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