On Thursday, March 27, 2014, NIIRTA launched its first ever Programme for Local Government, entitled ‘Local First’, setting out more than eighty policy recommendations for the newly-elected eleven ‘super’ councils which we elect on Thursday, May 22.
Recently we launched it with Deputy Mayor of Derry-Londonderry Gary Middleton and Martin McCrossan, Chair of City Centre Traders’ Forum in the city.
NIIRTA is setting out new ideas and signposting others for local economic development, urban regeneration, and what we think the next generation of town centres should look like.
Our ‘Local First’ report is not just a manifesto for retail but for sustainable private sector led local economic development.
Two years ago, both NIIRTA and Derry City Centre Traders’ Forum called for the first Enterprise Zone to be in Derry. We welcome the recent announcement of the Coleraine pilot Zone, but want to see it extended to cover Derry, Strabane and Limavady to boost business investment in the North West.
Our members are community entrepreneurs who provide an important service to the local community and believe in real and genuine partnerships with their local Councils. They champion strong, vibrant and diverse town centres, which are, in themselves, centres of both retail and hospitality excellence.
We have always expressed the need for vibrant and diverse town centres, which are centres of excellence for both retail and hospitality.
To survive in modern retail, it is a constant process of change, innovation and embracing new technology to reach out to an increasingly sophisticated consumer.
NIIRTA has concerns that many sections of the business community in Derry and throughout Northern Ireland are largely unaware of the extent of the new powers being passed to the eleven Councils.
With Planning, off-street car parking, Urban Regeneration and Start-a Business Programme, these councils will be powerful players in shaping our local economic landscape.
So what do we want to see?
In particular, we want Derry/Strabane Council and the NI Executive to jointly appoint a Regeneration Commissioner to replace the existing agencies and to spearhead regeneration in the two town centres.
We want to see Derry and Strabane town centres reclaiming their rightful positions and roles as places that serve their communities, visitors, businesses and key stakeholders, with a quality of experience that encourages them to keep coming back and staying longer.
Among the eighty recommendations in ‘Local First’ are:
• Strong Town Centre First Retail Planning Policy
• Strong partnership Cabinet model for local government
• Free Wi-Fi in Derry and Strabane by 2020
• IPhone Apps by 2016
• Retail Incubators in both town centres
• Council establishing Local Growth Partnership
• On street Car Parking transferred to Council by 2020
• Extended Empty Premises Relief qualification reduced from 12 months to six
• Community Hub model for Town Centres
• Digital High Street Strategy for both town centres
We believe that the proposed new system with enhanced powers provides a real opportunity to make a difference for local communities, the economy and town centres. They can be the change makers for Derry and Strabane.
It is about refreshing local government to permit a greater freedom for citizens expressing and fulfilling their ambitions for their local communities.
The reform of government to date has been very much about process. We believe now the focus needs to move towards policy development.
What are the candidates standing to Derry-Strabane Council going to do with these new powers to help create employment, regenerate town centres, revamp car parking and create a fair planning system, which supports local business?
New Community Planning powers will be key in integrating all the various streams of public life. Councils will work with their local businesses, communities and statutory bodies and agencies to promote the well being of their areas and improve the quality of life of its citizens.
The new Derry-Strabane Council will be a vital player in shaping the future of the economy and it is essential that the local private sector engages with party candidates in this election to ensure that they can hit the ground running with a plan for change when power is transferred in one year’s time.