Finance Minister Simon Hamilton was guest speaker at a business breakfast in Carrickfergus town centre on Friday morning.
Visiting as the borough was hosting the Sevens rugby tournament and a week ahead of the Giro d’Italia, Mr Hamilton stressed the importance of staging key events to tie in with ongoing initiatives to revitalise the retail heart.
He said: “As well as being Finance Minister I’m a customer. I like to go out at weekends with my family and do things to entertain them, obviously, go to shops and buy things as well. Carrick’s a great place to come to, whenever you come for something like Armed Forces Day, or you come to the park on the way to something else, you do tend to spend money, sometimes without even realising, picking up a coffee here, messages, go to the butcher, the baker, the chemist whatever it is.
“You can’t have the Giro coming through the town every week or the Sevens every week. I realise retail is a major part of the offering towns have to put forward, but in addition to that if you are trying to draw other people in you either need quite speciality or niche retailing, but on top of that, it’s events, places to go to, good play parks, it’s good heritage facilities like Carrickfergus Castle.
“I think Carrickfergus has one of the biggest tourist assets in the whole of Norther Ireland, sitting right in the town centre and I think its’s exploiting the opportunities that presents.”
Mr Hamilton noted his department last year supported a pilot project to give greater ownership locally to the medieval fortress and link it closer to the town centre and believes this can be further enhanced
Referring to the public realm project and townscape heritage initiative, Mr Hamilton continued; “I think there’s lots of things happening in Carrick at the minute. Not only can people be proud of what’s happening, but they can look forward with a bit of hope, a bit of optimism, that this will draw in more people to what I think is a good town with lots of advantages and that will then hopefully bring spin off benefits for shops, and cafes and restaurant,and bars in the town.”
Speaking to the TIMES following the breakfast hosted by Carrickfergus DUP branch in Dobbin’s Inn, Mr Hamilton also pointed to the positive impact of the Small Business Rate Relief scheme “several hundred here in Carrick have benefitted” and Empty Premises Relief scheme introduced by his predecessor Sammy Wilson, estimating about 10 new outlets have opened in Carrick.
“It doesn’t fill in all the gaps in the high street and we knew that it wouldn’t. We knew it would provide an incentive for some just to take that step to open up a new business in very difficult times.”
Welcoming the recent jobs announcement by Schrader Electronics, Mr Hamilton added with the upgrade of the A2 “Carrickfergus is well placed to see more given its very close proximity to Belfast”.