Sinn Féin councillor MAEVE MCLAUGHLIN claims government departments are fiddling around while Derry city centre businesses are disappearing. She says the useful parts of the retail strategy for the city, unveiled back in July 2010, should be acted on and planning problems sorted - before it’s too late.
Our city centre retailers are struggling on a daily basis and more and more premises are lying vacant.
While rates and car parking are also issues that need to be resolved, implementing the strategy would help to develop the city centre and support local traders.
In 2010 we had 44,193 sq feet of vacant properties in our city centre. In Waterloo place alone there was 4,185 sq ft vacant and in Duke Street the total was 4,600 sq ft.
I would hazard a guess that this figure has increased dramatically since then as we witness more businesses – many of them long established local concerns – cease trading.
The strategy was supposed to identify the types of business that would attract shoppers to our city centre.
It is estimated that there is around 642,000 sq ft of retail space available to accommodate high street/non food or comparison goods businesses.
However in the absence of a statutory planning framework, the strategy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Our local retailers need cooperative intervention by the Department of the Environment and Department of Social Development (DSD) to deliver their vision of reinvigorating the city centre with as little regulatory red tape as possible. Particular attention and investment needs paid to the Waterloo Place/Strand Road/Queen’s Quay area of the city.
To make the most of the recent £7.5m investment in the public realm scheme around Shipquay Place, and Waterloo Place and now at Guildhall Square and Queen’s Quay, the strategy should promote the development of Queens Quay first, maximising the regenerative benefit this would bring to the northern end of the city centre by increasing strong pedestrian flows between the anchor developments (Quayside and Foyleside) at either end of the city centre.
There are many examples where this approach has been successfully delivered. Two examples are Nottingham and Belfast.
In Belfast, back in 2001, many believed that the ‘logical’ way forward for retail development in the city centre was to extend the existing Castlecourt Mall. However, after consultation on the project, DSD rejected this in favour of Victoria Square.
The Victoria Square scheme was by no means the easiest solution,.However, it was the best solution for the wider city centre, creating new links across the centre and reinforcing and strengthening previously weak and marginal retail areas of the city.
If DSD was able take on board the concerns, suggestions and vision of those directly affected in Belfast when deciding on urban regeneration there, then why can it not use these powers to deliver regeneration in Derry?
It is time for DOE to resolve the planning difficulties and for DSD to come up with a regeneration strategy for our city centre – and then deliver on it.