Business owners urged to engage over town future

Business owners urged to engage over town future

6 October 2021

THE Downpatrick business community has been urged to play a full part in the consultation exercise on the continued economic regeneration of the town.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council is spearheading the initiative and local councillor Dermot Curran appealing to businesses to get involved.

While a number of politicians are in favour of appointing a town centre manager to work in Downpatrick, local authority officials are not keen. However, before any decision is made about the way forward, the council is keen to hear what the business community has to say.

It was revealed last week that there are 25 empty shop units across the town, with Cllr Curran expressing “concern” at the high number, explaining that as part of the consultation, every business in the town is being asked for its view on what measures could be taken to support its continued regeneration and to attract new investment and shoppers.

The global pandemic hit a number of local businesses hard and while there are some politicians in favour of appointing a town centre manager to work in Downpatrick, others believe that the county town should not be given preferential treatment.

Cllr Curran said whatever plan is devised to boost the town’s economic fortunes, it must have the support of the business community.

“I am appealing to businesses when they get the consultation letter from the council to respond and make their voice count,” he continued.

“This is a vitally important exercise and it is crucial that we get it right. We currently have too many empty businesses and this is an issue that we need to address. Revitalising the town centre is crucial.”

Cllr Curran — who is in favour of appointing a town centre manager — believes that Downpatrick should also have a vibrant body to represent traders’ interests, one that could play a key role in helping attract investment and new business to the area.

He said as one of the province’s county towns, it is disappointing that traders do not have a dedicated body to not only represent them, but articulate their views.

“As we move out of lockdown and look forward to a post-Covid world, businesses will have an increasingly important role to play,” suggested Cllr Curran.

“Putting the needs of the business community front and centre is essential and attracting additional footfall has the potential to benefit a significant number of traders. Other towns which have vibrant traders’ bodies or town centre managers have previously done well and I want to see Downpatrick included on this list.”

As ambitious plans are being advanced for the regeneration of the former Irish Street police base and a number of empty adjacent buildings, Cllr Curran said the current consultation with traders could not be more timely.

“There is a need to provide a direct link between the business community, statutory organisations, a raft of government departments, key funders and the local authority and someone to oversee future development proposals,” he continued.

Cllr Curran said the Irish Street regeneration scheme could create new jobs and act as a catalyst for additional investment, explaining that in the short term, any help which existing businesses can be provided with will be more than welcome.

He has also welcomed a £200,000 revitalisation scheme Church Street and hoped that a planned review of traffic light timings in the town centre could go some way towards helping ease congestion at peak periods.

He added: “I believe that the economic revitalisation of Downpatrick depends on a key link between the business community, local authority and others. I hope that this vision can be realised.”