Junior Ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney have welcomed the publication of the Executive’s High Street Task Force report ‘Delivering a 21st Century High Street’, along with its 14 recommendations.
The Junior Ministers, who are joint chairs of the task force, were presented with the report today by High Street Task Force members Glyn Roberts, Retail NI; Seamus McAleavey, NICVA; and Cathy Reynolds, SOLACE; and paid tribute to the work carried out and the collaboration involved from both inside and outside of government.
Junior Minister Gary Middleton said: “Our high streets have experienced constant and increasing change, particularly in recent years.
“We want to empower people and communities to reshape and repurpose their local villages, towns and cities, to create a more diverse high street - high streets that are clean, green, family friendly destinations that are welcoming for everyone.
“I want to thank the High Street Task Force for bringing forward this report which has been developed to prioritise those actions that can drive delivery and build momentum.
“A joined-up and collaborative approach must continue over the coming years to deliver high streets, village, town and city centres that are fit for the 21st century and this report provides the next steps for the new Ministers in the next mandate to take forward work to revitalise our village, town and city centres.”
Junior Minister Declan Kearney said: “We want to see our cities, towns and villages regain and retain their vibrancy, purpose and sense of place.
"High streets of the future should be safe and attractive gathering points for whole communities, where people can live, work, shop, learn, do business, use public services and enjoy their leisure time.
“The High Street Task Force report provides a long-term focus on addressing the transformation of our high streets and recognises that there will be a requirement for a number of short, medium and longer-term interventions.
“I want to thank Task Force for their hard work and commitment to date and commend the joint-working and co-design roles played by departments, retail and other business organisations, trade unions, local councils and the community and voluntary sectors.
“I believe this report and its recommendations can play a vital role in revitalising our high streets.”
Glyn Roberts, Retail NI Chief Executive and Chair of the High Street Task Force – Influencing Policy and Strategy sub-group, said: “This report sets out proposals for a five year reconstruction plan for our high streets, reform of our business rates and the need to improve our retail planning policy.
“We hope that an incoming Executive after the election will hit the ground running with this plan and begin the long road of recovery for our high streets.”
Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA and member of the High Street Task Force – Developing Capacity sub-group, said: “It is obvious change is happening. We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has speeded up during the Covid pandemic by necessity. Online commerce is the norm and communities need to re-invent there town centres.
“Only a new vision will work as the past is the past. Communities are the heart of the city, town and villages centres. We can build vibrant high streets; places people want to work in, shop in and enjoy themselves in. It is achievable.”
Cathy Reynolds, Director of City Regeneration and Development, Place and Economy Department, Belfast City Council, and representing SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives), said: “Our high streets have experienced significant change and challenges over recent years and it is critical that there is a focused effort to address these challenges and build on opportunities to ensure the future sustainability of our towns and cities.
“A long term sustained approach is required to ensure high streets are supported to thrive and most importantly survive.”
The High Street Task Force report and its recommendations will be subject to consideration by the next Executive who will determine how it can be aligned with the future Programme for Government.