Market funding boost for Carrick town centre after visitors drop by one fifth

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Mid and East Antrim councillors have approved a budget of almost £10,000 to continue with Carrickfergus artisan market until March 2025.

The market has been taking place at Market Place in the town centre on the first Saturday of each month since May 2021 and in Carrickfergus Town Hall during winter months and inclement weather. It has been organised by the council since October. Previously it had been held by Urban Market.

The market went ahead as planned on November 4 with visitor numbers described as “steady”. Sixty traders have now signed up to a database of local artisan producers.

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Speaking at last week’s meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Environment and Economy meeting, Knockagh DUP Councillor Peter Johnston said: “Traders say that shoppers are there for the market. From speaking to some retailers, they are not seeing a massive up tick in footfall. Maybe we could look at locations for the market.”

Circular Road East Car Park, Larne. Photo by GoogleCircular Road East Car Park, Larne. Photo by Google
Circular Road East Car Park, Larne. Photo by Google

Knockagh Alliance Cllr Aaron Skinner commented: “I think it is fantastic. It is great to be doing something like this. We want to bring traders’ ideas forward to make it a vibrant town centre.”

Councillors were also told at the meeting during October, footfall had decreased “slightly” in Larne and Ballymena and “significantly” in Carrickfergus town centres compared to October 2022.

Figures for Carrickfergus show a decrease of 21.4 per cent, Larne, 8.3 per cent and Ballymena, 5.4 per cent. Figures have also decreased since September. In Larne, this was by 7.3 per cent, Ballymena, 3.9 per cent and Carrickfergus, 1.9 per cent.

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Dramatic Reduction

Larne Lough Ulster Unionist Councillor Roy Beggs commented: “There has been a very dramatic reduction in Larne in one month. I have picked up from traders, concern about the image that Circular Road Car Park gives to visitors to Larne. Visitors almost get the impression there is very few people in the town based on the impression of the size of the car park sitting empty following car park pricing. Have we looked at the cost of such a dramatic reduction footfall in the town of Larne,”

A council officer replied: “It is very difficult to attribute any one reason for it. There are footfall counters throughout the town centres.”

Cllr Beggs insisted: “Do you agree that a seven per cent drop in one month is very significant and of great concern? We need to think what we can do to rectify that.”

Carrickfergus Castle Ulster Unionist Cllr Robin Stewart said: “I have been in business for 27 years. Footfall is at an all-time low.”

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In August, a charge starting from 60p for up to an hour’s parking was introduced by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, in two of Larne’s last remaining free town centre car parks, Circular Road East and Exchange Road. A monthly ticket will cost £81.90 with a quarterly season ticket priced at almost £200.

The council has been urged to do a U-turn over plans for car parking charges at Castle Car Park in Carrickfergus after several thousand signatures were gathered through petitions opposing the introduction of charges, including an online petition, started by ten councillors which has gained 3,845 signatures. A 12-week public consultation into the introduction of charges at Castle Car Park closed on November 2.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter