fighting back,” said Alderman McClure.