Retail NI: ‘Northern Ireland’s rural towns can’t be left behind’

A representative body for independent retailers in Northern Ireland has warned that rural towns and villages cannot be left behind as the Belfast ‘city deal’ progresses.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said that rural communities are also facing a loss of access to cash as a result of a series of ATM thefts.

Last week, the the Belfast city deal was given the green light, which will see at least £350 million invested in the Belfast area over the net 15 years. A similar deal is progressing for the Derry-Strabane area.

It is crucially important that our rural towns and villages are not left behind. There is no more important issue in forthcoming council elections than the regeneration of out towns and cities.

“Retail NI wants to see the newly elected local council officials hit the ground running in May with town and village deals in their rural area,” said Roberts.

He added: “In our recently published ‘Regeneration NI’ report, Retail NI outlined the need for the establishment of a rural town and village infrastructure fund to support the regeneration of our rural towns and villages.”

Roberts argued that investment in built-up areas outside of the largest cities and towns should be a key infrastructure project.

We need to see: a rural small business strategy established to provide support for existing businesses and the next generation of small-to-medium enterprises; a review of rural transport connectivity; and faster progress on the roll-out for rural high-speed broadband.

“The rural community as a whole is facing a huge challenge, with the potential loss of ATMs as a result of the recent robberies and the loss of the rural rate relief for bank machines,” claimed Roberts.

He concluded by saying: “If the gangs behind these ATM robberies are not stopped there is a real danger many rural communities will lose local access to cash. They are attacking local family-owned small businesses which are the backbone of the rural economy.”