Former Mayor seeks divine inspiration to help city centre shops

FORMER Mayor Councillor Ronnie Crawford has called for divine intervention to encourage trade in Lisburn's City Centre shops.

Mr Crawford has stressed the need for people to support local businesses and has now called on city centre churches to help in the campaign.

"Churches in East Belfast recently conducted a campaign urging residents to support their local shops," explained Mr Crawford. "Some ministers actually spent an entire day working behind the counter in some of the shops and I have suggested to our local council of churches that they should consider conducting a similar exercise.

"There is a great need for a wide community-based campaign to support local businesses and keep expenditure within the city."

Mr Crawford pointed to the recent debate surrounding the proposed John Lewis development and Sprucefield and said there was a real need to boost Lisburn's economy.

"The controversy surrounding the John Lewis development has highlighted the fragility of certain parts of the city centre economy which is due to the lack of sufficient footfall," he said. "Those parts of the city centre will not improve until there are sufficient attractive retail outlets there to draw shoppers in larger numbers. Those outlets however will not be attracted to invest until there is enough footfall to guarantee a return for their investment."

Mr Crawford went on: "The Council has a role to play by creating an economic environment which will make it a more attractive proposition to invest here rather than elsewhere by driving down costs. Landlords are already reducing rents in some areas but there is no flexibility from the Land and Property Services which has apparently no discretion to lower rates in areas of difficulty.

"Some retail outlets are now basing rent on turnover and there needs to be a similar approach by the rating agency if only on a temporary basis. The high level of business rates is closing shops in the city centre.

"The Council however can make a major contribution by cutting the level of rates and increasing the disparity in rates between Lisburn and Belfast thus making Lisburn a more attractive proposition for businesses and public sector jobs," he continued.

"The Council has one of the lowest rates in the country but that is due largely to the expansion in the rates base which has helped to mask the 5million increase in Council spending in the last three years. Council needs to cap increases in expenditure so that rates may actually fall in order to assist investment in the local economy.

"The Council should also consider how, for a period, the additional rates gathered from the John Lewis development can be used to assist in enhancing the attraction of the Market Square area to businesses," concluded Mr Crawford.