Rates relief for charity shops must be scrapped to allow Derry city centre traders to compete, a local businessman has said.
Peter MacKenzie, who owns Bloom’s Cafe at Stable Lane, has suggested that dealing with the “problem” of presenting Derry as a charity shop city is one of a range of measures that must be adopted to reverse city centre decay.
“If charities are going to trade they need to pay rates the same as everybody else. How is it possible for traders to compete against another trader who doesn’t pay rates, rent or wages?” he said.
Scrapping rates relief for charity outlets is one of several steps suggested by the businessman to help turn the city centre’s fortunes around.
Mr MacKenzie also called for an overhaul in the way rates are applied to city centre properties. He said that the current regime was forcing more and more commercial property owners - who must pay rates on vacant outlets - to hand over their stores to charities as they are exempt from rates charges. “This has had the effect not only of turning our city centre into charity city but also of devaluing all surrounding property.”
Mr McKenzie added: “What hope have we of attracting any inward investment to the city if potential investors see property as a liability rather than as an asset.”
Mr MacKenzie made the statement following calls by representatives of independent traders for the creation of a city centre enterprise zone with rates relief measures to prevent business meltdown in the heart of Derry.
But Mr MacKenzie said that rates relief and overhaul alone will not get to the “root of the problem”. He has called for the creation of a “coherent strategy” for developing the city centre to provide an alternative to out-of-town shopping.
He said: “Out of town shopping centres are here to stay due to public demand and, like the arrival of supermarkets eradicated the corner shop, these centers are going to demolish small nondescript retailers. If our city centre is going to survive we need to focus on specialist high value retailing like designer jewellery , quality crafts, music (instruments and technology not CD’s), designer and specialist clothing outlets. Given the ample supply of branded products in the out-of-town shopping centres we need to be looking at quality independents,” he said.
Mr MacKenzie has also called for the building of multi-storey car parks at Carlisle Rd, William Street and Bishop Street to accommodate a “huge increase in traffic”.
There are currently more than 130 shops vacant in the city centre with more than 50 closures in recent times, prompting fears for the very future of trade in the city centre.