Larne and Carrick traders to be consulted on town centre boost scheme

Larne and Carrick could become Business Improvement Districts aimed at stimulating town centre commerce if local traders are willing to pay a levy.

The initiative would see town centre traders fund a levy of between one and three per cent to promote, market and advertise their town centres with a view to increasing footfall and spend.

The move came after Ballymena became the first Business Improvement District (BID) in Northern Ireland, when 84 per cent of traders there supported joining the scheme.

The issue of whether to extend the initiative to Larne and Carrick was discussed at the most recent meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council’s Economic Growth and Development Committee on April 20.

According to a council report, the Ballymena BID will produce £1.5m of activity over the next five years, including initiatives around events promotion and marketing, accessibility, business support, safety, physical environment and innovation.

The report states: “Evidence shows that BIDs towns are more successful and that it is a proven process to get Traders, Council and all relevant Public Sector organisations working together to the one vision.

“BIDs is an extremely effective model to transform a town centre and address ongoing issues such as, vacancy, turnover and footfall.”

It adds that “critical to a successful BID is the right town centre management framework.”

Committee members voted to give permission to Officers to scope the possibility of a BID in Larne and Carrickfergus and examine the current town centre structures for adequate delivery.

They also voted to send a letter of congratulations to the Ballymena BIDs Team on securing the status of Northern Ireland’s first BID.

Speaking after the meeting, Economic Growth and Development Committee member Councillor Gordon Lyons told The Times: “We’re going into it with an open mind and everybody is exploring the option.

“Ballymena is quite a significant shopping town with larger shops and lots of facilities.

“Larne and Carrick are smaller and it might be more difficult to get the recommended footfall as easily.

“Each area is different and each area has different strengths and weaknesses.

“It will require a lot of consultation and the majority of traders need to sign up for it.”

Chairman of Larne Traders Forum John Shannon commented: “We in the Traders forum are monitoring how the scheme works in Ballymena before deciding.

“Larne town centre would be smaller than Ballymena and this is for businesses in the heart of the town.

“Some people may be enthusiastic about it while others may not want to pay more in rates and will say that rates are high enough. A certain percentage of traders would have to back the scheme before it becomes compulsory.”