NI re­tail­ers call for £25m fund to be passed on

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS NEWS - FRANCESS McDONNELL

North­ern Ire­land could be in line for a £25 mil­lion (€28.5 mil­lion) cash in­jec­tion next year to help re­vive flag­ging towns and cities as part of a £675 mil­lion UK gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to “trans­form lo­cal high streets”.

But re­tail bosses in the North are warn­ing busi­nesses in Belfast, which are strug­gling fol­low­ing the fire that dev­as­tated a flag­ship Pri­mark store, need an im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial life­line if they are to sur­vive be­yond Christ­mas. The £675 mil­lion ini­tia­tive forms part of the UK Gov­ern­ment’s “Fu­ture High Streets Fund”, which aims to help make high streets and town cen­tres “fit for the fu­ture”.

How­ever, Aod­hán Con­nolly, direc­tor of the North­ern Ire­land Re­tail Con­sor­tium, said some busi­nesses in Belfast could fold be­fore the fund is rolled out in the North be­cause of the fi­nan­cial stresses of the fire and the sig­nif­i­cant drop in shop­per foot­fall which the city has suf­fered.

Three busi­nesses in the city have al­ready closed fol­low­ing the Pri­mark fire and 14 re­main within a safety cor­don erected around the build­ing and un­able to trade. Mr Con­nolly says it is ur­gent the North’s De­part­ment of Fi­nance passes on a multi-mil­lion pack­age of fi­nan­cial sup­port ear­marked for Belfast city cen­tre by the UK chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond.

“The £2 mil­lion from the bud­get must be fil­tered im­me­di­ately to those who need it most if we are stop what could be ir­re­versible dam­age to our re­tail and hos­pi­tal­ity hub. Three busi­nesses have closed and an­other two are in dire straits, there is real anger and frus­tra­tion among re­tail­ers and time is of the essence to en­sure that busi­nesses in Belfast get the sup­port they need.

“De­cem­ber is a cru­cial month for re­tail­ers – it’s usu­ally ac­counts for 12.5 per cent of all sales but if af­fected busi­nesses in Belfast city cen­tre can­not open soon and we can­not re­cover shop­per foot­fall num­bers it could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween busi­nesses be­ing able to stay open and fur­ther clo­sures in to 2019,” Mr Con­nolly said.

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