Committee's Plans For Regenerating Our Town Centres

Session: 2009/2010

Date: 02 November 2009

Reference: SD 01/09/10

Providing practical support for local councils is at the heart of plans for town centre regeneration announced today by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Social Development. The recommendations come in the Social Development Committee’s Report on its Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration, presented to the Assembly today.

Committee Chairperson, Simon Hamilton MLA said: “Northern Ireland is famous for its historic towns and growing cities, where for generations local communities have worked and shopped together. In recent years, some of these towns have been lacking in economic vitality. It is crucial that this is addressed. We want to see councils and town centre management partnerships given the support and funding they need to bring life and energy back to our town centres. The Committee is particularly keen to see Business Improvement Districts established throughout Northern Ireland – these voluntary limited-life organisations have a proven track record in providing regeneration services to business ratepayers.”

He continued: “The Committee was concerned to hear hard-working regeneration bodies, outside the main population centres in Northern Ireland, complain about geographical bias. The Committee wants this to be addressed by the reorganisation of regeneration funding. The Committee wants a competitive Town Centre Regeneration Fund to which voluntary and statutory bodies could apply. The Fund would transparently provide finance to the best regeneration projects, which are in sympathy with local master plans throughout Northern Ireland. As a scheme like this has addressed geographical bias in Scotland, the Committee wants to replicate its success over here and bring the benefits of town centre regeneration to all parts of Northern Ireland.

He added: Practical regeneration support for our towns and growing cities should be a priority for the Department for Social Development. Given the importance of this issue and the significant related expenditure, the Committee was surprised to learn that the Department does not have an overarching strategy for town centre regeneration or a strong evaluation framework. The Committee hopes that this report will lead to a renewal of the Department’s approach to town centre regeneration, the provision of ring-fenced funding and securing of longer term economic and social benefits for the citizens of all our towns and growing cities.”

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) allow businesses in a district to group together to plan and finance ways of improving their local area. BIDs originated in Canada in the 1960s and are currently operating in some towns in Northern Ireland on an informal basis. (Their official implementation would require legislation which does not exist in Northern Ireland.) BIDs activities are additional to those already provided by the local council and primarily focus on environmental management (street cleaning, planting of trees, flowers etc.), capital improvements such as shop front improvements and street furniture.

The town centre regeneration report is based on extensive evidence-taking by the influential Social Development Committee. The report stresses the importance of using the knowledge and expertise of people on the ground in organisations like district councils, town centre management partnerships and Chambers of Commerce in order to make town centre regeneration work.

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