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Disheartened traders are wary of Queen of Shops

By Paul Ainsworth

LOCAL traders have expressed their scepticism over a new ‘action plan’ to boost business inspired by TV star Mary Portas.

Belfast City Council are currently discussing plans to initiate the retail plan, which is part of a government-backed scheme by Channel Four presenter Mary Portas, who is championing the independent retail sector in a bid to prevent more businesses falling victim to recession.

Known by her nickname ‘Queen of Shops’, the British business guru has been tasked with drawing up the ‘Portas Review’ which offers guidelines on reinvigorating town centres and other retail areas, such as the Lisburn Road. These include encouraging ‘responsible’ landlord practises and giving retailers a greater say through organisations such as the Lisburn Road Business Association (LRBA).

Belfast has been highlighted for inclusion in the report, and the council are hoping their plan, using tips offered through Mary, will breath new life into retail areas.

However, speaking this week as the plan was discussed in City Hall, a spokesman for the LBRA cast doubt on the ability of Mary or Stormont to help prevent further closures along the once-thriving thoroughfare.

“Unfortunately, this comes across as something Ministers and councillors will discuss while it’s quite high-profile, but whether it will actually produce any results is a different matter,” trader Mark Taylor said.

“Mary does seem to know what she’s talking about in terms of what independent retail needs, which is support and nurturing. Yet this isn’t something we are getting at all.”

Referring to data showing the Lisburn Road had the highest number of parking tickets issued anywhere in the North last year he continued: “We’re being hammered into submission, and the traffic warden situation is almost the last straw and at this rate it will take more than a TV star to pull us out of the hole.”

A council spokesperson explained that the programme being discussed includes: “A range of marketing, business development, networking and mentoring initiatives to improve the performance of existing businesses, and to increase footfall in identified retail locations.”


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