We got the thin end of the wedge

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SPORTS fans may still be on a high following last week’s Irish Open in Portrush but some traders are counting the cost.

Shop owners hoped that the championships - which attracted 130,000 spectators over the week - would bring much needed trade to the town.

But some businesses claim they got the thin end of wedge and have been left with excess merchandise and empty tills.

A former mayor of Coleraine says that future events in the town need to be better organised and that traders should be included in any consultations with organisers and Coleraine Borough Council.

Ex-councillor Dessie Stewart, spokesperson for the TUV in East Londonderry, met with some unhappy traders last week.

“Traders are angry, they were promised booming trade, and they didn’t get that,” said Mr Stewart.

“There is no doubt about it that the Irish Open was a great event, but there needs to be improvements if it is to return.

“Portrush was like a ghost town last week.

“Many feel that the park and ride system kept people away. A drop off point at Lansdowne maybe would have helped get footfall through the town.

“Another issue was the fact that once you had left the course you could not return. This hindered people from visiting the restaurants and shops in the town.”

John Gregg, whose souvenir shop has been trading at Eglinton Street for over 40 years, said: “The last week in June is usually very busy with bus trips and excursions, but we were empty.

“I brought in extra merchandise thinking that it would be busy, and now I am left with it. I only hope that I get rid of it before the end of the season.

“We have a very short trading season, and to be honest I have seen busier winter days that I did on days last week.”

Another trader, who did not wish to be named, said stalls and food takeaway vans at Kerr Street had taken business away from eateries who pay their rates to Coleraine Borough Council.

“I felt it was very unfair that these mobile caterers were able to come and take trade away from ratepayers.

“The government spent so much money on improving Portrush but the people didn’t come into the town to see how well the town looks.

“However the golf was a great advertisement for the area, and I hope that we will see the benefits in the long term.”

Other businesses, who reported good trade in the evenings when play had finished, said that if the championships do return they would consider longer opening hours.

A Coleraine Borough Council spokesperson said: “Street trading is always considered on a case by case basis. 

“Council made provision for a limited additional street food presence on Kerr Street.

“A consultation event for food traders was arranged in Portrush Town Hall on Apri 3l. 

“In conjunction with NITB, an event for the tourism trade was arranged at the Royal Court Hotel April 25.

“In addition Council issued a weekly e-zine updating the Coleraine area tourism trade on preparation for the Irish Open.

“The plan for the park and ride was a carefully considered operation based on the European Tour’s experience from other golf events. 

“ Planning was done in partnership between the European Tour, DRD Roads Service, the PSNI, Translink and Coleraine Borough Council. 

“There were many considerations including safety, traffic flows, security, convenience for the spectators, and minimising disruption to residents. 

“The park and ride arrangements proved to be effective and feedback from the spectators has been very positive. 

“Successful logistics are paramount to attracting future tournaments to the town. “