MLAs call for more support for local traders

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart outside the old health and social services centre.
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart outside the old health and social services centre.

Local MLAs have called for further investment in Banbridge town centre, including the provision of additional car parking.

Speaking during an Assembly debate on the future of town centres in the Upper Bann area, Carla Lockhart, Jo-Anne Dobson and Sydney Anderson stressed the need for the Executive and the council to back local businesses.

Commending traders in the area for their resilience during the tough trading times of the troubles and the economic downturn, Ms Lockhart said: “It’s a changing commercial world with a focus on internet shopping and the introduction of out of town shopping, however there remains a buoyancy and a commitment to regenerating our town centres. Lurgan, Banbridge, Portadown and Craigavon have much to offer and therefore we need to invest and build on the infrastructure that exists.”

She took the opportunity to highlight the need for further projects in Banbridge aimed at increasing shop occupancy and revamping the streetscape, as well as calling for a more active marketing strategy for local town centres to show that Upper Bann is “open for business.”

The DUP representative also called on Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir to uphold a commitment he gave when he visited Banbridge with regard to looking at the possibility of using the old health centre site for the provision of additional parking in the town.

“I know the traders in Banbridge have concerns about a lack of public parking close to the town centre and this was one of many issues raised in the recent meeting with the Finance Minister which I attended,” she said.

“If the grounds of the old health centre are safe then there is no good reason it should not be put to use. I welcome his assurance that he will consult with the Health Minister and look forward to a speedy resolution of the issue and some feedback on making this available.”

Urging Executive support for local businesses, Mrs Dobson commented: “Investing in town centres is a crucial issue for economic stability and jobs right across Upper Bann, not only for Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge, but for the smaller villages from Gilford to Loughbrickland and from Waringstown to Donaghcloney.

“The bottom line is that, whilst it is important to continue to invest, improve and innovate our town centres, it is equally important that the Executive fully support the small businesses that trade there.”

The UUP MLA concluded by urging the Minister for Communities to ensure that in progressing future town centre regeneration initiatives, including the Banbridge Masterplan, that local voices will be listened to and their views taken on board.

Speaking after the Assembly debate, Mr Anderson stressed that towns in the Upper Bann area have “a lot of potential for further investment” and said politicians and traders must work with key stakeholders such as the Chamber of Commerce in each town, the ABC Council and government departments to ensure future economic growth.

“I made clear my belief that the key to encouraging investment in our town centres is to continue to engage positively with the business sector to further drive investment and further encourage people to start businesses in our towns. Adopting a positive vision is key as we seek to identify good practice and to promote and advertise what our town centres have to offer, not only in the local area but right across Northern Ireland,” the DUP man said.