Closures in town centre spark outcry

High Street in Carrickfergus (file photo)  INCT 10-409-RM
High Street in Carrickfergus (file photo) INCT 10-409-RM

Renewed calls have been made for council and the Assembly to take urgent action over a “lack of footfall” in Carrick town centre.

It follows the news that two more town centre shops will close their doors next month: Pebbles Embroidery and Poundstretcher’s High Street branch.

Last week, the Times reported that Pebbles, which has had a presence on North Street for 32 years, would cease operating at the end of March.

Owners Jean and George Sharples pointed towards spiralling overhead costs, coupled with a lack of footfall in the town’s retail heart as the reasons behind the closure.

The development sparked an outcry among local residents with many taking to social media to voice their concerns over the situation.

“Rent and rates need to be brought down to give small businesses a chance,” said one Facebook user.

“The car parks in the town should be free,” another added.

However, there were suggestions that support from local shoppers is vital for the town centre to flourish. “The lack of footfall is the real reason that shops are closing,” one Carrick business owner said. “If rent and rates were free, shops would still have to close because too many people do not use the town.”

Rates for the area are made up of the regional rate set by the Northern Ireland Executive and the district rate struck by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

In a statement, the local government authority said: “All rate relief schemes are a matter for central government policy and are administered through Land and Property Services. The details of the existing rate relief schemes are on the land and property website.

“DFP are currently in the process of reviewing Northern Ireland’s non-domestic rating system and a consultation closed on January 25, 2016. Mid and East Antrim responded to this; details of the consultation are held on the DFP website.”

Meanwhile, the concerns are expected to be high on the agenda at the next meeting of Carrickfergus Town Centre Partnership, which was established at the beginning of the year to represent the views of all organisations with an interest in the town’s development.

It will take place on March 15 at 6.00pm in Carrickfergus Civic Centre.

Full story in this week’s Carrick Times.