“Retail sales figures show the need for executive strategy to breathe life back into our city centres” says Belfast Chamber

Following the publication of figures by the Office of National Statistics which show an 18% decrease in retail sales in April, Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to develop a strategy to ensure the long term sustainability of our city centres and high streets and specifically called for the creation of Future High Street Funds for Northern Ireland similar to the one in operation in GB.

Commenting, Simon Hamilton said, “The 18% drop in retail sales across the UK in April highlights the threat to city centres and high streets posed by COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions it has brought.  Retail is a sector that has been facing challenges for some time, but the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation with a 30% increase in online sales.  This all adds up to a worrying period for the retail sector who face a troubling future of these trends continue.

City centres and high streets are, of course, about much more than retail. Shops, along with offices, hospitality and leisure businesses, generate the vibrancy we normally see in Belfast city centre and towns across the region.  They are where people come together and cannot be allowed to slowly decline. Given the impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on our city centres and high streets, now is the time, as part of its plan for economic recovery, for the Executive to consider replicating the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.   The Government’s £1 billion fund is helping 100 cities and towns to improve transport and access into town centres, convert empty retail units into new homes and workplaces, and invest in vital infrastructure.  There is no equivalent scheme for towns and cities in NI.  If we value the economic, social and cultural role that our city centres and high streets play then this needs to change.

As the Executive turns its attention to how they help the economy to recover from the impact of COVID-19, they should carefully consider how they could create a scheme like the Future High Streets Fund that could help breathe new life back into our city centres and high streets”.