“Further retail job losses and closures highlight necessity for action to save city and town centres” says Belfast Chamber

Belfast Chamber has reacted to the announcement of further job losses and store closures in the retail sector, including DW Sports in the city’s Donegall Place, by calling on the Executive to take action to help save our city and town centres from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The organisation – which represents over 500 businesses in Belfast – has called on the NI Executive to respond to this latest news, which comes on the same day as others regarding potential job losses and closures in businesses like Carphone Warehouse and Pizza Express, by creating a ‘task force’ to coordinate work across central and local government and work alongside business to help rejuvenate our city and town centres.

Commenting, Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton said, “The news that DW Sports is to close all of its Northern Ireland stores including one at Donegall Place is yet another further devasting blow for the staff affected and the cities and towns in which these shops are located.  In recent weeks, Belfast city centre in particular has experienced shocks such as the closure of Eason’s and the announcement by Tesco Metro that it will close its store.  Sadly, it seems that the much anticipated crisis for city and town centres, caused by the lockdown restrictions imposed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, is upon us.

It is undoubtedly the case that the retail sector faced many challenges before the coronavirus pandemic struck but the interlinked health and economic emergency created by COVID-19 has seriously exacerbated the situation.  But retail remaisn our region’s biggest employer and we cannot simply stand by and allow our city and town centres to continue to be devasted.  We need to take concerted and coordinated action to save our city and town centres. 

Belfast Chamber calls on the Executive to respond to this crisis by creating a ‘task force’ that can bring together both the public and the private sectors to examine what steps we can collectively take to rejuvenate our high streets.  That isn’t just about supporting retail, of course.  We need to encourage and invest in making our city and town centres more experience focused and also more diverse in their offering with, for example, a mix of shopping, office, hospitality, arts and culture increased residential. 

We would also reiterate our call to Ministers put in place further financial support aimed at facilitating the safe reopening of our city and town centres. Ensuring that our high streets are clean, safe and welcoming environments at this difficult time will be key to boosting footfall and improving trade.

 A city and town centre task force may not be able resolve all of the challenges we face, but we definitely need to work together to ensure our high streets survive the threat they currently face and we would encourage the Executive to create a group to allow us to pool our collective efforts towards rejuvenating our city and town centres”.