17.5% of shop units in townare now vacant

AROUND 17-17.5% of retail units in Ballymena Town Centre are empty and unused, it has been revealed.

At last Monday night’s meeting of full council, Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said the Finance Minister is setting up a High Street Task Force to address this issue and they recently visited Ballymena to listen to views from local traders.

Ms Donaghy explained that she is in liaison with McCausland’s department to get the task force expanded to include local government and business representatives.

She added that it is hoped the consultation process will be complete in the next few weeks.

Members heard that the Minister has also taken steps to help new businesses establish themselves in empty shops and other premises through providing a first year rates discount of 50%. Despite 32 businesses in Northern Ireland taking advantage of the scheme, none of these are in the Ballymena Borough and he wants the council to promote the scheme.

Councillor Maurice Mills: “I welcomed the minister’s approach and commitment, rates can mean the difference between survival and closure of some businesses. We should be striving for an even playing field for all and we need to keep the finger on the button in regard to this.”

It was revealed that the average amount of empty units in Northern Ireland is 19%, while Ballymena is under the Northern Ireland average at around 17 -17% of empty units in the town centre.

Ms Donaghy said: “We are working to bring that figure down.”

Councillor Roy Gillespie said: “There seems to be an increase of these businesses being closed up. Can we do anything at all to help?”

Council Chief Anne Donaghy replied: “That’s what we are trying to find outt - what issues we need to address. and what are the big impact areas.”