The news comes that the supermarket giant Tesco has been given the go-ahead to build a large store near Banbridge after two previous planning applications were rejected.
The store will be slightly smaller than the retailer had hoped to build at the Bridgewater Retail Park but will still be one of the largest in NI. It will be part of a development which will include retail warehouses and create hundreds of jobs. Objectors had said the development would damage Banbridge town centre.
It is the DUP which has allowed this to go ahead. I have several points to make on it. Whilst I welcome the new (mostly part-time) jobs considering them much needed, I share the anxiety of Town Centre traders. This huge new out of town store is aimed at attracting shoppers OUT of town, away from the high street. This will undoubtedly damage the town centre which has a rich diversity of local businesses. So what is needed is a plan and help to ensure that the local traders are not wiped out and the town centre turned into a ghost town. Have the DUP any such plan? Forget it – I heard the Minister concerned, Edwin “Not of the World” Poots waffle on about some sort of distress fund they had put in place! Is he joking? Is he really saying that the best the DUP can do for local business is to throw a few pounds their way as they head for economic oblivion? Surely not?
It’s simple what is needed here. There should be a clear plan to reduce the business rates the town centre traders pay – this will give instant relief. There should be a joined up marketing plan to ensure that shoppers going to the new out of town centre will be encouraged to try out the riches found in the main street. This could take various forms but I believe Tesco should be a primary funder. Action, not words, is what matters to town centre traders. I shop in Banbridge town on a regular basis and enjoy it, some very good stores. It would be a terrible shame if these are sacrificed in order for a large multinational to further advance its empire.