Mid and East Antrim funding announcement sparks discussion over town centre revitalisation
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The Department for Communities announced earlier this week that it had awarded funding of over £436,000 to Mid & East Antrim Borough Council to deliver the scheme, with £48,500 also invested by the local authority.
Gerard Murray, Director of Regional Development at DfC said the investment aimed to benefit commercial properties and enhance the shopping areas of the busy towns. "The council has developed a comprehensive programme of initiatives, aimed at supporting the long-term economic viability of Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne,” he added.
Building on the experience of projects delivered through the Covid-19 Recovery Revitalisation Programme, the council has identified a number of initiatives to support the town centre offering in the three main towns, including a shopfront improvement grant scheme for town centre businesses; bringing a vacant unit in each town back into use; enhanced feature lighting and planting to bring vibrancy to key areas; activities to attract people into town centres, and the provision of town-specific features including signage and PA systems.
The announcement attracted broader discussion on social media among Mid and East Antrim residents, with many taking the opportunity to outline the features they would like to see in their town centres.
In Larne, a significant number of Facebook users pointed to the former Dunnes Stores premises on Main Street as the unit they would most like to see being brought back into use.
Among the suggestions for the premises, which Dunnes departed in September 2019, was an indoor market.
Other initiatives suggested were the pedestrianisation of Main Street and greater provision of free car parking.
In Carrickfergus, several locals expressed a desire to see a Post Office branch in the town centre, while others called for a family complex along the lines of The Jet Centre in Coleraine.
An enhanced visitor experience at Carrickfergus Castle was also highlighted, with a suggestion that the town could benefit from a relocated coach park that would direct tourist footfall through the town centre.
A number of Ballymena residents said they would like to see the public toilets at Wellington Place reopened.
Others said they would welcome the return of an entertainment complex similar to Ballymena Sportsbowl, which closed in 2014.
Residents in all three areas reiterated calls for lower business rates, with some commenting that town centres needed to appeal to retailers as well as customers.
Key among residents’ queries, however, was how the funds will be divided between each town. The Department for Communities said this would be determined in due course through a submission process. “All three towns will benefit from the investment with some initiatives common to all and other initiatives tailored for each town,” a DfC spokesperson said.
"The council has established a Steering Group including local businesses and groups, from all three towns, to help advise on the programme, and will shortly announce more details on how business can apply for the grant scheme.”