A LOCAL trader has branded Dunluce Street “the forgotten part of Larne”, after it “missed out” on a £150,000 regeneration package.
The cash windfall, part of the Department of Social Development’s ReStore programme, will be used to boost business performance in the town centre by creating a more attractive environment, improving the look of shop fronts and encouraging shoppers and visitors into the area.
But traders on Dunluce Street feel that they and other shop owners on the fringes of the town centre have been “overlooked”.
One local businessman, who did not wish to be named, told the Times: “From what I understand, this money will be used to improve shops on part of the Main Street. But there are other areas of the town, such as Dunluce Street, Point Street and Lower Cross Street, that would benefit much more from this funding.
“Dunluce Street and the area around it looks like Beirut in comparison to the town centre – there are many vacant premises and virtually every shop front on the street needs to be repainted.
“Myself and several other shop owners feel the area needs to be brightened up to attract shoppers, but it seems that, once again, this part of the town has missed out and been forgotten about. Main Street is busy most of the time anyway, but Dunluce Street is often like a ghost town because many shoppers simply bypass it or don’t even know it is there.”
The frustrated trader suggested that the £150k package could have been divided equally among business throughout the town, to enable everyone to get “a fair share” of the funding pot.
“If every shop in the town had been given, say, £500 of this money, then that would cover 300 shops, and there is nowhere near that many shops in Larne. I have been quoted £250 to have my shop front painted, so with £500 I could have it painted it twice,” he added.
But John Shannon, chairman of Larne Traders Forum, said the ReStore programme was about “more than simply providing a lick of paint for shop fronts”, and claimed that the funding would benefit the town as a whole.
He added: “It has taken us nearly two years to secure this money from the Department, and unfortunately there is simply not enough in the pot to share among all outlets in the town.
“It would be great if there was a sufficient amount to go around, as the trader has suggested, but it is just not possible to get more funding at this point in time.
“The DSD wanted to focus on a particular area of the town for the ReStore programme and an area of Main Street was chosen. The Forum had to go along with that decision, and we feel it will tie in neatly with the ongoing Town Hall upgrade that is currently taking place.”
Mr Shannon added that improved signage would be erected in the town centre, pointing shoppers towards other areas such as Dunluce Street.
“I agree that the area around Dunluce Street is not as vibrant as it once was, but hopefully this initiative will help pull shoppers into that part of the town and entice them to drift into streets that they normally would not go into.
“It is also worth bearing in mind that the ReStore programme is a pilot scheme, so there may be scope for further funding for other areas of Larne in the future,” he concluded.
The programme has been successfully implemented in parts of Belfast in recent years, including the Greater Castle Street area in December 2008, Smithfield and Library Quarter in May 2009, and Glen Road in November 2010.
Larne Town councillor Drew Niblock welcomed the funding boost for Main Street and described it as “fantastic news” for the town.
“I would personally like to congratulate the Traders Forum, the Town Development Office and the Project Steering Group for the fantastic work they have done to date in achieving this grant from the DSD,” he said.
However, the DUP man also expressed concerns that other areas of the town would be missing out on the benefits of the ReStore programme.
“This work will undoubtedly improve and enhance a section of the Main Street, but I can’t help wonder how traders in other areas of the town will feel, such as Lower Cross Street, Point Street and Dunluce Street.
“These areas are in a particularly sorry state, and if there are parts of Larne which need regeneration funding, it’s these areas.
“Following the implementation of the pilot ReStore project, I will be seeking support from my fellow councillors to lobby the newly elected DSD Minister Nelson McCausland for further funding in Larne, which hopefully will be directed into these forgotten areas,” he concluded.