There was praise this week for Minister for Regional Development Danny Kennedy when he announced plans to extend his park and ride scheme across Northern Ireland.

This move came just days after a similarly progressive decision by the UUP man to allow free parking in Belfast city centre during the Christmas rush.

These measures are as much about ensuring free flow of traffic as they are about giving a leg-up to hard-pressed retailers.

However, left out in the cold have been the retailers and small businesses of South Belfast who have had their requests for common-sense measures to help trade rebuffed by the DRD.

There seems to be no reason why the DRD shouldn’t have acquiesced some time back to the reasonable demands of shopkeepers along the Lisburn Road for tidal parking. Such a move would enable shoppers to park on the cityward inside lane of the Lisburn Road in the afternoons — when the vast bulk of the traffic is heading out of the city. For a  year now, the DRD has been bogged down in an interminable consultation process which has resulted in exactly no movement on this burning issue.

Instead, traffic attendants, who have been effectively made redundant in the city centre are freed-up to come down harder-than-ever on consumers who wish to shop local along the Lisburn Road or Ormeau Road this yuletide.

To make matters worse, the DRD has chosen the four busiest-shopping days of the year, 20-23 December to carry out works on the Stockmans Lane flyover, in the process reducing the Lisburn Road to gridlock and forcing shoppers into the city centre.

Much remains to be done to ensure a level playing field for the small retailer — the launch of the Buy Local campaign this Christmas by the First and deputy First Minister notwithstanding. It’s our hope that the initiative by Minister Sammy Wilson to expand rate relief to small businesses is just the first of many measures by government in 2012 to give traders the help they need if they are to survive this grueling recession.