High street alert

The tough times facing Limavady’s high street hub are set to be addressed by a special task force designed to look at its future, but the idea has been met with a cautious welcome.

The town has been identified in a new plan by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, who will visit the town at the end of the month for a special meeting. However, East Derry MLA John Dallat says the situation on the high street is only part of the problem. What is needed, he says, is a special economic task force set up to create jobs and attract investment into the town. Anything less, he says, is just “tinkering at the problem”.

President of the Roe Valley Chamber, Philip Kingston, says while Limavady’s high street has suffered in the recession, it hasn’t fared as badly as many other towns because many of the retailers are independent.

“Any interest in the town is to be treated on its own merit,” he told the ‘Journal’, “but the proof will be in the pudding.”

Mr. Kingston says the big issues for businesses is rent and rates and the lack of employment in the area, which means a lot of people don’t have the extra money to spend locally.

One trader told the ‘Journal’: “Definitely, anything that can help is to be welcomed, but the problem is people don’t have that extra money to spend like they used to. What we need is help with rents and rates and more jobs in the area.”

A spokesperson for Limavady Borough Council welcomed the idea of the task force.

“I understand that the first of these meetings has already happened further down the country, and that it was a positive session with new and innovative ideas. I hope that traders from across the Borough can bring some to our meeting too. This is an informal meeting for traders and businesses. Let’s take advantage of that,” said the spokesperson.

Referring to recent government figures which showed there are 299 empty premises in Limavady, the spokesperson stressed neighbouring areas have fared no better. For examples, he said, the same figure revealed 500 in Coleraine, 407 in Magherafelt and 817 in Derry.

“Of course the ‘high street’ is getting it very tough at the moment. I think everyone in Council appreciates that rates are a burden, despite the fact that over half goes straight to central government,” he said. “We would encourage everyone to ensure they are able to avail of rates relief where possible. We’ve also heard anecdotally, and from a little informal research that rent is becoming a real hardship, but that would be a matter for property owners to comment on. It’s a combination of insurances, charges, rent, rates, staffing costs, and increased fuel and product prices from the supplier. Between that, and internet commerce, it’s a perfect storm for high street retailers. That is why we should support local traders where we can, by shopping locally. Council is running several programmes on branding, sales, marketing and IT - for which skills are especially low in this area. We hope that small business takes advantage of these which may help them to weather the storm.”