Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo
Session 2009/2010
First Report

Social Development Committee

Inquiry into
Town Centre Regeneration

TOGETHER WITH THE MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS, MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
AND WRITTEN SUBMISSIONS RELATING TO THE REPORT

Ordered by Committee for Social Development to be printed 8 October 2009

Report: 14/09/10R (Committee for Social Development)

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Membership and Powers

The Committee for Social Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Order 48.

The Committee has power to:

The Committee has 11 members including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson and a quorum of 5.

The membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:

Mr Simon Hamilton (Chairperson)2,5
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)

Mr Mickey Brady
Mrs Mary Bradley 4
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Fra McCann
Mr Billy Armstrong 3
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín 1
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Alex Easton 6
Ms Anna Lo

1 With effect from 20 May 2008 Ms Carál Ní Chuilín replaced Mrs Claire McGill
2 With effect from 9 June 2008 Mr David Simpson MP MLA replaced Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA as Chairperson of the Social Development Committee.
3 With effect from 29 September 2008 Mr Billy Armstrong replaced Mr Fred Cobain
4 With effect from 29 June 2009 Mrs Mary Bradley replaced Mr Alban Maginness
5 With effect from 4 July 2009 Mr Simon Hamilton replaced Mr David Simpson MP MLA as Chairperson of the Social Development Committee
6 With effect from 14 September 2009 Mr Alex Easton replaced Miss Michelle McIlveen

Table of Contents

Report

Executive Summary

Summary of Recommendations

Introduction

Policy Background

Review of Evidence

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings Relating to the Report

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 3

Department for Social Development Submissions

Appendix 4

Other Written Submissions

Appendix 5

Other Papers

Appendix 6

List of Witnesses

Executive Summary

The Department for Social Development assumed responsibility for urban regeneration from 1 December 1999. Following the production of the EDAW Report, the Department devised a draft Town Centre Reinvigoration Policy in 2001. This was subject to review and reissue in August 2007 with the publication of “Vital & Viable – a good practice guide for breathing new life into cities and towns."

The Committee for Social Development considered evidence from stakeholders indicating dissatisfaction with the outworking of town centre regeneration strategies. The Committee therefore agreed, at its meeting of 11 October 2007, that it would undertake an Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration Policy.

In light of the evidence and in response to the Department’s internal review of its town centre regeneration policies, the Committee’s recommendations focus on the following:

The Committee strongly believes that the development of an overarching policy for town centre regeneration is essential and that revised governance arrangements are necessary to ensure the effective delivery of such a policy. The Committee also believes that the Reform of Public Administration and other ongoing efficiency reviews present an opportunity for the Department to overcome the obstacles to policy development – particularly cross-departmental buy-in – as identified in its submission to the Inquiry.

The Committee strongly believes that the effectiveness of an over-arching town centre regeneration policy should be determined using a robust set of Key Performance Indicators. Evaluation of policy should be based on a balanced set of deprivation, social exclusion, economic and commercial indicators.

The Committee supports the view that the enlarged post-RPA councils with properly constituted town centre management bodies are the appropriate organizations to manage town centre regeneration. The Committee commends the Minister for her support of statutory Business Improvement Districts; urges her to bring forward proposals and highlights the need for a commensurate transfer of funding to councils to allow them to undertake their enhanced role in respect of town centre regeneration.

The Committee’s fact-finding visits highlighted a number of practical and affordable ways in which useful support can be provided to councils and other stakeholders engaged in town centre regeneration. The Committee believes that at least some of the funding of town centre regeneration should be made through a Town Centre Regeneration Fund similar to that in use in Scotland. Such a fund would be used to support a range of short term capital investment measures and could transparently address perceived geographical bias in respect of the allocation of urban regeneration investment.

The Committee supports the position that town centre regeneration policy and related planning controls should act together to favour the facilitation of town centre or edge-of-centre developments. The Committee believes that this principle should apply to all town centre regeneration intervention generally and in particular to practical issues such as pedestrianisation and car-parking.

Summary of Recommendations

The recommendations arising from the Committee for Social Development’s Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration are summarised as follows:

Recommendation 1: The Committee strongly recommends that an overarching strategic framework for town centre regeneration be developed and put in place before the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration. The Committee further recommends that the Department should also develop proposals either for improved cross-departmental co-operation or alternative governance arrangements for town centre regeneration.
Recommendation 2: The Committee recommends that the Department delegate control of town centre regeneration programmes to the enlarged councils and appropriately constituted town centre partnership bodies. To ensure effective and co-ordinated delivery of town centre regeneration, the Committee further recommends that ring-fenced financial support be secured and that the Assembly consider the provision of an appropriate level of advisory support and liaison for councils.
Recommendation 3: The Committee recommends that the Department reconstitutes its town centre regeneration policies in the form of a hierarchy of interlinked plans – from regional development strategies through to masterplans and operational plans.
Recommendation 4: The Committee recommends that the Department imaginatively reviews the content of masterplans so as to include, as appropriate, strategic regeneration initiatives including the development of local rivers and shared spaces as social amenities.
Recommendation 5: The Committee recommends that the Department considers the development of a Town Centre Regeneration Fund - similar to that in use in Scotland - as a means of assisting key stakeholders to make lasting practical improvements to town centres and as a way of transparently addressing perceived geographical bias.
Recommendation 6: The Committee strongly recommends that prior to the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration, the Department publishes the details of and implements its monitoring and evaluation structure including Key Performance Indicators. The Committee further recommends that, in future, town centre regeneration interventions by the Department should be prefaced and followed by a review of relevant Key Performance Indicators.
Recommendation 7: The Committee recommends that the Department develop town centre regeneration KPIs which include a balanced range of indicators relating to: economic activity; community cohesion; poverty; disadvantage and disability access.
Recommendation 8: The Committee recommends that the Department set out a menu of town centre regeneration interventions designed to actively address inequality and exclusion and to be delivered by a range of agencies working in concert.
Recommendation 9: The Committee recommends that the Department provide long term core funding for town centre management partnerships. The Committee further recommends that the Department work with the enlarged councils to develop efficient cost-effective town centre management structures which may provide support for a number of towns in a council area.
Recommendation 10: The Committee recommends that prior to the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration, the Department should bring forward legislation for the introduction of statutory Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) or similar town centre management bodies. The Committee further recommends that town centre management bodies should be tasked with providing a combination of strategic vision and practical support to town centre stakeholders including shop front and evening economy promotions.
Recommendation 11: The Committee recommends that in-line with draft PPS5 a simple and transparent test be applied to proposed out-of-town shopping centres based primarily on the economic impact on existing retailers but that less stringent conditions should be applied to edge-of-town or town centre developments.
Recommendation 12: The Committee recommends that the Department (with other departments) clarifies the roles and responsibilities in relation to the provision of car parking capacity and the control of car parking charges. The Committee further recommends that car parking capacity and related charges be developed in sympathy with town centre and/or edge-of-town regeneration activities.
Recommendation 13: The Committee recommends that the Department (with other departments) clarify roles and responsibilities in relation to pedestrianisation and that any plans for further (or partial) pedestrianisation of town centres be carefully reviewed in terms of the impact on all stakeholders including the visually impaired.
Recommendation 14: The Committee recommends that the Department ensures that masterplans identify all derelict and vacant lots required for development to support town centre regeneration, and, that the Department reviews its practices and publishes its record in respect of the vesting of derelict buildings and vacant lots throughout Northern Ireland.
Recommendation 15: The Committee recommends that Department ensure that town centre regeneration strategies include access to decent affordable housing through the imaginative use of brown field mixed developments.
Recommendation 16: The Committee recommends that the Department develop and implement good practice guidelines in respect of consultations relating to town centre regeneration.
Recommendation 17: The Committee recommends that councils be given enhanced powers in relation to the management of utility companies’ planned maintenance and infrastructure construction work so as to minimise disruption to the economic life of town centres.

Introduction

Terms of Reference

1. The Committee for Social Development agreed, at its meeting of 11 October 2007, that the terms of reference for its inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration should be as follows:

I. Assessment of the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres;

II. Identification of areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty;

III. Consideration of the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when developing and taking forward regeneration initiatives; and

IV. Identification and consideration of relevant experiences elsewhere in terms of the effectiveness of policy interventions.

It was agreed that the inquiry would not consider regeneration issues in Belfast or Derry / Londonderry.

Inquiry Stages

2. The Committee agreed an inquiry plan, the stages of which involved the issuing of a public invitation for stakeholders to submit evidence; the issuing of requests for information to government departments; the receipt of written and oral evidence; the commissioning of supporting research; the review of evidence and the agreement of an inquiry report.

3. Oral evidence was received from December 2007 until June 2008, from a variety of stakeholders including: the Department for Social Development; Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA); Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations; Ballymena Town Centre Business Improvement District; Larne Borough Council; Association for Town Centre Management (ATCM); Federation of Small Businesses; Cookstown District Council (CDC) and Strabane District Council (SDC).

4. In response to the evidence presented to the inquiry, the Committee undertook a number of fact-finding visits including: a visit to the Ballymun area of Dublin and the Dublin Docklands area. Members also undertook a visit in October 2008 to review the Boston Main Streets Programme (in Boston, Massachusetts) and urban regeneration projects in Providence (Rhode Island).

5. At the final stage, the Committee sought written and oral evidence from the Department for Social Development, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association and the Department of the Environment.

6. This report has been produced in order to highlight the issues affecting stakeholders and set out helpful recommendations in respect of Town Centre Regeneration policy.

Policy Background

Reinvigoration of Town Centres

7. In September 1999 EDAW consultants were commissioned by the Department of the Environment (DOE) to report and make recommendations on town centre reinvigoration. Following a consultation, the “Reinvigoration of Town Centres" or EDAW Report[1] was produced in January 2000. The report contained 27 recommendations in all.

8. The Department for Social Development, which assumed responsibility for urban regeneration from 1 December 1999, undertook a further consultation process on the EDAW report during 2000, including a conference on the issue in October 2000. The EDAW report formed the basis of a draft Town Centre Reinvigoration Policy which was developed by the Department. This was agreed by the Department for Social Development’s Management Board in May 2001.

9. Following on from the Departmental Management Board’s acceptance of the draft policy, the Department attempted to secure agreement from other institutions. The Department advised[2] that owing to the additional complexity created by the post-devolution institutional context, agreement from other departments was not secured. The functions of the Department of the Environment (DOE) which were relevant to the Town Centre Reinvigoration Policy had been divided between three Departments – the Department for Social Development, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) and DOE – and the policy also had relevance to the roles of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP). Given the wide ranging and cross-departmental nature of the content, the Department sought agreement from the Committee for Social Development and the Executive. The Department reported that there were considerable delays in approval at each stage and that work was halted when the Assembly was suspended in October 2002.

10. At the time of suspension, the Department had started work on an equality impact assessment of the draft policy and this continued into 2003 with a consultation exercise. The Department advised that decision-making was delayed as Direct Rule Ministers did not wish to pre-empt the decisions of a local Minister by actioning the draft policy.

11. In late 2003, the Department decided to re-draft the policy document. However, the Department reported that there had been significant developments in regeneration policy and practice in Belfast and Derry / Londonderry and that consequently a single city and town centre regeneration policy for Northern Ireland was required.

12. Work on the wider policy continued until early 2005. As the document was finalised internally, the then Secretary of State made an announcement on the Review of Public Administration which indicated the intention that responsibility for town centre regeneration would transfer to councils in April 2009. In light of this, the Department considered that further development of the strategy should not be taken forward.

Vital & Viable

13. In August 2007, the Department for Social Development issued “Vital and Viable – a good practice guide for breathing new life into cities and towns."[3] This document is designed to provide guidance for areas which did not have specific detailed development strategies and in particular focuses on towns and cites outside Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. The guide identifies critical success factors for reinvigoration projects and necessary ingredients to secure government support. The guide highlights the importance of town/city centre partnerships and the role of city and town centre strategic plans.

Regional Development Strategy (RDS)

14. The RDS was formulated in 2001. All Government departments are required to have regard to it in the exercise of development functions. In addition, planning policies and development plans prepared by the DOE Planning Service and development schemes prepared by the Department for Social Development must be in general conformity with the RDS.

15. Formulated under the Strategic Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, the RDS is intended to provide an overarching strategic framework for development plans and policies, guiding public and private investment decisions relating to land use. The RDS sets out the spatial development strategy, based on a hub, corridor and gateway approach. A key objective is to promote balanced and integrated growth across the network of cities, main and small towns, and their rural hinterlands.

16. The Strategy is designed to promote “a sustained urban renaissance based on maintaining compact cities and towns and creating high quality urban environments to underpin their role as hubs of economic activity and providing more attractive towns in which to live."

17. The RDS sets out a number of Strategic Planning Guidelines relevant to town centre regeneration. These include:

Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 5 – Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments

18. A draft version of PPS 5 was published in July 2006[4]. It was designed to replace PPS 5 ‘Retailing and Town Centres’, which was published by the DOE in 1996. The key objective of the new PPS was to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres in a manner consistent with achieving the strategic objectives of the RDS.

19. Draft PPS 5 includes guidance on the role of Development Plans, which are prepared by DOE, and advice on promoting town centres. It also sets out guidance in respect of the control of development.

20. The draft PPS sets out the importance of promoting town centres. It recognises the need for DOE, DRD and DSD to work together with retailers, District Councils and others “to assist the regeneration of town centres." The policy therefore supports the need for a comprehensive approach to the regeneration of our cities and towns. It also highlights the importance of the Department’s urban regeneration strategy.

21. The draft PPS also contains a number of policies, including a sequential test, which are designed to ensure that town centres are the first choice for major retailing. It also recognises that district and local centres have an important role in accommodating an appropriate scale of retailing.

22. The draft PPS 5 has been redrafted, taking account of the representations received to the consultation process in 2006. Following a Judicial Review in 2007, responsibility for PPS 5 has been transferred from DRD to DOE. The draft PPS 5 is the subject of an ongoing judicial review.

DSD Town Centre Regeneration Policies & Practices

23. The Department advised the Committee (November 2007) that it was to undertake a stocktake[5] of its policies and practices relating to Town Centre Regeneration in early 2008.

24. The programmes and tools used by the Department for its urban regeneration work are:

Masterplanning

25. This is used to facilitate the physical, social and economic regeneration of an area. Masterplans are to provide a basis for planned intervention and identify potential implications for economic and social development, the likely market response to intervention, timescales and potential delivery vehicles.

26. The Department has prepared masterplans (or town centre strategies) for: Ballymena, Omagh, Portrush, Ballycastle, areas of Derry / Londonderry (Clooney, Clondermot, City Centre (Heart of the City - Urban Design Strategy) and areas of Belfast (North West Quarter Parts 1 and 2).

27. The Department is preparing masterplans and strategies as follows: areas of Belfast (North, South, East, West and Greater Shankill Strategic Frameworks; Westside and Northside Masterplans and Greater Clarendon (Sailortown)); Antrim, Armagh, Carrickfergus, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Larne, Lisburn, Strabane, Craigavon (Urban Area Integrated Development Framework).

28. The Department advises that masterplans or strategies are planned for the following towns in 2009-10: Bangor, Coleraine, Enniskillen, Newry, Newtownabbey and Newtownards.

Amending the planning context

29. The Department has powers under planning legislation to promote regeneration schemes – these powers extend to the vesting of properties necessary to allow a regeneration scheme to proceed. The Department advised the Committee that vesting powers are viewed as a final recourse and indicated that it could not currently, meaningfully evaluate the effectiveness of its powers under planning legislation to promote town centre regeneration

Comprehensive Development (CD) Schemes

30. CD Schemes are large regeneration schemes in areas suffering from dereliction, neglect and market failure. The Department acquires land, possibly using its vesting powers, for the purposes of promoting a regeneration project and then disposes of the land to a private sector developer. CD schemes have been carried out in Lurgan and Armagh.

31. CD schemes can have a major impact on a town centre. A recent example has been the Maritime Area in Carrickfergus. An evaluation found that the scheme had successfully transformed a previously derelict area that was blighting the whole town. It had created 260 new residential units, a supermarket, cinema, offices, bars and restaurants and new public open spaces. £21 million of private investment (at 1993 prices) was levered in from a net public investment of £4 million.

32. The Department indicated that it believed that CD Schemes could be very effective in providing a wider urban offering, attracting private sector investment; redeveloping derelict sites and creating jobs.

Urban Development Grants (UDG)

33. The Department may provide financial assistance to private sector property owners and developers to encourage the development of vacant, derelict or underused land and buildings. These grants have been used for some years in Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. Between 1990 and 2004, a similar grant scheme called the Urban Development Programme was run in other towns by the International Fund for Ireland. When the IFI ceased this activity, the Department established a pilot UDG scheme covering Ballymoney, Larne, Lurgan, Dungannon and Strabane.

34. The Department indicated that despite difficulties relating to fluctuating market conditions, UDGs remain popular in advancing projects which were on the margins of economic viability.

Public Realm / Environmental Improvements:

35. Public Realm and Environmental Improvement schemes aim to improve the appearance of the public areas in city and town centres. Generally, these schemes involve improvements to the quality of paving, street lighting and street furniture to make town centres more attractive to visitors and shoppers. Many such schemes have been undertaken by the Department in recent years. Some of the most significant projects have been in Cookstown, Banbridge, Omagh, Newcastle, Coleraine and Ballycastle. Major schemes are planned or being considered for Armagh, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Dungannon Lurgan, Portadown and Portrush, subject to budgetary provision.

36. The Department indicated that it believes that a good quality public realm scheme can have a significant impact on a town centre. For example, the Department quoted the scheme undertaken in Banbridge between 2002 and 2005 which reportedly reduced vacancy rates for commercial property in the improved area to zero.

Shop Fronts Scheme

37. The Shop Fronts Scheme is designed to help improve customer numbers for small retailers which are fundamentally economically sound, by enhancing the outward appearance of shops.

38. The Department indicated that this scheme has successfully increased the turnover for the participating businesses.

Town Centre Promotions and Marketing Scheme

39. The Town Centre Promotions and Marketing Schemes assist with the better promotion and marketing of Northern Ireland’s town and city centres outside Belfast and the North West. There is an annual budget of £200,000. All towns and cities outside Belfast and the North West were invited to apply for funding through their council or town centre manager in June 2005 - 31 applications were received by the closing date and funding was awarded to 17 towns, with grants ranging between £20,000 and £75,000.

40. The Department indicated that the success of the Town Centre Promotions and Marketing Scheme was variable.

Town Centre Living Initiative

41. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive operates the Town Centre Living Initiative. This concept is based on the Living Over the Shops (LOTS) scheme introduced on a pilot basis in 2002. Town Centre Living Initiative areas have been declared in a number of towns where the local council has a regeneration strategy that includes the promotion of town centre living. Town Centre Living Initiative areas are designed to encourage the regeneration of town centres by bringing private rented housing back to the areas. Grants are offered to landlords to convert vacant or underused buildings into apartments often leaving the ground floor as a shop or office.

42. The Department has indicated that the Town Centre Living Initiative has helped to provide some additional accommodation in town centres but that the Department’s policy of requiring a residential element in town centre regeneration plans would have had a more significant impact on increasing the availability of town centre accommodation.

Review of Evidence

43. Written and oral evidence was received from December 2007 until September 2009, from a variety of stakeholders. An evaluation of the evidence and consequent recommendations are presented below.

In reviewing the evidence submitted to the Inquiry, the Committee identified a number of key themes. These are set out as follows:

Overall Strategic Framework

44. In oral evidence to the Committee, the Association of Town Centre Management (ACTM) in Northern Ireland[6] advised that intervention in town centre regeneration in the past has been driven by single issues as opposed to being as a result of an overarching strategic framework. The ACTM argued that, in the absence of a clear retailing planning policy, it was difficult for town and city centre managers to apply strategies at an operational level. ATCM believe that this “lack of policy" has hindered the growth of town centres.

45. An absence of an overall strategic framework and a perceived lack of an inter-departmental approach to town centre regeneration were also blamed for what was described as the ‘ad hoc piecemeal style of public realm work on street by street basis.’

46. Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce[7] indicated that the lack of a town centre regeneration framework in Northern Ireland had left room for opportunist development rather than properly researched and planned regeneration. Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce indicated the opinion that if PPS5 had been adopted it would, by its very nature, have protected the vitality and sustainability of town and city centres within Northern Ireland.

47. The lack of a joined-up approach to town centre regeneration between the Department, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) and the Department of the Environment (DOE) was also blamed for a continued lack of movement on a review of PPS5. This had been a key recommendation of the EDAW Report[8] in 2000. Although a draft consultation on PPS5 was published by DRD[9] in July 2006, respondents to the Inquiry complained that there has been no progress since then.

48. The Department indicated[10] in evidence to the Committee that no strategic framework existed to determine the direction of the Department’s town centre regeneration policies and programmes. The Department also commented on the difficulties associated with the division of responsibility for town centre regeneration between departments.

49. The Committee was surprised and disappointed to learn of the absence of a strategic framework for town centre regeneration and believes that it is therefore imperative that an appropriate policy framework be put in place prior to the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration (RPA).

Recommendation: The Committee strongly recommends that an overarching strategic framework for town centre regeneration be developed and put in place before the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration. The Committee further recommends that the Department should also develop proposals either for improved cross-departmental co-operation or alternative governance arrangements for town centre regeneration.

50. Ards Borough Council[11] recommended that urban regeneration policy be set by the Department, with associated programmes and actions being managed and delivered by councils. Such an approach it was suggested would require inclusive and action-oriented town partnership bodies, with the Department present in an advisory capacity.

51. Councils highlighted their frustration with an apparent absence of a clear rationale relating to town centre regeneration funding. Councils complained that the funding criteria were unclear as were the timeframes. There was also criticism of the tendency to make funding available at short notice at the end of financial years, which, it was argued, did little to support a strategically planned and co-ordinated approach to regeneration. The process for securing funding was also identified as being extremely time-consuming and involving significant duplication.

52. Some councils suggested that when responsibility for urban regeneration transfers as part of RPA, the necessary budget should be provided from central funds but be under the control of the enlarged councils.

53. In considering the above, the Committee also noted the practice in Scotland whereby when the financial control of key budgets is devolved to local government, the Scottish Parliament provides advisory support and liaison.

54. The Committee largely agrees with the views of the respondents and believes that properly financed post-RPA councils, with the support of appropriate town centre bodies, would be the most effective delivery channels for town centre regeneration. The Committee also believes that the Assembly should provide advisory support and liaison for the councils in order to ensure the delivery of town centre regeneration.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department delegate control of town centre regeneration programmes to the enlarged councils and appropriately constituted town centre partnership bodies. To ensure effective and co-ordinated delivery of town centre regeneration, the Committee further recommends that ring-fenced financial support be secured and that the Assembly consider the provision of an appropriate level of advisory support and liaison for councils.

55. The Association of Town Centre Management (ACTM)[12] pointed to the lack of a strategic framework for the regeneration of town centres in Northern Ireland. They went on to suggest the following framework hierarchy for town centre regeneration:

56. The Committee reviewed regeneration activities in Providence (Rhode Island, USA) where a long term – multi-million dollar masterplan approach – was combined with smaller scale short-term schemes. This included: the development of edge-of-town shopping facilities; the re-vitalization of local rivers (and their use as a social amenity) and the provision of all-day off-street parking. This was complemented by shop front improvement schemes and evening economy event promotions. Overall regeneration activities in Providence were (in part) federally funded but locally controlled.

57. The Committee was greatly impressed by the achievements of a number of inter-linked town centre regeneration initiatives in Providence and by the imaginative conversion of redundant spaces and unused rivers to shared social amenities.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department reconstitutes its town centre regeneration policies in the form of a hierarchy of interlinked plans – from regional development strategies through to masterplans and operational plans.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department imaginatively reviews the content of masterplans so as to include, as appropriate, strategic regeneration initiatives including the development of local rivers and shared spaces as social amenities.

58. A number of respondents reported perceived inconsistencies in the way financial support is made available to Town Centre Partnerships for the development of strategic plans outside the cities of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council[13] highlighted difficulties with the funding of a Public Realm Scheme in Dungannon – arguing that there may be geographical bias in favour of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry and at the expense of “hub towns" throughout Northern Ireland.

59. Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council[14] commented on the Urban Development Grant (UDG). They suggested that the UDG be re-established as a core programme for all town and city centre regeneration outside Belfast and Derry / Londonderry and that the UDG should be managed by local councils.

60. The Committee considered evidence relating to the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Regeneration Fund[15]. The Fund is designed to support local community and business leaders to make lasting improvements to town centres across Scotland through capital investment projects linked to area development plans including:

61. Applications to the Fund are assessed and ranked by the Scottish equivalent of the Department for Social Development and a body representative of local government. An independent panel ensures that small and medium-sized towns benefit fairly from the Fund and a learning network, supported by the Scottish Government, helps with the evaluation of the Fund.

62. The Committee endorses the view that urban regeneration strategies should reflect the need to develop both cities and towns in Northern Ireland and that a competitive urban development fund – similar to that in use in Scotland – and making use of some of the existing urban regeneration budget - would provide a transparent means of delivering this objective.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department considers the development of a Town Centre Regeneration Fund - similar to that in use in Scotland - as a means of assisting key stakeholders to make lasting practical improvements to town centres and as a way of transparently addressing perceived geographical bias.

Evaluation of Town Centre Regeneration Interventions

63. Many respondents saw a need for improvement in the evaluation of projects and identification of good practice. With no key performance indicators (KPIs), respondents felt it was difficult to identify and replicate success in Departmental intervention in town centre regeneration initiatives. Some also said that they found it impossible to judge whether regeneration had impacted on disadvantage and poverty, since there were no KPIs to evaluate progress.

64. Belfast City Council[16] also indicated difficulty in assessing the effectiveness of Departmental programmes and policies in the absence of baseline data and targets to measure impact and success. The NI Independent Retail Trade Association[17] highlighted the need to promote evidence-based research to assess effectiveness of programmes and policies rather than anecdotal evidence.

65. In evidence to the Committee, the Department indicated[18] that its urban regeneration policy making was “not always evidence based" and highlighted the absence of “strong monitoring and evaluation structures" from policy development. It is understood that a Departmental monitoring and evaluation system is under development and that this will include KPIs.

66. The Committee was surprised and disappointed to learn of the absence of an evidence basis for urban regeneration policy. The Committee asserts that all significant town centre regeneration initiatives should be preceded by an evaluation of need and followed by an assessment of benefit in terms of Key Performance Indicators. The Committee therefore takes the view that prior to the transfer of responsibilities under RPA, it is essential that the Department publishes and implements its monitoring and evaluation structure.

Recommendation: The Committee strongly recommends that prior to the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration, the Department publishes the details of and implements its monitoring and evaluation structure including Key Performance Indicators. The Committee further recommends that, in future, town centre regeneration interventions by the Department should be prefaced and followed by a review of relevant Key Performance Indicators.

67. Some consultees felt that the Department had focused too much on areas of high deprivation rather than viewing the importance of all town centres as areas providing community cohesion. Town centre management partnerships again raised the issue of KPIs saying that their absence meant it was impossible to assess whether funding had addressed disadvantage and poverty. Other respondees indicated that anti-poverty measures were bound to fail in the absence of an overall town centre strategy.

68. Carrickfergus Borough Council[19] believed that their area scheme, in achieving its objectives, had made a beneficial contribution to the town. They suggested that because 95% of the jobs created by the town centre regeneration scheme are held by local people, the scheme had had a positive effect on disadvantage and poverty.

69. Cookstown District Council[20] suggested that the level and type of intervention by the Department should be based on wealth creation indices linked to local KPI’s which are regularly reviewed as part of a town centre healthcheck.

70. Newry & Mourne District Council[21] indicated that poverty and disadvantage should be adequately addressed through town centre regeneration programmes and that consideration should also be given to smaller rural areas, as it is often these areas that need regeneration attention and the financial support to develop potential investment locations for business. The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development[22] indicated that rural towns with a population of less than 4500 may not be eligible for rural development grants or for support from the Department for Social Development in relation to town centre regeneration.

71. Disability Action[23] highlighted the experience of those disadvantaged by disability. Disability Action set out design problems in Coleraine town centre which have led to access and safety implications for all disabled people, including those with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

72. The Committee believes that an evaluation of town centre regeneration policy should strike a balance between enhancing economic activity and addressing community cohesion; poverty, disadvantage and disability access.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department develop Town Centre Regeneration KPIs which include a balanced range of indicators relating to: economic activity; community cohesion; poverty; disadvantage and disability access.

73. Down District Council[24] referred to disadvantage relating to exclusion, arguing that towns are not only segregated on a sectarian basis but also in respect of social class as demarcated by housing. The council set out the issues relating to the physical isolation experienced by low income families in NIHE estates where public transport, especially in rural contexts, may be deficient. Although the needs of some of these communities is expected to be addressed via the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy, it was suggested that regeneration strategies were required which would adopt a comprehensive, town-wide approach with a holistic menu of interventions identified via a community planning model and delivered by a range of agencies working in concert.

74. In evidence to the Committee, the Department[25] indicated that masterplans currently in development will include consideration of how town centres can be better linked to isolated communities and made more welcoming for all sections of the community.

75. The Committee agrees that town centre regeneration should play an important role in addressing inequality and exclusion and that this objective is best served by agencies working together constructively.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department set out a menu of town centre regeneration interventions designed to actively address inequality and exclusion and to be delivered by a range of agencies working in concert.

Town Centre Bodies

76. Responses from town centre management partnerships called for the Department to provide core funding for town centre management. It was argued that town centre management partnerships should be seen as the main drivers for the process of creating and delivering masterplans for town centre regeneration. Currently town centre management is funded from a variety of sources, it was suggested that none provide the stability needed to plan ahead and carry initiatives forward with confidence.

77. Councils complained that there was no ‘starter funding’ available from the Department for newly formed town centre management (TCM) partnerships outside of Belfast and Derry / Londonderry - to appoint a staff resource or commence delivery of programmes and projects in order to kick-start the regeneration process, secure early wins and gain a profile within a community. Councils argued that there should be a programme of Departmental funding support for new TCM partnerships and strategic regeneration plans as is the case in Belfast and Derry / Londonderry. Consultees also called for long-term, ten-year, funding for town centre regeneration to allow for long-term planning.

78. The Department indicated[26] in evidence to the Committee that it believed that effective town centre management was a critical success factor in town centre regeneration. The Department also indicated that it had no evidence that one form of town centre management structure was better than another.

79. The Committee believes that TCM partnerships can provide effective support for councils in kick-starting the town centre regeneration process. The Committee feels that to minimise costs, partnerships could have responsibility for more than one town and that to ensure that TCM partnerships worked effectively, longer term financial support is required.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department provide long term core funding for town centre management partnerships. The Committee further recommends that the Department work with the enlarged councils to develop efficient cost-effective town centre management structures which may provide support for a number of towns in a council area.

80. In considering town centre management issues, the Committee reviewed evidence on Business Improvement Districts. 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. Legislation was passed in England and Wales in 2003 (with subsequent regulations in 2004), in the Republic of Ireland in 2006 and in Scotland in 2007. A National BIDs Advisory Service, which is operated by the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), has also been established in England.

81. BIDs are pre-defined areas of streets where the local businesses have chosen to establish their own BID in partnership with their local authority. 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.

82. BIDs are established when the majority of businesses in the designated area votes in favour. Once a majority of businesses have voted in favour of a BID at a ballot, all the businesses in the designated area must make a contribution. This is generally between 1% and 2.5% of the rateable value of their property. BIDs are in place for no longer than a five year period when they either are ended or there is a re-ballot to continue a BID for the area.

83. BIDs must be additional to services already provided by local councils. In Liverpool, Baseline Agreements have been drawn up with partners who already provide services that they will remain in place and BIDs services will be additional. Baseline Agreements are in place with the local council, Merseyside Police and the Chamber of Commerce who were already providing services to businesses in the city centre.

84. In Alliance Boots[27] submission to the Committee, they argued that their approach to BIDs has been to ensure that they only move forward where they are going to make a real difference.

85. Alliance Boots have developed ‘key criteria’ which they believe are essential to a successful BID programme. These key criteria include for example:

86. Alliance Boots argued that local businesses were, in the main, supportive of BIDs with the following conditions viewed as crucial:

87. Alliance Boots argue that these principles would seem essential components of whichever mechanisms are chosen to regenerate town and city centres in Northern Ireland.

88. As part of its consideration of town centre management, the Committee also reviewed the Boston Main Street Programme. The Main Streets Programme adopts a partnership approach engaging with stakeholders. A key element in the success of the programme is the presence of a business ‘Champion’. This is a person with vision and enthusiasm who can motivate others.

89. The programme is community driven with a comprehensive methodology used to revitalise older, traditional business districts. As with BIDs, it is not suitable for every town centre but is an incremental long-term approach that has guiding principles; including self-help, partnership, identifying and capitalising on unique assets, quality, change and implementation. It is not a quick fix choice, but requires long-term commitment, leadership and local capacity building

90. Successful programmes gain national recognition in the USA. There is a system of accreditation against 10 established basic performance standards which provide realistic goals and a tangible incentive for achievement in the form of a certificate and press release.

91. Several models for central organising bodies are suggested to run Main Streets programmes which would equate in Northern Ireland to local councils, chambers of commerce or town centre partnerships.

92. In written evidence to the Committee, the Department[28] has indicated that the Minister has written to her Ministerial colleagues in the DOE and the Department of Finance and Personnel regarding the proposal that legislation be introduced to allow the creation of statutory BIDs in Northern Ireland.

93. The Committee was impressed by the effectiveness of the Boston Main Streets Programme. The Committee found that in this instance centrally-funded town centre management partnerships with local management can have a significant positive impact on economic activity in town centres through practical measures such as shop-front schemes and measures promoting the evening economy.

94. The Committee commends the Minister for her support of BIDs and therefore asserts that the necessary legislation for the development of BIDs or similar town centre management bodies should be brought forward before the transfer of responsibilities under RPA.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that prior to the transfer of responsibilities under the Reform of Public Administration, the Department should bring forward legislation for the introduction of statutory Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) or similar town centre management bodies. The Committee further recommends that town centre management bodies should be tasked with providing a combination of strategic vision and practical support to town centre stakeholders including shop front and evening economy promotions.

Draft PPS5

95. Many consultees indicated that out-of-town shopping centres were a major threat to town centres. Research reviewed by the Committee estimated that over 7,000 shop jobs could be lost in Northern Ireland over the next five years owing to out-of-town developments.[29]

96. PPS6, which is the equivalent in England to Northern Ireland’s PPS5, ensures that there is an impact assessment undertaken for any out-of-town retail development and that all options for it to be situated in the town centre are examined.

97. The EDAW report[30] set out what was viewed as the potential threat to small retailers of out-of-town retail development:

“A key feature of the increasing dominance of the multiples is the growth in the average size of retail outlets. The average net sales area of a new Sainsbury’s store was 5,800 sq. ft. in 1960 but had increased to around 32,300 sq. ft. by 1990. Larger stores offer clear benefits in the form of increased and more flexible product ranges, economies of scale in stockholding terms…and greater flexibility in the use of labour."

98. In oral evidence to the Committee, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association (NIIRTA) pointed out that in the Republic of Ireland there is a cap on floor space of 30,000 sq. ft. Sainsbury’s at Sprucefield has approximately 75,000 sq. ft. of floor space[31]. NIIRTA argued that out-of-town retail outlets, or single multiples, stock such a diverse range of goods that the impact is felt by all the businesses in nearby town centres. It was suggested that not only do they affect food retailers, but also pharmacies and hardware and clothing retailers. A case was made for preserving the unique character of smaller town centres, particularly where there is a threat from large out-of-town retailers.

99. In oral evidence to the Committee, the DOE stated that the delay in issuing PPS5 had had no impact on DOE’s recent decisions in relation to out-of-town retail developments.

100. The Committee believes that the significant impact on town centre regeneration of out-of-town shopping centres could be either adverse or favourable. The Committee believes that the assessment of each development should include a simple and transparent test designed to ensure that town centres or edge-of-centre locations are the first choice for major retailing.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that in-line with draft PPS5 a simple and transparent test be applied to proposed out-of-town shopping centres based primarily on the economic impact on existing retailers but that less stringent conditions should be applied to edge-of-town or town centre developments.

101. Some respondents to the Inquiry felt that in order to combat the threat of out-of-town developments, there needed to be more parking facilities within town centre perimeters and that parking in the town centre should be less expensive.

102. The EDAW Report[32] states, ‘Town centres by virtue of their inability to cater effectively for the private car have faced increasing competition to retain their share of retail and leisure spending.’ The EDAW Report recommends that…: ‘Parking controls are considered to be the key area for short term action and attention should be given to developing a consistent approach but one which recognises the specific circumstances of each town centre.’

103. The Committee agrees that car parking is an important consideration in promoting town centre regeneration and that draft PPS5 does not provide clarity in respect of responsibility.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department (with other departments) clarifies the roles and responsibilities in relation to the provision of car parking capacity and the control of car parking charges. The Committee further recommends that car parking capacity and related charges be developed in sympathy with town centre and/or edge-of-town regeneration activities.

104. Draft PPS5 also makes reference to consideration being given by DOE to further pedestrianisation of town centres.

105. Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Imtac and the Regional Access Committee[33] highlighted issues relating to the Shared Surface Streets programme. Their submission called for the re-evaluation of town centre pedestrianisation street design in response to the needs of the visually impaired.

106. In written evidence to the Committee, the Department[34] indicated that although pedestrianisation is primarily the concern of DRD, the Department advised that further pedestrianisation would “…only be implemented where the case for it is clearly proven and well worked through."

107. The Committee agrees that draft PPS5 does not provide clarity in respect of responsibility for pedestrianisation as it relates to the promotion of town centre regeneration.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department (with other departments) clarify roles and responsibilities in relation to pedestrianisation and that any plans for further (or partial) pedestrianisation of town centres be carefully reviewed in terms of the impact on all stakeholders including the visually impaired.

Other Issues

108. A number of respondents highlighted varying frequencies and speed of intervention by the Department in respect of the vesting and development of vacant sites and derelict properties. Several councils advised of numerous derelict sites and properties that, they suggested, could be vested to assist in town centre regeneration.

109. The Committee agrees that vesting should, where possible, support regeneration plans and that the Department should set out its practices and record in respect of vesting decisions.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department ensures that masterplans identify all derelict and vacant lots required for development to support town centre regeneration, and, that the Department reviews its practices and publishes its record in respect of the vesting of derelict buildings and vacant lots throughout Northern Ireland.

110. The NI Federation of Housing Associations[35] indicated that they believed that although education / training, employment and income maximisation are the factors most likely to overcome disadvantage and poverty, physical regeneration should play an important supporting role. In particular, it was argued that decent affordable housing improves health, self-esteem, potential for educational attainment and community cohesion.

111. The Committee reviewed brown field mixed use developments in Providence (Rhode Island, USA) which included affordable housing and notes the positive impact on the economy of town centres brought about by these developments.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that Department ensure that town centre regeneration strategies include access to decent affordable housing through the imaginative use of brown field mixed developments.

112. Several respondents reported very poor experiences of local engagement by the Department. Witnesses reported limited consultation and reported that local people felt they had no way of influencing outcomes. It was argued that this was not due to apathy on behalf of local communities who were keen to be engaged in the process. Councils reported how the Department’s ‘Town Centre Marketing and Promotion Programme’ was launched in June 2005 without any consultation or prior warning, not least with the local councils that were the only bodies eligible to apply. It was suggested that a community planning approach could assist town centre re-invigoration with the local council in the lead to conceptualise and implement regeneration initiatives.

113. Disability Action[36] indicated that the key to the provision of successful regeneration is consultation with local people and representative groups. It was argued that consultation needed to be genuine and instrumental in shaping the regeneration scheme. Disability Action referred to disabled people and disability groups who have been consulted regarding schemes and had their comments ignored in the final design resulting in poor accessibility in the finished scheme.

114. Carrickfergus Borough Council[37] reported a much more positive experience citing effective engagement by the Department on the relevant Area Partnership Board. A particular scheme was recognised as a finalist in the 2007 British Urban Regeneration Association (BURA) best practice awards and the management Board identified as a successful and replicable model for future developments.

115. The Committee recognises the concerns of witnesses and agrees that the Department should ensure that future town centre regeneration consultations conform with best practice.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department develop and implement good practice guidelines in respect of consultations relating to town centre regeneration.

116. The Committee considered evidence from stakeholders in relation to the disruption of the economic life of town centres as a consequence of infrastructural improvements and maintenance work by utility companies.

117. The Committee agrees that the enlarged councils should have enhanced powers to manage the planning of disruptive work by utility companies.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that councils be given enhanced powers in relation to the management of utility companies’ planned maintenance and infrastructure construction work so as to minimise disruption to the economic life of town centres.

[1] http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/reinvig_town_centres_report.pdf

[2] Appendix 3

[3] http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/urcdg-vital-viable

[4] http://www.planningni.gov.uk/index/policy/policy_publications/planning_statements/pps05-draft-retailing-july06.pdf

[5] Appendix 3

[6] Appendix 2

[7] Appendix 4

[8] http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/reinvig_town_centres_report.pdf

[9] Appendix 4

[10] Appendix 3

[11] Appendix 4

[12] Appendix 4

[13] Appendix 4

[14] Appendix 4

[15] Appendix 5

[16] Appendix 4

[17] Appendix 4

[18] Appendix 3

[19] Appendix 4

[20] Appendix 4

[21] Appendix 4

[22] Appendix 4

[23] Appendix 4

[24] Appendix 4

[25] Appendix 3

[26] Appendix 3

[27] Appendix 4

[28] Appendix 3

[29] Appendix 5

[30] http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/reinvig_town_centres_report.pdf

[31] Appendix 2

[32] http://www.dsdni.gov.uk/reinvig_town_centres_report.pdf

[33] Appendix 4

[34] Appendix 3

[35] Appendix 4

[36] Appendix 4

[37] Appendix 4

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings Relating to the Report

Thursday, 11 October 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Mr Martin Wilson (Principal Clerk)
Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

5. Draft Terms of Reference for Inquiry

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for its inquiry into town centre regeneration. It also agreed a press release announcing the inquiry.

Agreed: It was agreed that the regeneration of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry should be considered by the Committee at a future date.

Thursday, 18 October 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

6. Draft Inquiry Plan

Agreed: In relation to the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration, the Committee agreed the inquiry plan; the list of consultees; the advertising of the inquiry; and, that research should be commissioned to consider the Terms of Reference and to identify examples of good practice.

Thursday, 15 November 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mrs Claire McGill MLA

7. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – oral evidence from the Department for Social Development

The following officials from the Department for Social Development joined the meeting at 10.40am:

John McGrath – Deputy Secretary, Urban Regeneration & Community Development Group
Linda MacHugh – Director, Urban Regeneration Strategy
Ian Snowden – Regional Development Unit

The officials gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Mr Cobain joined the meeting at 10.59am.
Mr Burns joined the meeting at 11.08am.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for the briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.34am.

Thursday, 22 November 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Ms Jennifer Betts – Assembly Research & Library Services (item 6 only)

Apologies: Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)

6. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – oral evidence from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association

Ms Jennifer Betts from Assembly Research and Library Services answered Members queries on the research paper prepared in relation to the inquiry.

Mr Burns left the meeting at 12.17pm.
Mr Cobain left the meeting at 12.17pm.

The following representatives from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association joined the meeting at 12.20pm.

Brian Gray – Chief Executive, NI Independent Retail Trade Association
Paul Stewart – President, NI Independent Retail Trade Association
Des Stephens – Independent Planning Consultant
Barry Turley – ASITIS Consulting

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Ms Lo left the meeting at 12.45pm.

Miss McIlveen declared the following interest – her family owns a town centre business.

The representatives referred to a report prepared by EDAW Consultants which had been submitted to the Department for Social Development in March 2000. The report contained 27 key recommendations, however, the representatives stated that the report was never published, nor many of the recommendations implemented.

Agreed: It was agreed to write to the Department to ascertain the status of the report and the position on each of the recommendations.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 1.08pm.

Thursday, 6 December 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Judith Murdoch (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

7. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – Evidence Session

The following representatives from the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) joined the meeting at 11.50am.

Chris Williamson – Chief Executive, NIFHA
Marcus Patton – Hearth Housing Association
Donall Henderson – Housing Policy and Research Manager, NIFHA.

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the oral evidence.

The representatives left the meeting at 12.12pm.

The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 12.14pm.

The meeting resumed in private session at 1.07pm.

Mr Maginness rejoined the meeting at 1.07pm

The meeting moved into public session at 1.25pm.

10. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – Evidence Session

The following representatives from Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District joined the meeting at 1.25pm.

Alderman PJ McAvoy – Chairman of Ballymena BID
Mervyn Rankin – Ballymena BID Board Member
Fergal Eastwood – Ballymena BID Board Member.

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the oral evidence.

The representatives left the meeting at 2.06pm.

Ms McIlveen left the meeting at 2.06pm.

The following representatives from Larne Borough Council joined the meeting at 2.07pm.

Ms Geraldine McGahey – Chief Executive
Mrs Hazel Bell - Town Development Manager.

The Clerk drew the Chairperson’s attention to the fact that a quorum was no longer present. The Chairperson suspended the meeting at 2.07pm.

Ms McIlveen rejoined the meeting at 2.08pm.

The committee regained its quorum and the meeting resumed in public at 2.08pm.

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry. This was followed by a question and answer session.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the oral evidence.

The representatives left the meeting at 2.25pm.

12. Any other business

Ms McGill asked that a town in the West be invited to give oral evidence on the Committee’s Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite representatives from a town in the West region to give oral evidence to its Inquiry.

Thursday, 13 December 2007
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Judith Murdoch (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

1. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – Evidence Session

The following representatives from the Association of Town Centre Management (NI) ATCM joined the meeting at 11.45am.

Colin Neill – Chair, Association of Town Centre Management (NI)
Simon Quin – CEO, Association of Town Centre Management (NI)
Sharon Scott – Vice Chair, Association of Town Centre Management (NI)

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Mr Maginness joined the meeting at 11.58 am.

The Deputy Chairperson thanked the representatives for the oral evidence.

The representatives left the meeting at 12.06pm.

Thursday, 17 January 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Judith Murdoch (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Ms Jennifer Betts – Assembly Research & Library Services
Miss Roisin Campbell – Work Experience Student

Apologies: Mr Thomas Burns MLA

8. Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – evidence session

The following representatives from the Federation for Small Businesses joined the meeting at 11.58am:

Mr Wilfred Mitchell OBE – Chair, Northern Ireland Area Policy UnitCO3, Director Ms Carolyn Brown – Policy Manager, FSB.

The representatives gave oral evidence on the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Mr Cobain left the meeting at 12.02pm
Mr Cobain rejoined the meeting at 12.18pm

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the oral evidence.

The representatives left the meeting at12.20pm

Thursday, 1 May 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Gregory Campbell MP MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Neil Currie (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Mr Martin Wilson (Bill Clerk)

The meeting opened at 11.04am in public session.

6 Research paper on Town Centre Regeneration

The Committee considered a research paper prepared by Assembly Research and Library Services relating to the inquiry into town centre regeneration.

Agreed: It was agreed to invite representatives from Strabane Chamber of Commerce, Strabane 2000 and Strabane District Council to give joint oral evidence in relation to the inquiry. It was also agreed to invite representatives from Cookstown District Council and Town Centre Forum to give joint oral evidence in relation to the inquiry.

The Clerk drew Members’ attention to the Boston Main Streets Programme, referred to in the research paper as an example of best practice in the USA and highlighted in evidence given to the Committee by the Federation of Small Businesses. As well as providing an excellent example of urban regeneration, the Boston Main Streets Programme was also relevant to the Committee’s consideration of the Semple recommendations.

Agreed: It was agreed that a Committee visit to Boston, possibly in September 2008, should be undertaken. The Clerk was asked to take forward the arrangements for the visit.

Thursday, 19 June 2008
Nicva Building, Duncairn Gardens, Belfast

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen
MLA Mr Alban Maginnes
MLA Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Ms Marie Austin (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Oliver Bellew (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

The meeting opened at 11.05am in public session.

6 Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

The following representatives from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association joined the meeting at 11:15am.

Glyn Roberts – Chief Executive
Joe Quail – Managing Director Quail’s Fine Foods.

The representatives gave oral evidence to the Committee on its inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. This was followed by a question and answer session.

Members declared the following interests:

Mr David Simpson – Member of Bridgewater Development Company;

Mr David Hilditch – Member of Carrickfergus Development Company;

Mr Thomas Burns – Member of Antrim Borough Council.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for the briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 12.01pm.

Thursday, 20th November 2008
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr Damien Martin (Clerk Assistant)
Mrs Judith Murdoch (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

The meeting commenced at 11.04am in closed session.

7. Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry

The Committee noted a paper prepared by the Clerk on its visit to Boston / Providence as part of the Inquiry. Information packs are available to Members on request through the Committee Office.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite Professor Richard Sommer (Harvard University) to brief the Committee at a future meeting on the collaborative work which is currently being undertaken by the universities in relation to town planning and urban regeneration.

Thursday, 12 March 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Clairita Frazer (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

The meeting began in public session at 11.05am.

6 Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry – Update

Mr Hilditch declared an interest as a member of the Carrick Development Company.

The Clerk updated Members on progress with the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to seek an update from the Department on several issues relating to Town Centre Regeneration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to invite NILGA to a future Committee meeting to discuss issues in relation to Town Centre Regeneration.

Mr Burns rejoined the meeting at 12.30pm.
Mr Burns left the meeting at 12.35pm.
Mr Hilditch left the meeting at 12.36pm.

The Committee returned to public session at 12.42pm.

Thursday, 23 April 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Ms Eleanor Murphy (Assembly Research & Library Services)
(Item 8)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)

The meeting began in public session at 11.05am.

5 Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration – Northern Ireland Local Government Association briefing

The following representatives of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association joined the meeting at 11.11am:

Karen Smyth – Head of Policy, NILGA; and
John McGrillen – NILGA

The representatives briefed the Committee as part of the inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

A Member declared the following interests:

Miss Michelle McIlveen – Elected member of Ards Borough Council and member of NILGA.

The Chairperson thanked the representatives for their briefing.

The representatives left the meeting at 11.45am.

Thursday, 30 April 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

The meeting began in public session at 11.17am.

5. Town Centre Regeneration Policy Stocktake – Departmental briefing

The following officials joined the meeting at 11.22am:

Ian Snowden – Acting Director, Regional Development Office, DSD; and Robert Kidd – Regional Development Office, DSD.

The officials briefed the Committee on the Department’s stocktake on its Town Centre Regeneration Policies.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 11.56am.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department requesting a copy of the Town Centre Regeneration Policy stocktake document.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that additional questions relating to the briefing should be forwarded to the Department.

Mr David Simpson left the meeting at 12.01pm

Mr David Hilditch assumed Chairmanship of the Committee at 12.01pm

Thursday, 7 May 2009
Annesley Room, Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, County Down

Present: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)

The Clerk informed the Chairperson and Committee that a quorum had not been reached.

The meeting began with the Committee receiving and considering evidence from witnesses.

The meeting began in public session at 1.05pm.

2. Town Centre Regeneration – Department of the Environment (DoE) briefing on Draft Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 5

The following officials joined the meeting at 1.09pm:
Peter Mullaney – Manager, Strategic Planning Directorate, DoE; and
Kevin Armstrong – Principal Planning Officer, DoE.

The officials briefed the Committee on the Department of the Environment’s draft Planning Policy Statement 5 (Retailing, Town Centre and Commercial Leisure Developments).

Ms Anna Lo joined the meeting at 1.23pm

The Clerk informed the Chairperson and Committee that a quorum had now been reached.

The meeting continued through the Agenda items.

The Chairperson thanked the officials for their briefing.

The officials left the meeting at 1.43pm.

Thursday, 14 May 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Lorraine McFarland (Clerical Officer)
Ms Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA

The meeting began in public session at 11.11am.

4. Matters arising

4.1 Town Centre Regeneration Briefing: Agreement of Actions

The Committee agreed actions from the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry briefing on Draft PPS 5 which was received on 7 May 2009.

Agreed: It was agreed that the Clerk should write to the Department of the Environment seeking answers to the outstanding questions from the Draft PPS 5 briefing.

Agreed: It was also agreed that the Clerk would seek a summary of responses to the consultation, held in July 2006, on Draft PPS 5.

Thursday, 21 May 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Miss Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)
Ms Eleanor Murphy (Assembly Research & Library Services)
(Item 6)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)

The meeting began in public session at 10.12am.

7.6 The Committee considered correspondence from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Imtac and the Regional Access Committee seeking an opportunity to provide a briefing on Shared Surface Streets.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to sponsor an event at Parliament Buildings on Shared Surface Streets.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward a copy of the correspondence to the Regional Development Committee, for information.

Agreed: The Committee also agreed that this correspondence should form part of the evidence for the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry

Thursday, 11 June 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Miss Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)
Ms Eleanor Murphy (Assembly Research & Library Services)
(Item 8)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)

The meeting began in public session at 11.05am.

10. Town Centre Regeneration – Draft Committee report

The Clerk updated Members on the draft recommendations of the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content with the draft recommendations.

Agreed: The Committee also agreed that an additional recommendation should be added in relation to the management of public works.

Thursday, 2 July 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr David Hilditch MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA
Miss Michelle McIlveen MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Claire McCanny (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr John Devlin (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Miss Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr David Simpson MLA (Chairperson)

The meeting began in public session at 11.03 am.

11. Town Centre Regeneration – Final Report

The Clerk provided Members with a copy of the draft report of the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would consider the final report of the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration after the summer recess.

Thursday, 17 September 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Simon Hamilton MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Claire McCanny (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)

The meeting began in public session at 10.31am.

14. Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry

The Chairperson briefed the Committee on the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry Report.

Mr Armstrong left the meeting at 13:07pm.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it would consider further written evidence in relation to a competitive fund for town centre regeneration projects across Northern Ireland.

Thursday 24 September 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Simon Hamilton MLA (Chairperson)
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Jonathan Craig MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Claire McCanny (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA

The meeting began in public session at 10.42 am.

10. Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry

The Chairperson briefed the Committee on additional written evidence relating to the Scottish Government’s Town Centre Regeneration Fund.

Mr Alex Easton rejoined the meeting at 12:27pm

Mr David Hilditch rejoined the meeting at 12:30pm

Agreed: The Committee agreed that it was content for the Clerk to amend the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry Report in keeping with the views expressed by Committee Members.

Thursday 1 October 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Simon Hamilton MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Claire McCanny (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting began in public session at 10.30 am.

12. Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry

The Committee considered the draft report of the Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration paragraph by paragraph.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the main body of the report as follows:

Executive Summary, read and agreed

Summary of Recommendations, read and agreed

Introduction, read and agreed

Policy Background, read and agreed

Review of Evidence, read and agreed

Agreed: The Committee agreed to defer formal adoption of the report until legal advice had been obtained by the Clerk.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk should report back to the Committee on options for launching the report.

Thursday 8 October 2009
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Simon Hamilton MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong MLA
Mrs Mary Bradley MLA
Mr Mickey Brady MLA
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA
Mr Alex Easton MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Fra McCann MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter McCallion (Assembly Clerk)
Ms Claire McCanny (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Joy Hamilton (Clerical Supervisor)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Allison Ferguson (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA

The meeting began in public session at 10.34 am.

4. Matters arising

4.1 Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry Report

The Chair briefed the Committee on next steps with the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry Report.

Agreed: Members agreed that they were content that the Report on the Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration would be the First Report of Social Development Committee to the Assembly in the 2009/2010 session.

Agreed: Members agreed that embargoed copies of the Report would be available to key witnesses and the Department in advance of the usual publication date.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the following motion should be tabled in the Business Office

“That this Assembly approves the report of the Committee for Social Development on its Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration and calls on the Minister for Social Development to implement the recommendations."

Agreed: Members agreed the 2 November 2009 as a suitable date for debating the Report in the Assembly.

Agreed: Members agreed that the Chair would undertake a number of media activities to publicise the launch of the report.

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

15 November 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Fred Cobain
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr Alban Maginness

Witnesses:

Mr John McGrath
Ms Linda MacHugh } Department for Social Development
Mr Ian Snowden

1. The Chairperson (Mr Campbell): I welcome Mr John McGrath, deputy secretary, from the Department for Social Development’s urban regeneration and community development group, and his colleagues Ms MacHugh and Mr Snowden to the Committee. I remind members and witnesses of the normal protocols and to turn off all mobile phones. Please remember also to speak clearly into the microphones for recording purposes.

2. Mr John McGrath (Department for Social Development): Thank you, Chairman. We are very grateful for the opportunity to contribute at the beginning of the Committee’s inquiry into town centre regeneration. With me today are Linda MacHugh, who heads the central policy directorate on urban regeneration, and Ian Snowden, who is the deputy director of the Regional Development Office that looks after most of the regional towns outwith the north-west and Belfast. I would like to make some opening remarks to set the Department’s work in historical context.

3. I hardly need to say that many of our city and town centres were badly affected during the time of conflict, and many continue to live with that legacy. While many local retailers were very resilient and stuck at the business over time, many outside retailers were unwilling to invest in our city and town centres until recently. Equally, during the Troubles, when new developments were put back in, they were, in many cases, not necessarily as well planned or executed as they might have been in a normal society. We have many examples of defensive, bomb-proof designs around, which is not necessarily what one would want in a modern, prosperous society.

4. High security and frequently disrupted transport meant that many towns were desolate and unwelcoming places when shops closed — and, in some cases, they were not much more welcoming when the shops were open. In response to that, people developed patterns of socialising and entertainment, which in many cases simply excluded town and city centres. In some cases those patterns still prevail, and that has meant the towns and cities in Northern Ireland have, until recently, not fared as well as their national and international comparators.

5. At the height of the Troubles, the two principal development offices in Belfast and Derry undertook the majority of the work, particularly in those two cities. They carried out much of the restoration of bombed-out buildings — 700 sites alone in Derry were redeveloped through the efforts of the north-west development office, as it is now. The two cities were symbolic of the whole of the North — hundreds of damaged buildings, no commercial confidence and a need to try to rebuild quickly. Much of that reactive and repair work was carried out fairly quickly, and, inevitably, Government took the lead in that.

6. Prior to the first period of devolution, the former Department of the Environment was responsible for urban regeneration. Initially, that work was very much focused in Belfast and Derry through the Belfast Development Office, and the then Londonderry Development Office. It looked mainly at the delivery of urban development grants and leading comprehensive development schemes. It is indicative of the work of those two offices, and the impact of the Troubles, that the CastleCourt development in Belfast was led by Government as opposed to the private sector. More recently, the Foyleside centre in Derry was initiated by Government rather than the private sector. Thankfully, we are now in better times.

7. The physical regeneration approach at that time was supplemented by social regeneration programmes in the late 1980s, with the Making Belfast Work initiative in north and west Belfast in particular, and the Londonderry regeneration initiatives. However, in other towns, regeneration work was largely limited to environmental improvement (EI) schemes, which were then implemented by the Department of the Environment’s Planning Service.

8. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, regeneration schemes in smaller towns were boosted by the creation of the partnership between the then Department of the Environment and the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which saw the introduction of the community regeneration improvement special programme (CRISP), which delivered 90 schemes in total until it ended in 2003, the community economic regeneration scheme (CERS) and the urban development programme, all of which were worked and delivered by the then Department of the Environment and, more recently, by the Department for Social Development (DSD).

9. At devolution in 1999, responsibility for urban regeneration moved to the new Department for Social Development. Policy and financial management of the regeneration of the regional towns rested with the Department, but the Department of the Environment’s Planning Service retained an operational role for a time. It was only in 2004 that the Department for Social Development assumed full responsibility for the delivery of urban regeneration work in the regional towns and cities.

10. Currently, we have a number of regeneration tools and programmes. We have detailed those in the written evidence that we have already passed to the Committee. However, I will run, at high level, through some of the examples. We have undertaken comprehensive development schemes in, among others, Lurgan, Armagh and Carrickfergus. We have carried out a number of significant public realm schemes, particularly in Banbridge. The pilot shop front scheme has improved the quality of buildings, as well as paving, lighting and street furniture in towns, including Dungannon and Portrush.

11. The EI budget has increased from £0·75 million in 2003-04 to £5 million in 2008-09, and £7 million in 2009-10 — subject to finalisation of the current budget. Significant projects have been carried out in Omagh, Coleraine, Cookstown, Newcastle and Ballycastle. To date, the work has levered in significant private-sector investment. We are currently engaging with the private sector across Northern Ireland in a range of significant projects that would bring in a further £900 million of private-sector investment across the Province, subject to our facilitating that investment and, in some cases, facilitating the assembly of sites.

12. All of that work is set in the Department’s overall objective of improving the physical, economic, social and community environment of neighbourhoods, town and cities in Northern Ireland, with a particular emphasis on tackling disadvantage.

13. It is important, therefore, that our town-centre regeneration work is co-ordinated with other interventions such as neighbourhood renewal and community development. As we try to develop proper, prosperous, vital and viable town centres, and support and promote prosperity, it is particularly important that that prosperity washes out to the more disadvantaged areas of many towns so that everyone will be able to benefit from the growing prosperity.

14. Proper master planning for towns provides a basis for co-ordinated intervention, which will identify potential implications for both economic and social development; the likely market response to intervention; timescales; and potential delivery vehicles.

15. Coleraine is a good example of the usefulness of that process. A master plan has not been completed for work that we are doing in Ballymena. The absence of a master plan for Omagh has resulted in important work not proceeding properly.

16. In addition, we are constantly looking for and testing out new methods and programmes, including, as I mentioned, the pilot urban development grant that was rolled out into some of the regional towns, and shop front schemes that are currently being considered.

17. Evaluation of the overall impact of the urban regeneration policy and activity is difficult. The requirements for regeneration vary between towns; therefore, measuring the outputs from regeneration is preferable to an evaluation of the overall policy impact. Problems are different; development opportunities are different; private-sector responses vary; and a number of external factors are involved. Therefore, interventions differ and outcomes could well differ.

18. We have, however, carried out a number of evaluations that demonstrated the success of schemes. Evaluation of programmes and pilot programmes are current and continuing. An evaluation programme for our comprehensive development schemes is also currently being worked out.

19. The conflict is over, and we have a new environment now — a peaceful society with growing commercial confidence and a buoyant consumer economy. In that context, the challenges that we have identified include raising the standards for investment, particularly regarding sustainability and good urban design. When developers wanted to invest during the Troubles, no one pressed them too much for high standards, and rightly so. Therefore, we want to promote sustainability in good design. We are constantly seeking that from developers. The work that we are currently carrying out in Belfast on the Victoria Square scheme reflects that, as will the next major retail scheme. That will be a growing theme in the work that we are doing across Northern Ireland.

20. We need to look at a more holistic approach to regeneration. Again, some developments in the past met the needs of that time. However, they are perhaps not well suited to prosperous, open and growing town centres. Castle Court, for example, pump-primed a lot of development in Belfast city centre, but when we look at it now, it is not necessarily the best development because it actually closes off areas of north and west Belfast behind it. If such a centre were being developed now, it would be more permeable so that people could come in and out; as opposed to almost forming a wall around the back.

21. We need to ensure that the work that we do provides added value in terms of public interest, rather than being simply about facilitating private investment. At the same time, we need to take full advantage of the commercial confidence, maximise investor potential and reduce the demand on the taxpayer and the public purse.

22. A lot of our interventions in the past were about dealing with market failure. In many cases market failure no longer exists, and we need to move to a different agenda that is about good design and sustainability. We also see investment in cities and town centres as a way of developing and promoting shared space, in which all sections of the community can mix, and, if not live together, can certainly work together and take part in recreational activities.

23. Another major challenge that we face is prioritisation. Owing to demand and the legacy of the Troubles, it is difficult to be able to say that we will be in a position to do something in every regional town. A detailed hierarchy of prioritisation will be required to emerge over the next few years. Linked to that, we want to ensure that the prosperity that will certainly come out of growing urban centres is not just restricted to people who shop there, but also benefits the wider communities in those towns.

24. The Chairperson: Thank you, Mr McGrath. In undertaking the exercise on which it has embarked, the Committee will want to hear examples of best practice, wherever they exist, to ensure that those are followed. The converse is also true: the Committee will want to examine areas in which problems emerged, for whatever reason, to ensure that they do not recur. Setting aside the development at Victoria Square for a second, are there any examples of either good or bad practice? We do not want a recurrence of any bad practices.

25. Mr McGrath: There may well be examples of developments during the Troubles that were appropriate to the time and in that context. In hindsight, they may not have been ideal, given that there is now peace, and the town centres are open.

26. The Chairperson: Will you give the Committee an example?

27. Mr McGrath: I will ask my colleagues to talk about that. However, it does not necessarily mean that those developments were wrong at the time. Perhaps Ian will cite an example of either scenario, and you can take it from there.

28. Mr Ian Snowden (Department for Social Development): The Castle Centre in Antrim is an example of what was required during the Troubles and is now inadequate. For the most part, it is an inward-looking development, without a single window on the outside of the building as it was deliberately designed to be bomb-proof. Had a bomb exploded in Antrim town centre, the damage to that shopping centre would have been minimal. The difficulty now is that because the Castle Centre is not integrated into the town centre, its regenerative benefit is extremely limited. The shopping centre now needs to be more fully integrated into the town centre. Perhaps the Castle Centre can be redesigned to some extent and other changes made to the town centre itself to ensure that they become a whole.

29. There is good and bad in almost every scheme. To some extent, Carrickfergus may provide an example of good practice. However, there is a negative element to it too, and I will touch on that. In Carrickfergus, we were able to take a totally derelict piece of land, on which nothing was happening, and create a vibrant quarter. However, it has been difficult to integrate that with the centre of Carrickfergus, which is on the other side of a main road. Therefore, none of the vibrancy and energy that has been created in the waterfront area has migrated across the road. We need to find ways to ensure that, when we undertake a similar scheme in which there is potential for the development of both harbour lands and the town centre, the two are linked by design, access and integration arrangements. For example, we are trying to ensure that the same mistake is not made in Coleraine. We learn lessons all the time: we now try to ensure that where a scheme works well, it is also properly integrated into a town centre.

30. The Chairperson: That is useful, and I am glad that you mentioned the Coleraine scheme. After plans have been drawn up, how does the Department follow up on the responses to the consultation? We will discuss how the work in Omagh followed the example of a similar scheme in Stirling in a moment.

31. Mr Snowden: So far, we have received about 220 responses to the consultation, and Coleraine Borough Council will discuss the matter next Thursday evening, which will mark the end of the consultation process. At the moment, we are analysing the responses to the consultation exercise. Largely speaking, they have been positive: I think that there was a 98% positive response to one scheme and 75% to the other. Some of the issues raised are minor and will, therefore, be easily resolved. Our report on the consultation will identify the issues raised, detail our responses and describe how we will take them forward in the scheme.

32. The Chairperson: I do not want to go on about the Coleraine scheme, but I was informed that a display was created for the public, and, having seen that, people had an opportunity to respond.

33. Mr Snowden: Yes, that is right. The proposed scheme was on display for two weeks in Coleraine town hall.

34. The Chairperson: What prevented the same person, or a small number of people, submitting several responses? Did the Department have to try to quantify the process to ensure that the responses were bona fide?

35. Mr Snowden: Staff were on duty during the consultation. As far as possible, we tried to get all those who attended to sign their names in a visitor book — although some did not bother — and there were about nine or 10 pages of names as a result of that. Subsequently, the consultation was loaded onto the Internet. There was a mechanism whereby only one response from each computer could be submitted, thereby preventing people from posting hundreds of responses from the same computer. It is fairly easy to identify where that is done repeatedly, because the same handwriting will appear on all of them and can be picked out.

36. It is not only the quantity of the responses that come in but the quality as well. A number of complaints about a really minor issue will probably not get the same weight as one that picks out a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.

37. The Chairperson: In the written submission, Mr McGrath, you mentioned that you drew on experiences elsewhere, and you said: “The value of this can particularly be seen in work carried out in Omagh where work carried out draws directly on a similar scheme in Stirling."

38. Can you elaborate on that? Was that a good example of best practice, and if it was how have the people of Omagh responded?

39. Mr Snowden: That is the public-realm scheme that was undertaken in the town centre. The scheme in Stirling was designed by the same design team that we used in Omagh, so they drew on their experience in Stirling on how the materials fitted into the context of a historic-town centre, how durable they are and how well the public responded to them. They built on that and applied it when they were designing the scheme for the Omagh streets. That has been very well received, and has also been nominated for an award, so it has been an important public-realm scheme for the town.

40. Mr Hilditch: Thank you for the presentation, and the briefing paper that was supplied has been very informative. I am delighted that you referred to Carrickfergus, which is my town. When I put this subject forward for investigation you highlighted why that was the case.

41. Obviously, the regeneration of the maritime area in Carrickfergus was a very successful scheme. Is it possible to draw down figures that show the amount of public money against the private investment? I believe that Carrickfergus was one of the better ones at a ratio of 1:6. Can we get an overall picture of other schemes to see what ratio is being attracted from the private sector?

42. Mr McGrath: Apart from environmental improvement and public realm schemes, most of the schemes are funded mainly by the private sector. The Department facilitates, chooses the developer, sets the context, perhaps does the land assembly through vesting, but gets recompensed. Therefore they are largely private-sector investments with some facilitation, and that is what we aim to do. The schemes in Coleraine, Ballymena and Belfast are entirely private-sector investments, and the public-taxpayer element is the payment of officials to facilitate that, which is what we want to maximise. Overall, our leverage rate is about 6:1, and we want to increase that in the future. Increasingly, we see our job as attracting and facilitating the private sector, and raising the bar for design standards.

43. Ian used the example of Antrim. When a shopping centre is built, the owners’ aim is to get people in and out, and, to a large extent, they will not worry about anything else. The Department’s interest in regeneration is to add value to that centre so that it is permeable and people can come in and out. Therefore, we want to raise the design standards and set down the conditions that we want, and on the basis of that we will support and promote the private sector. The Department’s job is not, for example, to promote shops but to promote regeneration. If schemes do not add value and regeneration, increasingly, in urban design, why would we be involved in them?

44. I mentioned some major schemes in my opening remarks, and they are also referred to in the written submission. At the moment, there are a range of schemes — developers are talking about upwards of £900 million across Northern Ireland — waiting to get all the permissions, but needing some assistance from the Department. That is significant. In a lot of our work we see ourselves as facilitating and drawing in private-sector investment, rather than putting in public-sector investment.

45. Mr Hilditch: So generally, at this stage, you are quite happy with that ratio?

46. Mr McGrath: In elements of this work we see ourselves as an economic development Department, as much as a social development one. A lot of our work is about generating private-sector jobs in private-sector investment. It is not fully understood that in some cases we may be generating as many jobs as the more specialised industrial development side. Victoria Square will generate 3,000 permanent jobs and 3,000 jobs during its construction. Those are significant economic drivers on their own merits.

47. The Chairperson: Your counterparts at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) do not have a problem with that?

48. Mr McGrath: I could not possibly comment on that.

49. The Chairperson: I am sure that they might.

50. Mr McGrath: Those are investments that are not brought in with grants. For example, as part of the Victoria Square project we have looked at how to link pre-employment job opportunities with disadvantaged areas. We have training schemes from Victoria Square that link into east and west Belfast. Our aim is to obtain private sector investment and sweat it to get more public gain. That is what regeneration work is about.

51. Ms Linda MacHugh (Department for Social Development): It is not only about the economic benefit; by increasing standards in urban design you are doing two things. First, there are the aesthetic benefits of developing towns and cities to which people are attracted to live in, to visit as tourists, or to invest in, which have a knock-on rolling effect. Secondly, in terms of urban sustainability, designing much better energy efficiency in buildings by the use of thermal heating and the use of biodiversity in the design of the urban environment will benefit people’s lifestyles, quality of life, air quality, and so on. Those are the areas that we need to develop over the next few years.

52. Mr Snowden: On the issue of leverage, the schemes will be different in each individual circumstance, so the leverage rates will be substantially different in different places. In Carrickfergus, there was a contamination issue because the area had been used for a long time as an oil storage depot. Therefore, public investment had to go into clearing out the contamination in order to reduce the risk to the private sector, which then allowed the private development to take place.

53. To use the example of Coleraine, the value of the two schemes combined will be £115 million, but there will be no cost to the public sector, except, for example, my salary.

54. Mr McGrath: Which does not come anywhere near that.

55. The Chairperson: We are not going to go down that route. [Laughter.]

56. Mr Snowden: In the case of Coleraine, we generated money, but I am not sure how that leverage rate would be calculated. Two or three miles up the road in Portrush, there is a strategy for the regeneration of the western peninsula, the total value of which will be approximately £80 million. Currently, we are looking at the infrastructure work that needs to be done in order to facilitate that, but we hope to ensure that the private sector will deliver as much of that as possible. The council is bidding for funding from European sources in order to look at the extension of the harbour, which will help to pump-prime that project, so that would be the public investment that would facilitate private investment in that resort. The leverage may be approximately one in five, but each situation is different. It is our responsibility to examine the requirements to allow that development to happen, but the lower the leverage the better, from our perspective.

57. Mr A Maginness: The presentation and paper are very interesting. However, I am still trying to understand fully the function of the Department in relation to the development of town centres. You appear to have a social, an economic and possibly a retail function in the development of facilities, and a public- realm and environmental function. There appears to be a number of different functions; am I right in identifying those? The Department appears to be a mixed bag, which is dependent to some extent on the goodwill of other Departments such as DETI and DOE Planning Service. What would you define as its central function?

58. Mr McGrath: The role of the Department in respect of urban regeneration is to promote prosperous, viable, vital and vibrant town and city centres. The Department uses different methods to achieve that including the promotion of public realm and shared space, comprehensive development schemes, and retail that is appropriate. Retail is often a key part of a town centre, although culture and arts are also important.

59. It is a fairly broad, holistic approach. It is the one Department that has the job of promoting vibrant, urban centres. We hope that the spin-off from that — town centres becoming places where communities will mix — will make a significant contribution to a wider, shared-future agenda. Although it may not be fully understood, people shopping in town centres, where previously they did not, contributes to a greater mix between different communities. That will include the increasing number of ethnic communities in the future. We see regeneration as contributing to all of that and having a strong economic dimension.

60. Ms L MacHugh: Mr Maginness is right: regeneration is not a single-issue subject. It is almost a glue that fits a whole lot of things together. The key role of our Department is to ensure that the economic and social interests are pulled together into one place. It is not just about physical development; rather, it is about setting it in the context of people, ensuring that the communities are well serviced by those developments, and that it is also the best option for them.

61. Mr A Maginness: How does one define a town centre? There are traditional town centres, such as that in Coleraine, to which the Chairperson referred, where the traditional centre is around the Diamond and the streets that lead from it, yet, across the river there is a fairly intensive retail centre. Therefore, notionally, a town centre could move across a river to another part of the town.

62. Mr McGrath: We try to promote a viable urban centre, wherever the precise centre of that town will be, over time. That is why, in many cases, we aim, in conjunction with local interests and district councils, to develop a master plan as regards where we would like it to go. Then investment is put around that, providing a more strategic dimension.

63. In the past, particularly during the Troubles, if the private sector wanted to invest, it was not the Government’s job perhaps to tell it not to. Therefore, you could not necessarily be that selective or that strategic. Currently, we are doing work in towns such as Coleraine, Omagh and, increasingly, Ballymena, where we try to agree a master plan with all the local interests and, then, to channel investment around that plan — in some cases it is not instead of. However, in areas such as Belfast and Lisburn you are growing older, traditional quarters and also niche quarters, cultural quarters and historic quarters.

64. In many cases, you are trying to promote a sense of place, so that when people are there, they get a sense of place. There are town centres and areas that give you a buzz, while others do not. There are open spaces, public spaces and town centres that do not work well at all — particularly, when there is a lot of mall developments.

65. The Chairperson: Mr Maginness raised a relevant point about historical and traditional town centres. Antrim is an example of what he was talking about. There have been a series of retail developments, such as Junction One, which potentially offer challenges to the old, traditional town centre. How does the Department analyse progress such as that? Mr Maginness referred to Coleraine as a similar example of that, although Antrim is, perhaps, a more major one. What does the Department do when faced with challenges such as those?

66. Mr McGrath: The Department’s job is to promote urban centres. It is a fact that, during the Troubles, lots of people did not go near town centres — instead, they went out of town. Even Belfast suffers from the fact that a lot of people who live and work in the city or who live in north Down do not shop in the city centre. Therefore it is about bringing those people back.

67. There are issues about out-of-town shopping. For many years, the policy in England has been robust in restricting the number of out-of-town developments to allow city and town centres to redevelop and regenerate. That has contributed greatly to the return of cities in England, such as Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, to being economically vibrant places.

68. It is a difficult issue here, although I do not want to go into details, because we have to start from a lower base and go much further to go to attract people back into town centres by persuading shops to open later, making the centres less dead at night and creating, if not a 24-hour culture, an 18-hour one. Out-of-town developments present challenges to that. Therefore, we must make town centres more attractive and vibrant and try to support local retailers. Most shopping malls contain national retailers; they all seem to be the same. The issue in towns is about support for local retailers and niche developments and trying to achieve a blend of services. Most people park at malls, shop and go home, whereas we want them to broaden their experience.

69. Regeneration presents some challenges, and those are just some of the issues. I do not want to talk today about issues such as the John Lewis development and its impact on Belfast, but they impinge on the way in which we try to achieve a balance. That is an issue for wider planning policy.

70. Mr Craig: You will be glad to know that I am not going to mention the John Lewis development.

71. Mr McGrath, I read with interest the section of the written submission about amending the planning context and the Laganbank Quarter development in Lisburn. Given that the Department is changing the old area plan with regard to that development, how much consultation was carried out in the area that will be most affected? There has been some controversy.

72. Mr Snowden: Lisburn City Council carried out consultation during the production of the development frameworks that were published early in 2006. The Department came to the process after the development frameworks were produced. We have agreed that we will consider creating a development scheme, because certain changes to the planning context will be necessary to allow the scheme to be implemented.

73. We have engaged in intensive consultation with the key statutory agencies over the past three months to examine the issues. Several major issues concerning transport and the environment must be considered. When those issues are tackled, and when we have more information on them, we will undertake fuller and wider consultation on the contents of the development scheme.

74. Hopefully, we will publish a document that will be subjected to the same consultation process as that for the area plan documents. The Department intends to ensure that it identifies any possible points of objection as early as possible in the process and deals with them at the development stage, so that the scheme will proceed smoothly to the next stage.

75. Mr Craig: I thank Mr Snowden for that answer, Mr Chairman. As in the situation in Coleraine, which you are familiar with, we need to bring people on board.

76. Mr F McCann: It has been interesting to hear about what has been done. Some years ago, there was a conference in Liverpool, which talked about the city centre. In the 1950s and 1960s much of the population moved into the suburbs, and that had a dramatic effect on the city centre. Newcastle and Gateshead have what is probably the biggest shopping centre in Western Europe on their outskirts. It has had an impact, and you can start to see the regeneration of those cities. Towns such as Ennis have benefited from economic and tourism regeneration, and that has had an impact.

77. When you look at a map of the North, how do you choose a town for regeneration? Do you consider the whole town, or do you start with one section and work from there, which was how Dublin was redeveloped?

78. Mr McGrath: There are differences between a significant city and regional towns. Here, Belfast is the only significant city that compares with cities such as Newcastle or Liverpool — and that comparison is at the lower end of the scale. However, there are parallels with the examples that you cited.

79. A city centre is dead if people live or shop outside of it, and there are wider impacts. We consider tourism to be a growth area in Northern Ireland. Therefore, in addition to visiting unique attractions, tourists want to visit urban centres in which they can shop, dine and be entertained. That is the sort of product that must be provided by city and town centres. For example, by improving Belfast’s retail offer, the Victoria Square development will encourage and add to tourism growth. Compared with other major cities, Belfast’s retail offer is pretty poor. Therefore, such developments are not just about retail; they are also about tourism. If people come to Belfast, they will go beyond.

80. To date, in smaller towns — and Ian may wish to comment on this — much of our work has been reactive to initiatives taken by the private sector, chambers of commerce and district councils. To facilitate such initiatives, we are now taking a more strategic approach, and we have found that, in towns with significant problems, we must attempt to spark the investment market. Some regional towns have undergone significant development and are doing well; however, some are still drab and depressing, and the offer, with regard to shopping, public space and entertainment, is not good. Consequently, people just do not go to those towns.

81. The Chairperson: Will you outline some of those towns, Mr McGrath?

82. Mr McGrath: I though that you might say that, Chair.

83. Mr F McCann: Half of Belfast.

84. Mr McGrath: Bits of Belfast are not the most inviting. To be honest, at times, Larne is not the most exciting place, and a Saturday morning in Derry is not the most dynamic time either.

85. The Chairperson: Bits of Londonderry are not bad though. [Laughter.]

86. Mr McGrath: Sorry. Some places have not had much investment. Perhaps Ian will add to that.

87. Mr Snowden: Antrim is an example of a town that has struggled over the past 20 years. There are a number of large, vacant sites in the town centre that we want someone to do something with. The town has potentially a lot going for it, but it never seems to be able to maximise that potential. John mentioned Larne, which has stagnated. Although not in decline, it seems to trundle along without going anywhere, and there is a lack of ambition about it. Carrickfergus suffered as a result of the Abbey centre, and, in the 1980s, the loss of industries such as Rothmans Carreras had a major impact. The town struggled to find a new role or a focus. Those are examples of towns that have experienced difficulties.

88. The method of selecting towns on which we work is a combination of identifying those that are in need of assistance — such as Larne, Antrim and Carrickfergus, in which we are currently initiating work — and those in which opportunities arise. We are progressing quite quickly with schemes in Coleraine because opportunities are there to do something. The statutory agencies — ourselves, the Roads Service and the Planning Service — agreed that there were two sites that needed to be developed urgently.

89. As much as possible, we attempt to look at the town as a whole rather than concentrating on the town centre or part of the town centre. Currently, Lisburn is a complicated example of that approach. As Mr Craig said, we are working on the Laganbank Quarter as well as on potential developments on the outskirts of the town at Sprucefield, Blaris and the Maze. Lisburn also has substantial deprived communities — particularly the Colin neighbourhood — which are not taking advantage of the city’s prosperity. As part of our work with Lisburn City Council on the Laganbank Quarter, we are attempting to construct a framework, or strategy, that will allow us to take advantage of those various developments and to spread the benefits to deprived areas in the city region.

90. It is estimated that those developments combined will create about 17,000 jobs and the strategy is to fill at least 6,000 of them from the ranks of the economically inactive or unemployed who currently live within the boundaries of the city. That will make a substantial impact on social exclusion and poverty issues in Lisburn.

91. That is how we try to develop strategies, but it is not possible in every town or city. However, in Lisburn, circumstances allow that to happen. In Coleraine, to refer to that example again, there are two neighbourhood renewal areas and town-centre development schemes. In working with the developers, we want to ensure as far as possible that people who live in deprived areas and neighbourhood renewal areas are given maximum opportunity to get the jobs in those new town-centre development schemes. Each one will create a substantial number of jobs.

92. The Chairperson: I remind Committee members and officials that we must watch the clock. We are under some pressure of time today because of the rally.

93. Mr Burns: I apologise for being late, Chairman. I missed the earlier discussion on Antrim. Antrim is in my constituency. How you are going to get Antrim back on track remains to be seen. Antrim town centre is simply banks, offices, bookies and hot-food outlets that would not get planning permission in any other location. Such premises have all to go into a town centre. Antrim is not alone in that: towns such as Lurgan and Portadown, or anywhere that feeds into the Lisburn-Belfast connection, suffer the same problem. A big new Tesco store, offering free car-parking, makes a major impact on the centre of a town.

94. However, Antrim has a greater problem because it is accessible to Belfast by train and bus. You can travel to Belfast for the price of parking a car, and the choice of shops there is so much greater. That is a difficulty that Antrim has to overcome: travel is so easy. It is not a simple matter to regenerate a town. Shops that people want have to be brought in. People have freedom of choice and can travel elsewhere by train or bus.

95. Mr McGrath: That is true. At the end of the day, retailers will go where there is sufficient demand. We work with developers to create opportunities. Developers try to attract retailers, but retailers do their own market research, and they know where the demand is. Government does not offer them incentives. When developers offer a big shopping development, the anchor tenant in it will often get that shop for almost nothing. That is the way the market works. It is a difficult issue for towns like Antrim. It is ironic: people want good transport links so that they can commute, yet such links have their downside.

96. Mr Snowden: Conversely — or paradoxically, perhaps — Antrim is, statistically, an attractive location for many retailers. There is a large and growing population, and it is generally one of the most prosperous parts of Northern Ireland. Its proximity to Belfast is not necessarily an issue. Antrim’s problem is that there is no suitable space for those retailers. There are a lot of small and old properties, which are not really adequate for modern retail needs. There is, then, a physical constraint on the development of Antrim.

97. Mr Burns is quite right: while there is competition from Belfast, we must try to ensure that there is balanced development across the Province. Not every development can be sited in Belfast. It is the capital, and therefore it should be the site of our biggest and most prestigious developments. However, from the point of view of environmental sustainability, transport and other factors we have to ensure balance across the country. Analysing the difficulties is the way to overcome them, and that is the key process that we need to be involved in.

98. Ms L MacHugh: One of the key strategies that we need to be aware of is the regional development strategy, which identifies Belfast and Derry/Londonderry as the two major urban centres. Beneath them, in the hierarchy, are other subregional economic hubs, and below them are the secondary towns. In all that we do, we must bear in mind that there is a regional development strategy that sets all of those towns in context.

99. Ms Lo: I sat on the South Belfast Partnership Board for some years. During the development of the Gasworks site, some communities from the Markets area and from Donegall Pass, in particular, were disappointed that they did not benefit much from the development. You said that city development training is now being put in place in east and west Belfast, but you did not mention south Belfast. Is there anything planned for south Belfast?

100. Mr McGrath: It is not a huge scheme. A great deal of work has been done in the Laganside area, such as the introduction of the Gasworks employment matching service (GEMS) initiative, which tries to link opportunities in those areas to deprived areas. When we promote any development, a constant part of our work involves linking opportunities to disadvantaged areas. That is a constant theme that we pursue. Sometimes it works, and sometimes we do not get a response.

101. There were attempts to develop initiatives with local communities at the time of major hotel developments in Belfast, but there was no take-up. However, we have learnt from that. When the Victoria Square development opens, many of those retail jobs will replace many of the traditional industries in Belfast. We will want to link the inner-city ring round Belfast from the Shankill Road, Newtownards Road, Crumlin Road and Falls Road to the significant expansion of quality retail jobs that will happen in the Victoria Square development and in subsequent developments, because that is a major driver.

102. We try to get private-sector investment to link to jobs in those areas by providing pre-employment training and developing linkages by getting developers and retailers to go the extra mile and put something in. There are examples of such linkages. When Debenhams opened in CastleCourt, links to north and west Belfast were developed. We always try to develop links, but we must try to push them a little further.

103. Call centres and offices are based on the Gasworks site, so perhaps such jobs could not have been linked to people who are economically inactive. We would be happy to come back to the Committee to discuss our work on Victoria Square, in particular. We are embarking on a major initiative to link those jobs to all the disadvantaged communities in the greater Belfast area.

104. The Chairperson: You said in your opening remarks that requirements for regeneration vary between towns, so measuring outputs from regeneration is preferable to an overall evaluation of policy impact. How would you carry out that sort of evaluation?

105. Mr McGrath: It is more appropriate if we examine individual schemes at town level and discuss their impact, because each scheme has been different. It is difficult to evaluate the overall programme in a quantitative way. It is done in a qualitative way by working out that some towns are more vibrant than they used to be. However, if we thought that we had carried out improvements in Carrickfergus, for example, but they had not worked their way across the wider town, it would be difficult to number crunch that at a strategic level.

106. The Chairperson: How do you assess whether a town’s economic vibrancy has been the direct result of one of the schemes?

107. Mr McGrath: Increasingly, we have been carrying out a needs analysis first. Ideally, we would like to make a diagnosis, by posing certain questions. What are the problems in the town? Is the lack of footfall to blame, or the lack of permeability? Is there little retail on offer? Is it the physical structure of the town, or the lack of opportunities? Then we try to promote it, or to link up with the private sector to develop a scheme that will tackle those problems. After a couple of years of trading, we conduct counts, including the number of shoppers — the footfall —visiting the town. That results in a quantitative analysis, linking back to the problem that we were trying to fix in the first place.

108. Mr Snowden: Depending on the size and nature of it, more effort is put into a bigger scheme than a smaller one. If we were carrying out an environmental improvement scheme, we might ask how people feel about the aesthetic appearance of the town centre, how they feel about its safety and what impact that has had on footfall and, therefore, on trade.

109. Over the past three or four years, we have had a very successful example of that in Banbridge, where the environmental improvement scheme, which cost around £1 million, has succeeded in reducing the vacancy rates of commercial properties on the main street to zero. There had been several vacant properties on the street before that. That is one clear example of a scheme that has delivered a successful output for the town.

110. The Chairperson: Did the decision on rating vacant commercial premises have any impact on that?

111. Mr Snowden: That is one of the things that I wanted to talk about. It takes several years to implement such a complicated scheme in a town centre. It is difficult — almost impossible — to establish the counterfactual situation with any degree of accuracy. As far as possible, we must establish the current baseline position; decide whether we can discern any trends over a period of time; try to establish how things might be if left to their own course, with economic conditions progressing as you would normally expect; and, when the scheme is finished, determine its impact.

112. I am currently working on an evaluation of Coleraine. A detailed set of regeneration objectives were established for Coleraine before we embarked on the two development schemes. We take each of those regeneration objectives and try to establish which indicators will tell us what impact we are having. We build a system whereby we can gather information now, so that in five years’ time we can assess what impact there has been. To pick up on one of the themes we have discussed already, if we increase retail space in Coleraine town centre by 21%, in five years’ time will it have a detrimental effect on another part of the town? We attempt to find a way to track that over a period of time.

113. The Chairperson: There are some people who believe that the same thing is happening in Ballymena, where there has been a displacement of retail from the lower, town hall end of the town to the upper end, where significant development has taken place. Is that the sort of thing that you are talking about — within a confined town area?

114. Mr Snowden: Yes.

115. The Chairperson: We are pushed for time, members. There are no further questions. Thank you very much, Mr McGrath, Ms MacHugh and Mr Snowden.

22 November 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Fra McCann
Mrs Claire McGill
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr Alban Maginness

Witnesses:

Mr Bryan Gray, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association
Mr Des Stephens, Independent Planning Consultant
Mr Paul Stewart, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association
Mr Barry Turley, ASITIS Consulting

116. The Chairperson (Mr Campbell): I welcome the witnesses from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) to the Committee. Please turn off any mobile phones as they interfere with the recording. The Committee is delighted that you are here.

117. Mr Bryan Gray (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association): My name is Bryan Gray, and I am the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association. With me are: Mr Paul Stewart, the president of NIIRTA and an independent retailer in the centre of Magherafelt; Mr Des Stephens, an independent planning consultant who does work for the association; and Mr Barry Turley, who is our parliamentary consultant. The Committee has a summary of our evidence that explains who and what we are.

118. NIIRTA represents more than 900 independent retailers who operate in every town and village — and many country crossroads — throughout the Province. There has been a huge change in the nature of retail in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years since the arrival of the multiples.

119. Of course, the multiples’ preferred location is out-of-town centres where greenfield sites can be developed more cheaply than town-centre ones and which give them more scope to develop ever larger shops.

120. Indeed, we now face the prospect that Ireland’s first ever Tesco Extra store will be located in Banbridge; at 130,000 sq ft, it will be so huge that it is difficult to visualise. Let me put it in perspective — if everyone who lives in Banbridge went to the new store on the same day, there would not be a crush because they would each have about 4 sq ft in which to stand. Increasingly, out-of-town developments are disproportionately large. They do not just affect our members, who are exclusively grocery retailers; they affect every retail outlet on the high street: they sell electrical goods, clothes, insurance, and so on — even insurance brokers are affected. No high-street retailer escapes the damage that is done by out-of-town centres.

121. Fortunately, Northern Ireland can still close the stable door before the horse has bolted completely. We have yet to suffer the damage that out-of-town centres have caused in England and Wales, where 42% of small towns and large villages no longer have a shop of any kind. There is nowhere to buy milk or newspapers — nowhere for social interaction.

122. NIIRTA’s submission is based on the report by EDAW Consultants that was delivered to the Department for Social Development (DSD) in March 2000 containing 27 recommendations. The association was disappointed that the report was never publicised and never saw the light of day. It bounced around the Department but was never published; the public never had access to it. The association believes that many of the report’s recommendations were not followed through.

123. Rather than go through all the recommendations, I will highlight a few. Recommendation 1 stated that there was a strong case for planning policy statement 5 (PPS 5) to be reviewed as a priority. Chairman, you will recall that when you were Minister for Regional Development, the association wrote to you on the matter. In 2003, it was anticipated that a revised PPS 5 would be published reasonably quickly; however, after direct rule was reinstated, hidden agendas got in the way of its publication. Seven years after the review was commissioned, a final retail planning policy statement has still not been published.

124. The association agrees with EDAW Consultants that there is a strong case for commissioning a retail capacity assessment for Northern Ireland. In many ways, the research that the Department for Regional Department (DRD) commissioned from Roger Tym & Partners in 2000 amounted to a retail capacity assessment. However, the fact that the Department for Social Development was not even consulted on the terms of reference of that research is a prime example of how little joined-up government there was at the time. Just last week, at a meeting with Conor Murphy, the association discovered that the research has been updated, although we can be confident that the Department for Regional Development has not shared that with DSD either. That is a major problem.

125. Recommendation 4 said that town-centre management should be considered as an element of town-centre reinvigoration. Town-centre management has already peaked. A few years ago, there were about 20 town-centre managers in Northern Ireland, but they are gradually disappearing, as their funding has been removed. Councils are replacing them with economic development officers. An economic development officer is far from being a town-centre manager, and very far from being independent.

126. The case for town-centre managers is most obvious in Antrim, where the town-centre manager and the town-centre management company completely opposed grocery retailing at Junction One. The council did not share their view, and as a result pulled the funding for the town-centre manager and the management company, and they no longer exist. Antrim is the perfect example of retail dereliction in the Province. There are no shops in its town centre: it has been reduced to taxi depots, Indian takeaways and other food outlets — but no retailing. It is completely derelict, and it does not even have a town-centre manager to try to turn that situation around.

127. Recommendation 6 from EDAW Consultants states that social exclusion must be recognised as a key factor in town centre reinvigoration. Recommendation 8 states that housing makes a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres. Mr Stephens will elaborate on the housing issue, and I will confine myself to areas in which I have expertise — retail.

128. Recommendation 10 states that the regional transport plan should include specific policies for town centres. The regional transport plan has been published, but local transport plans and how they can be linked to town-centre policies are important. One main problem is that too many car parks are owned by the Department for Regional Development, and most of them are in town centres and not being utilised. There are also other large tracts of land in public ownership. For instance, Translink, the education and library boards and the health and social services boards own large tracts of underused land in town centres, which should be used to revitalise them.

129. Recommendation 13 identifies that pedestrianisation has not worked, and there are good examples of that; it has not worked in Antrim, and it has done nothing to enhance Newry’s town centre.

130. Recommendations 14 and 15 go together and state that there should be joined-up government. However, we have seen little evidence of joined-up government between the three Departments whose remit affects town centres.

131. Recommendation 22 states that the funding of town-centre projects should be limited to towns that have an agreed town-centre strategy, but that is not the case. The Department spent substantial sums on Antrim’s town centre, but the council is intent on supporting out-of-town shopping at Junction One. Its town centre has suffered more dereliction than any other in Northern Ireland, but the council seems to be intent on making it worse. Spending money on Antrim town centre while the council continues its support for grocery retailing at Junction One is merely pouring money down the drain.

132. With regard to the scope and effectiveness of programmes and policies, DSD must impress upon DRD the urgency of publishing the final version of PPS 5, as we are in a policy vacuum. Developers are interested only in their own profit — not in the vitality of town centres — and they will continue to make hay while the sun shines and for as long as the policy vacuum exists. Furthermore, the large multiple retailers will continue to promote out-of-town shopping at the expense of town centres. DSD must promote evidence-based research. DRD has not shared with DSD its update on the research carried out by Roger Tym & Partners; in fact, there seems to be little communication between the Departments. Programmes are narrowly based and ad hoc; designed to deal with particular problems.

133. An example of that is the Semple Report on affordable housing, which considered the subject in a narrow, tunnel-vision way; it did not include a longer-term, wider-based strategy for affordable housing.

134. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Public Health Alliance for the island of Ireland recently published research. However, I could not forward that research to the Committee Clerk before this meeting because it was published only in the past two weeks. However, I have brought a copy of it entitled ‘Food Poverty — Fact or Fiction?’ It makes several important points about how a lack of policy and the move of shopping to out-of-town centres have directly affected food poverty in Northern Ireland and increased social deprivation.

135. Regeneration funding in the promotion of affordable housing through associations, rather than co-ordinated action between the three Departments involved, has failed. NIIRTA gives examples of failed pedestrianisation and of district councils that continue to promote out-of-town shopping at the expense of their town centres. We are at a loss to understand district councils’ agenda in that regard.

136. On the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities, DSD is the Cinderella Department; it picks up the wreckage that is left by its two ugly sisters, DRD and the Department of the Environment (DOE) and papers over the cracks that they cause. That is caused by a lack of joined-up government. DSD must engage fully with DOE in preparing area plans, and it must be fully consulted by DOE, the Planning Service and DRD. DSD is consulted only on retail developments in town centres, which usually enhance them. It is much more important that the Planning Service consult DSD on developments outside town centres that will damage them. At present, DSD is not a statutory consultee, even though its input into out-of-town developments is vital.

137. There is a clear need for a relationship between the town-centre strategy and the development plan, and that should be set down in legislation. Rather than papering over the cracks piecemeal, DSD must have a five-year action plan to prioritise needs and to integrate them with development plans and to assemble sites. That is affected by public-sector landholdings, and, once again, Antrim is a good example. The education and library board owns land in the town centre that it will not free. Other land in Antrim is owned by Translink; however, it has no incentive to sell it because it is not allowed to retain the capital from the sale; it must pass it over to the Department. That seems preposterous. Any asset that comes Translink’s way as a result of selling land should be reinvested in the transport infrastructure rather than be handed over. The large tracts of land in Antrim town centre that are in the hands of various public bodies should be assembled to provide a site in the centre of Antrim that will revitalise the town. It is important that connections between car parks, transport interchanges and pedestrian links be enhanced.

138. Experience elsewhere shows that the present fragmented system hinders success and damages policy. Comprehensive development schemes are much more successful in Great Britain, as a planning authority has vesting powers to assemble sites. If the Department is serious about town-centre reinvigoration, it must take positive action to assemble sites. Town-centre sites will not invent themselves; developers will not come together to put their parcels of land together. It is the Department’s proper place to assemble and promote such sites, possibly in public-private partnerships together with developers. Perhaps a new approach is needed, but sites must be assembled and developed in town centres.

139. There are lessons to be learned from the Republic of Ireland, and we know that departmental officials share that view. In the South, town-centre regeneration and development is largely the remit of an individual who looks at the overall picture — all the developments and circumstances that affect town centres — and takes a much broader view.

140. We commend to the Committee the report of the all-party parliamentary small shops group, whose recommendations recognise that local shops are the glue that holds communities together. When retailing in town centres loses its vitality, it affects many other aspects of life in a town. It has a huge impact on the night-time economy. If the town centre is empty throughout the day and lacks vitality, it tends to become a dark and threatening place at night.

141. The all-party parliamentary small shops group said that progressive policies and measures — locally, regionally, and nationally — are required to redress the balance and to sustain a healthy, competitive market in town centres and to protect local people and economies. In effect, the out-of-town shopping centres that are promoted by large, multiple retailers become a huge Hoover that vacuums money out of Northern Ireland’s economy, takes it across the Irish Sea, and damages local producers, farmers, retailers and communities.

142. The group also recommended a rates relief system for independent traders who trade at the threshold of viability. The Department of Finance and Personnel has commissioned research into the viability of rates relief, which is vital to the survival of small retailers. The group also recommended that local authorities adopt a retail strategy in the unitary development plan, which is a feature of planning in England. However, that recommendation could equally be applied to Northern Ireland.

143. The group also recommends that there should be regeneration units in all local authorities in the UK. That could easily be applied to Northern Ireland, as such units do not exist here. There should be focused regeneration units in all regional development associations in the UK.

144. In Northern Ireland, the Department for Social Development plays the role of a regional development authority in many ways, but we question the Department’s effectiveness in promoting regeneration. Powers should be delegated, and people locally should be consulted on many more issues that affect town centres. The recommendations of the Hampton Review, which is in essence about joined-up government, should be introduced. It is about communication, co-operation and joint policies between Departments.

145. The Chairperson: Why did the EDAW Consultants’ report of March 2000 not go anywhere?

146. Mr Gray: It is difficult to say. Mr Stephens may know.

147. Mr Des Stephens (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association): First, the report was never put into the public domain, which is the first thing that would have been done had there been a serious attempt to implement its recommendations. Secondly, its recommendations should have been prioritised. Thirdly, there should have been a plan of action to implement the recommendations, had they been adopted by the Department.

148. As far as I am aware, none of those things took place. We are not on the inside of the Department and cannot know the details; however, since the report was not published and no action has been taken publicly, we must assume that very little has been done to implement it.

149. The Chairperson: Apart from creating a great deal of trouble, what other reasons could there have been for the Department not highlighting, publicising, promoting or proceeding with it?

150. Mr Stephens: Each Department has its priorities; for example, affordable housing may be a priority of DSD. I was a senior civil servant in DRD and DOE. When the Department for Regional Development was trying to publish planning policy statement 12 (PPS 12) on housing development, we tried to get all three Departments to work together so that they could identify what proportion of a housing development would be allocated for affordable housing in any new planning application.

151. We visited authorities in Bristol and Wandsworth to see what happens when a single authority looks after housing and planning. On day one of a planning application, 10% or 20% of the houses were allocated for affordable housing. The developer built the affordable houses in the same way as the other houses, and when they were completed they were taken over by the housing authority. People in the borough in need of affordable housing were allocated a house in the private housing development. Externally, all the houses looked the same and all were provided by the developer. However, the housing authority gave an undertaking, in conjunction with the planners at the outset of the planning application, that it would take over those houses. There is a unified system in place from day one, and a reasonable proportion of a development is given over to affordable housing.

152. In 2002-03, the University of Ulster said that Northern Ireland was coming under pressure on the price of housing and that house prices were reaching those on the mainland. However, the Housing Executive decided that Northern Ireland did not need to concern itself with overheating house prices, as any problems were some distance and some time away. Look at what has happened: house prices in Northern Ireland have risen more than anywhere else in the United Kingdom — some 60% last year. Northern Ireland now has a real problem with affordable housing — particularly first-time buyers.

153. Working closely together, the three Departments could, along with house builders, have full implementation with a reasonable proportion of affordable housing at no cost to the Department for Social Development.

154. The Chairperson: There is a lack of co-ordination and joined-up working between Departments.

155. Mr A Maginness: It has been suggested that PPS 5 is the responsibility of DRD. In light of the court case on PPS 14, should it not be transferred to the Department of the Environment? I may be totally wrong, but could that not be considered? The Minister for Social Development referred to PPS 12 and said that it should also go to the Department of the Environment.

156. I thank the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association for its interesting submission; it makes a very persuasive case for small retailers, for whom I have tremendous sympathy. I am sure that most members want to retain town and city centres as the focus for retail and commercial activity.

157. However, people are voting with their feet — or their cars — they are moving from town centres to outlying retail centres and are, in effect, creating new town centres. That is a serious problem, and I am not sure that there is a simple solution that will redress the balance in favour of small retailers. If the big English and American companies thought that people were focused on town centres, that is where they would put their businesses. We are only at the beginning of our inquiry, but already redressing the balance has come across as a fundamental problem. Have things gone so far that people now view out-of-town shopping centres as the natural focus for serious retail?

158. Mr Gray: First, I will give some information on PPS 5 and PPS 14. Following the PPS 14 judgement, it was our view that PPS 5 was likely to move to the Department of the Environment. On Thursday, we met the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy. DRD feels that PPS 5 may move to the DOE, but, as of Thursday, that decision had not been made.

159. As for the popularity of out-of-town shopping centres, we must ask which came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is that, of course, the out-of-town shopping centre came first.

160. The motives of large multiple retailers and American corporations for building out of town are not to do with meeting the needs of consumers, although they will always tell us that: their motives are to meet the needs of large multiple retailers. There are several aspects to that.

161. Building in a town centre is on brownfield sites that are expensive to clear. A site must be assembled and several landowners must be dealt with, which can be awkward. It is much easier to nip a couple of miles out the road — as one large multiple retailer is about to do near Magherafelt — and pick a large green field: no site assembly and no clearance are required, and it is cheaper to build a shop there.

162. There is another aspect to the behaviour of large multiple retailers that is vital to the preservation of town centres: multiple retailers can assemble greater floor space, but they do not use it to offer consumers more choice; they use it to sell more categories. Including more categories under one roof increases the damage to town centres exponentially. For example, the biggest Tesco in Ireland is in Clarehall, near Malahide. If you travel from Dublin airport to Malahide, you will see it on the right-hand side. Locally, it is known as the Clarehall opera house because it is so huge. It sells absolutely everything: lawnmowers, fertiliser and everything else. Every retail outlet for many miles has been damaged by that shop. Indeed, if one wishes to visit the doctor in Clarehall, one goes to Tesco because that is where the doctor’s surgery is.

163. We have a choice: do we want town centres full of shoppers and vitality, or do we want a huge, one-stop grey box on the outskirts of town surrounded by a huge car park?

164. We are all consumers. The difficulty with consumers is that, collectively, they are not far-sighted. When new shops open on our doorstep we all think that they are wonderful — when a large new shop opened close to where I live, for several weeks my wife thought that it was wonderful. However, now she is gradually drifting back to the local shops because she sees the benefits that they bring. Collectively, consumers are not far-sighted, and it is Government’s job to inform, educate — and govern — in matters that affect consumers. In five years’ time, when Northern Ireland has suffered the same retail damage as England — 42% of small towns and villages without a shop of any kind — consumers will ask why there is nowhere left in their towns to buy milk and papers, and who allowed that to happen. Consumers will not blame themselves or the large multiples; they will blame Government.

165. The Chairperson: They usually do.

166. Mr Craig: I have listened to Mr Gray, and he is very passionate. The unfortunate reality is, as Alban said, that shoppers have voted with their feet. I am one of the dinosaurs who still shop in the town centre, although my wife does not and I know why. What are the top three recommendations that could reverse that?

167. Mr Gray: The most important factor is site assembly; it is the role of the Department to assemble town-centre sites. If there is to be development in town centres, sites must be assembled there. In answer to Mr Maginness’s question, town-centre sites tend to be smaller; they do not give the large multiples the scope to develop as much floor space and they force them to compete alongside other retailers.

168. Out-of-town centres take people out of town, which completely excludes town-centre retailers; if people continue to walk past their front door, they can compete, which is all that our members want. They do not want special protectionist policies to protect retailing in Northern Ireland; they just want the opportunity to compete by having people walk past their front door. If shoppers are three miles out of town in a car park, we cannot compete, and that is where the damage is done.

169. People often say that Tesco at Knocknagoney has done Holywood no harm. However, the damage does not appear overnight; it will appear in three to five years’ time. Small local retailers are generally family businesses that often employ family members; they can cut costs, pay a couple of employees off and are perhaps a wee bit more resilient — perhaps they own their own property. However, they will not close until between three and five years after out-of-town shopping centres are built. Once those shops close they will never reopen; they will be replaced by financial services and charity shops, which pay only 50% rates.

170. For example, driving through Ballyhackamore, which is a retail centre not far from here, one would think that it is a vibrant local centre with a range of nice new shops. However, walking around Ballyhackamore you see a different story; there are 13 estate agents, five charity shops, a newsagent and a very small greengrocer. That is it. There is very little retail vitality in such local centres at present. Des will nominate the other two most important issues.

171. Mr Stephens: Improved links in town centres are important. Full pedestrianisation has not worked. As Bryan pointed out, Antrim is a classic example of a town that has deteriorated and developers have moved out of it. I carried out studies on several towns and found that Ballymena is an example of the reverse: two good shopping centres were located in the town centre — the Tower Centre and the Fairhill shopping centre. I was part of the group that advocated keeping the Fairhill site developed for shopping.

172. There are good car parks around the perimeter of the town. Communications are shaped almost like a dumbbell: pedestrians move between the two shopping centres because they are within walking distance. The net result is a vibrancy that other towns do not possess. The danger in Antrim is that a new town centre is being recreated outside the town. The new Larne, Carrick and Antrim area plans will have to address that. Will Antrim town centre be regenerated?

173. I encourage the Committee to think about this: housing brings life to town centres after business hours. We suffered the troubles for 30 years when nobody wanted to live over the shop in town centres, particularly when there was a risk to their lives. Now that we have peace and general prosperity, there is a great opportunity to encourage housing back into town centres. In many of the shops and businesses in towns, the upstairs space is used for storage or for nothing at all. We have a wonderful opportunity to encourage movement back into town centres so that people can live and work much more closely together. It is also much more sustainable and makes use of vacant properties.

174. The Chairperson: I remind members that we are pushed for time.

175. Mr Craig: I have one brief supplementary question. I was surprised that you did not mention the reason that my wife gives me for not shopping in the town centre — parking. Car-parking charges in some town centres are excessive. Is that not a major reason why people are driven towards out-of-town shopping centres, where parking is free?

176. Mr Gray: It is an issue on which we have made representations to the Department in respect of several town centres. Fortunately, the Department has been receptive. The parking regime in Ballynahinch is about to change, if it has not already done so, to solve problems with town-centre car parking. It was 20p for an hour, but is now 20p for three hours. We have also spoken to the Department about problems in Armagh city centre, and the parking regime there is being changed. Parking policy, particularly town-centre parking, must be addressed. Unfortunately, we are all in love with our cars; if people could drive their car into a shop, they would.

177. The Chairperson: Some do.

178. Mr Gray: One of our members has been very innovative and has established a drive-through Spar on the Cliftonville Road.

179. Mr Brady: You said that 42% of English villages no longer have a shop of any kind. To paraphrase Napoleon, it is no longer a nation of shopkeepers; it is a nation of out-of-town supermarkets. Mr Stephens talked about town-centre developments. Newry has the Buttercrane shopping centre and the Quays, which are within walking distance of each other. People have no choice but to walk, because they cannot get parked. It is as simple as that, and it is a nightmare.

180. Mr Gray made a very relevant point: over the past two Christmases, Sainsbury’s in Newry had the highest takings of any Sainsbury’s store here or in Britain. The company flew staff in from Scotland and England — no local employment was created. Sainsbury’s does create employment, despite flying people in, but all that money left the area; it did not go back into the Newry and Mourne economic infrastructure. Huge numbers of locals and people from the South spend money, particularly in the Quays, but none of that money stays here, because very few of the outlets are locally-owned.

181. Mr Gray: Sainsbury’s in Newry is a good example, as it houses Britain’s biggest off-licence. Every February, Sainsbury’s issues a press release telling us that its Newry store has sold more alcohol than any outlet in Britain. Indeed, we heard anecdotally that in a four-day period last Christmas, it sold £1 million-worth of alcohol.

182. That is largely driven by the difference in duty between Northern Ireland and the South.

183. I may not have mentioned it earlier, but in this new era of cross-border co-operation and communication, we have to consider planning policy on the other side of the border. There is a cap on floor-space in the Republic: retailers may not build shops bigger than 30,000 sq ft. Sainsbury’s could not build a shop in Dundalk as big as its supermarket in Newry, so they conveniently built it just across the border. In another prime example — and this is from your town, Mr Chairman — there is a proposal for a 90,000 sq ft Tesco to be built on the Buncrana Road in Derry. It would not be allowed to be built in Letterkenny. However, Southern planning policy can easily be subverted by building a store a couple of hundred yards across the border.

184. Another key factor in the building of out-of-town shopping centres is the employment myth. We regularly see headlines in newspapers announcing that such-and-such a shop is bringing 400 new jobs for Coleraine or 300 for Omagh. The National Retail Planning Forum carried out definitive research into the impact of the opening of 93 superstores in England and Wales. It came to the conclusion that every superstore that opens results in a net loss of 276 jobs within a 15-kilometre radius. Those jobs are lost in local retailing outlets. Moreover, out-of-town shopping centres are largely staffed by part-time workers.

185. The Chairperson: Members should bear in mind that the Committee must hear from another delegation, and it is now after 1.00 pm.

186. Mrs McGill: I support NIIRTA’s case. I am from around Omagh and Strabane and I was glad to hear you mention Omagh because there has been much talk of Antrim and Ballymena. Did you invite comments from anyone in Strabane or Omagh? Did you do any research on those towns? If you had, it might have been valuable.

187. However, I understand the principle of what you have said. Mr Craig mentioned the advantages of parking and shopping on one level as the attractions of out-of-town shopping centres.

188. Mr Gray: We have many members in Omagh and Strabane; one of our board members is from Omagh. As the member knows, a new town-centre store was developed recently in Strabane. Lest anyone have the impression that we are opposed to multiples, let me point out that we did not oppose the development of the shop in Strabane, for it was in the town centre. The same retailer is developing a store in the centre of Ballyclare, which we support. Ballyclare badly needs an anchor store in the town centre. We are not anti-multiple; however, we are opposed to out-of-town shopping centres. If rumours that I have heard from Omagh are correct, the town will come under threat from the development of a large multiple. That will be announced soon.

189. Mrs McGill: Does DSD fund living over the shop (LOTS)?

190. Mr Stephens: Across the water in the mainland there is funding available to create such units.

191. Mrs McGill: And the Department for Social Development here funds that.

192. The Chairperson: We will consider that in our inquiry.

193. Miss McIlveen: I thank the witnesses for their presentation; I have huge sympathy with them. I must declare an interest: my family has a business that has suffered from the advent of huge retail units.

194. Your presentation was negative and gloomy. The chambers of trade in my area do not often work together, even in one town. In the past, there have been difficulties between chambers of trade and councils over town-centre retail schemes.

195. I was interested to hear Mr Gray say that sometimes town-centre managers work well and sometimes they do not. Are there examples in Northern Ireland of town-centre managers doing a good job?

196. Mr Gray: Bangor is a perfect of example of a town-centre manager being proactive in revitalising the town centre against a trend towards out-of-town shopping. He has managed to retain the town centre’s vitality and keep some heart in the town.

197. There have been problems with some town-centre managers; some of them receive funding from the large out-of -town shopping centres, and there is a codicil in their contract forbidding them to be critical of an out-of-town centre in any way.

198. Antrim’s town-centre manager was doing an excellent job until the council decided to remove his funding because it did not agree with him and the town’s traders. Town-centre managers do good jobs, where they are allowed to by those who control the purse strings.

199. The Chairperson: You have probably gleaned that there is considerable interest in your work, and the fact that we have agreed to conduct an inquiry should show you where our sympathies lie in regenerating town centres.

200. We will endeavour to find out what happened to the missing report and why it never saw the light of day. We will let you know the outcome from the Department. Thank you very much.

6 December 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Fra McCann
Mrs Claire McGill
Miss Michelle McIlveen

Witnesses:

Mr Donall Henderson
Mr Marcus Patton } Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations
Mr Chris Williamson

Mr Fergal Eastwood
Mr P J McAvoy } Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District
Mr Mervyn Rankin

Mrs Hazel Bell } Larne Borough Council
Ms Geraldine McGahey

201. The Chairperson (Mr Campbell): Good morning. I welcome the representatives of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) to this morning’s evidence session, which is part of the Committee’s inquiry into town centre regeneration. We will listen to your oral evidence now and put questions later.

202. Mr Chris Williamson (Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations): Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I will give the Committee a general introduction to the federation’s written submission. An updated version of that submission containing a longer list of housing association schemes is available for members. I will then hand over to Mr Marcus Patton, who is the director of Hearth Housing Association — one of our member associations. Mr Patton will outline his experience in this field, and then, with your permission, we will be happy to take questions. We realise that the Committee has a heavy programme today, so we will not take up any more time than is absolutely necessary.

203. The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations is the representative body for over 40 housing associations in Northern Ireland. Most of those associations are registered with the Department for Social Development (DSD), but some are not. That does not make them any less a housing association; they are simply in a different category of association. I mention that because some unregistered housing associations have extra flexibility; they are able to do certain things that registered associations are unable to do because of the nature of Government regulation. Hearth Housing Association is registered with the Department, but works hand in glove with the Hearth Revolving Fund, which is an unregistered housing association. Mr Patton will be able to show how working hand in hand the two organisations can achieve better results than if they worked separately.

204. Housing associations manage 30,000 homes in the North of Ireland. Not all of them are in the urban regeneration areas that are the focus of the Committee’s inquiry, but a good few are. Our members have been working away quietly, but effectively, for over three decades. Their work was not branded as DSD regeneration work; it was work that needed to be done, and it happened to be in town centres or village centres, as well as in Belfast and Derry. They got on with that work — it did not have any fancy title — and it has been very effective.

205. We have listed a range of projects in our written submission, from the restoration of alms houses that date back hundreds of years, to the pulling down of derelict or unused buildings in town or village centres and replacing them with modern housing units such as apartments, bungalows or town houses.

206. Since 1991, housing associations have drawn private loans from commercial sources to contribute to that work and stretch the available public money. They have also drawn little — or not so little — pots of money from various charitable sources or from the National Lottery. Those various funding strands are brought together in useful ways. There are examples of the living over the shop (LOTS) scheme, both in old and new buildings, which is an important and useful initiative, particularly in the town centres.

207. The raison d’être of town centres is the commercial activity. We are not saying that town centres should be totally replaced by housing. We are saying that housing can and should make a valuable contribution to a mixed and lively urban environment, in particular, an environment that helps to keep the place alive at night-time, and, therefore, more secure and attractive. There are benefits to the commercial sector in that there is a more commercially interesting offer.

208. I will now hand over to Mr Patton.

209. Mr Marcus Patton (Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations): Good morning. If members want some additional information on Hearth Housing Association, I have some brochures that I can pass round.

210. I am here as a representative of a sample housing association. Hearth is an unusual housing association in that it is quite small and works specifically on existing buildings, whereas most associations work with new buildings. About 30 years ago, the National Trust and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society set up the association with a view to selecting buildings of character that were derelict, or at risk, in town centres and prominent locations around the Province.

211. We have worked mainly on listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas. We have worked on several buildings that are not listed but which we thought had historic character and contributed to the townscape. By restoring such significant buildings, we can contribute to the regeneration of town centres. Rather than pulling down buildings and starting from scratch, retaining the character of historic buildings is an important element in making people proud of their area. For instance, we recently worked on the town hall in Portrush and with Coleraine Borough Council on restoring a building there. That was with the Hearth Revolving Fund, which is not tied exclusively to housing but can be used for other buildings that we consider to be key to the location, was used in the Coleraine project.

212. We have also worked on a housing project in association with Lisburn City Council when together we restored a couple of gate lodges at Wallace Park that had been derelict for about 10 years. We managed the houses, but they are within the council’s park, and the restoration has been helpful in bringing the park to life at different times of the day.

213. The regeneration of an area, through retaining buildings and making people proud of it, saves a great deal of money, which is not the case when an area is wiped out and building is started from scratch. The restoration of three derelict buildings in a terrace means that the remaining 10, which are perfectly OK, do not have to be pulled down, something that has often happened. We believe in trying to find those two or three buildings in an area rather than in large-scale development. As you will see from the booklet, Hearth is a small association but has worked in a wide range of areas, and I hope that you recognise many of the buildings on which we have worked.

214. Mr Williamson: I should have introduced my colleague on my left: Donall Henderson is the federation’s housing policy and research manager.

215. The Chairperson: I am interested in registered as opposed to unregistered associations. The terminology is unfortunate because, as you explained, it is not a question of whether one is right and one is wrong or one is fully approved and the other is not. However, there is a distinction, and perhaps Mr Patton is the best person to explain it. Do the unregistered associations have greater flexibility and are they quite content to be unregistered because of that? What is the distinction?

216. Mr Williamson: Marcus can give you some specific examples, but a little cottage on the Antrim Road comes to mind. Both of Marcus’s organisations were involved in its restoration, and some detail on their participation may help to answer your question, Chairman.

217. Mr Patton: Before registration was introduced, we started as an unregistered association, and the original idea was that that would operate as a building preservation trust, of which there are now a dozen. I am going off on a tangent slightly, but there are about a dozen building preservation trusts in the Province, and about 400 throughout the UK. We started off with that in mind and then, when the Orders on housing associations were introduced, we were able to access housing funding that allowed us to work in an additional way.

218. Our unregistered housing association, the Hearth Revolving Fund, continues to operate side by side with the association. We have used the unregistered association when there has been no immediate social-housing need in an area but there has been a use for the building in that it could be made habitable or when a building was too expensive and did not fit within the yardsticks that housing associations have to operate. Therefore, we have used the unregistered association when we have been unable to work within the registered housing association rules or when we have had to move very quickly, because the Revolving Fund does not have to face the bureaucracy that housing associations inevitably face.

219. The building on the Antrim Road that Chris mentioned was originally a little gate lodge, or cottage ornée, and it was under threat. It was being regularly set on fire, and the owner wanted to find a new owner to take the building on rather than putting it on the market and waiting for it to be burnt out completely.

220. We were able to take it on and — a week or two later — having agreed the project in principle, we started work on restoring the building. The building was then transferred to the housing association. It was rented by a social-housing tenant who, subsequently, bought the building through the right-to-buy scheme, so it has been subject to three processes.

221. The Chairperson: Therefore, it is really within those confined circumstances?

222. Mr Patton: Yes.

223. Mr Williamson: It is simply to give the extra flexibility. Sometimes money is available from one source, and not from another. There is also the aspect of speed.

224. The Chairperson: In that particular circumstance, the process seems to have worked well.

225. Mr F McCann: I have seen some of the work that Hearth Housing Association has done. Its development in College Square North is excellent. You can often see a flock of film crews working there. It is an excellent development, as is the Antrim Road development. You mentioned the LOTS scheme. How important is it to have mixed tenure housing in city and town centres, as a means of keeping those centres alive?

226. Mr Williamson: When you use the term “mixed tenure", are you referring to housing tenure or to mixed use?

227. Mr F McCann: When I say “mixed tenure", I mean private, social and affordable housing.

228. Mr Williamson: The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations supports mixed tenure. We look forward to far more mixed-tenure schemes coming down the track, particularly helped by the planning legislation. Whether on a small scale, or a larger scale, the federation favours mixed tenure. We believe that it is good to give people a choice of building style and tenure so that, if their circumstances or preferences change, they do not have to move far away to find another house that suits their emerging circumstances.

229. The living over the shops scheme is merely one aspect of housing provision. I do not wish to mislead the Committee in any way when I say that it is a long, complicated road to achieve a successful living over the shop initiative. I do not want to underestimate that, and I do not pretend that it will instantly solve the problems associated with town-centre living — or lack of town-centre living. Nevertheless, it is one aspect that can be worked on. There are lots of vacant spaces above shops in most of our towns and villages.

230. Mr F McCann: Some weeks ago, presentations on the subject of towns, mostly, and cities were made to the Committee. During those presentations the Committee was informed that town centres and city centres had died because people had moved out of them. How important to the federation is the rebuilding of city and town centres, through the provision of housing?

231. Mr Williamson: We consider it to be very important, and increasingly so. Adding to the housing stock — especially, at low densities on the edge of towns — is an environmentally unsustainable way of proceeding. Therefore, it makes good sense to reuse brownfield sites and to reuse existing buildings, if they are suitable.

232. Mr Donall Henderson (Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations): We are in favour of, and encourage, city-centre living as a way of reducing the number of car users coming into, and going out of, the city on a regular basis. Also, developments, such as the new Victoria Square retail centre in Belfast, in which some private apartments are being developed, will increase the commercial and retail sector in the city centre and will encourage more job opportunities. Therefore the city centre will be a more attractive place for people to live because of the convenience of being able to travel to and from work without the need to use public or private transport.

233. Mr Williamson: The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations takes its conference to other cities in the UK, Ireland and Europe. We have seen a number of examples of housing associations having provided housing with zero car-parking provision. The housing is quite deliberately designed in that way. However, other arrangements are in place, which, due to the inherent location of the place, render a car unnecessary for getting around. Often there is a car-pooling arrangement — not just car sharing — which works well. Of course, the success of such schemes is dependent on good public transport. I look forward to the day when a housing association in Northern Ireland undertakes that type of project for the first time.

234. The Chairperson: Is there any timescale for that to happen, or are you simply hoping that it will?

235. Mr Patton: The Planning Service usually insists that car-parking spaces are provided. We have done schemes in Belfast which are flats with only a small number of car-parking spaces. We do not regard the car as being an essential part of projects; if people live in the centre of a town they do not necessarily use a car. I use a car only one or two days a week. If I can walk somewhere, I do.

236. Mr Williamson: There are some small-scale examples of minimal car parking; one by SHAC Housing Association opened about one year ago at the end of University Avenue. In that scheme, there are roughly 10 flats and only one car space, which is for a wheelchair user. It is not rocket science. Although today’s discussion is supposed to be about areas outside Belfast and Derry, that is an example of the direction in which the planners are going. I want to move further in that direction.

237. Mr Craig: The point was made that, in Belfast, abolishing the building specification of one-and-a-half car spaces to an apartment has been accepted. Was there any difficulty getting that flexibility from the Planning Service?

238. Mr Patton: When you are working with an existing building, the Planning Service is usually more flexible. That is particularly true if the building is listed — which the ones that we tend to work on are — as it may have been a problem building for many years. The planners are usually keen to find a use for it. Of course, they still start from the ideal of parking spaces, but it makes sense that, if a building is fairly contained in itself and does not have a lot of space around it, you will need yard space for drying clothes and rubbish bins. Often, car-parking space is not necessary for someone who works close by and does not have a car.

239. Mr Williamson: Chairman you asked if there are any examples of projects with zero car-parking spaces coming through. There are none that I am specifically aware of. However, I have suggested them and have received a positive reception from one elected representative in East Belfast. The area along the Newtownards Road offers lots of scope and has good public transport already close by. That is the sort of place — not the only place — where a project with zero car-parking spaces could be brought forward.

240. The Chairperson: You have now a very good sounding board to raise the issue again, so others may well pick that up.

241. Mr Patton: We have done a project with zero car-parking spaces in Newtownards; the roads engineers insisted that cars would not be able to come into the development because it was on a busy road — Court Street. In that project we restored terraced housing and converted a stable into flats. There is no car-parking provision at all, but there are spaces nearby. The residents do not have cars, but they are in the town centre.

242. Mr Williamson: I would like to make one final point. Our members are here, there and everywhere and are enthused by town-centre working; they are well experienced at it and have a record of delivery. If the DSD regeneration unit has ideas or possibilities, it will find a receptive welcome from our members if it makes contact with them.

243. The Chairperson: The Department will receive the minutes of our deliberations, including the minutes of today’s meeting, so, hopefully, it will take up that matter.

244. Gentlemen, thank you; your presentation was very informative. We will circulate a copy of the booklet to members.

245. The Chairperson: The witnesses have helpfully supplied a written submission, and the Committee has had a chance to look at that. I invite Alderman McAvoy and his colleagues to make opening submissions, after which Committee members will ask questions.

246. Mr P J McAvoy (Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District): Thank you, and good afternoon. As Deputy Mayor of Ballymena Borough Council and chairman of the Ballymena Town Centre Partnership, I will outline the background to the business improvement district. That will be followed by comments from my fellow board members — Mr Mervyn Rankin, formerly chief executive of Ballymena borough council, and Mr Fergal Eastwood, property developer and owner of the Tower Centre in Ballymena — regarding the lack of policy and its impact.

247. Ballymena Borough Council established the town centre partnership in 2003 as a consultative body of the council. It is led by a steering group consisting of elected members, commercial representatives and a range of public agencies, including the Department for Social Development (DSD), the Department for Regional Development (DRD) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Ballymena Borough Council was then, and still is, the only statutory or Government body that provides funding for that partnership, which is matched by private-sector businesses.

248. In 2006, after considerable research — which included a study tour undertaken by representatives of the business community, elected council members and a representative from the Department for Social Development — Ballymena Town Centre Partnership became a voluntary business improvement district (BID), namely Ballymena BID. The voluntary status arose due to the lack of legislation that is in place in the rest of the UK and in Ireland.

249. Ballymena BID is currently an independent body of some 400 members, offering both full and associate membership status. It has delivered or brought about a wide range of projects, and secured £120,000 in funding during 2006, £60,000 of which was from the private sector. It is the only voluntary business improvement district in Northern Ireland that covers an entire town centre.

250. However, although I recognise the efforts being made by individual staff, such as Ian Snowden, the deputy director of the DSD office in Ballymena, I question DSD’s commitment to Ballymena at a strategic level, given the lack of funding support for Ballymena BID. DSD continuously promotes town centre partnerships as a model of best practices, but fund only those of Belfast and Derry. That suggests that, when it comes to regeneration, DSD is focused on Belfast and Derry at the expense of the regional towns, which is demonstrated by the continued existence of the respective regeneration offices. Ballymena Borough Council has borne the cost of supporting Ballymena BID, while others such as Belfast City Centre Management Company receive funding from DSD through its Belfast Regeneration offices.

251. The DSD should adopt a needs-based approach to urban regeneration activities and funding, and should pay due regard to social need, specifically to the ability to contribute and compete. DSD should fund the creation and maintenance of town centre partnerships, and those should be the main driver for the process of the master-planning strategy development and the delivery of operational plans.

252. Furthermore, DSD should fast-track the introduction of legislation to allow the delivery of the bids in Northern Ireland that were delayed by direct rule Ministers until after the introduction of review of public administration (RPA).

253. Mr Fergal Eastwood will elaborate on what I have said.

254. Mr Fergal Eastwood (Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District): Good afternoon. I have been asked by Ballymena BID to provide a summary of my real-life experiences with DSD. The Eastwood family have been the private owners of the Tower Centre in Ballymena since 2003. In 2004, we undertook the development of the façade of the centre at Wellington Street. It was rather tired and we felt that the centre needed that spend, which came at a private cost of £2 million.

255. In tandem with that work, in early 2004 we approached Roads Service in relation to the multi-storey car park, which lies at the rear of the Tower Centre at Springwell Street. It is the main car park for the town of Ballymena. We were concerned about the tired, dirty appearance of the car park and the extent of anti-social behaviour that was evident in the car park, especially at weekends. In summary, Ballymena is a great shopping town, and I am sure that the members who know Ballymena will agree that the car park provided a poor first impression.

256. In conjunction with our architects, we presented plans to DRD for a replacement car park with an element of retail provision for the area. Departmental officials from the Ballymena office engaged with us in a professional manner, but, on the matter of ownership, referred us to DSD. In light of DRD comments, we refined our scheme, and met DSD in mid-2004. Myself and our agent, Billy McCombe — an experienced planning surveyor and agent in Belfast who works for DTZ McCombe Pierce, and who had worked in what was then the Valuations and Lands Agency — followed up that meeting with a request for a further meeting for feedback. Nine months later — in April 2005 — a meeting was arranged at the DSD offices at the Gasworks site in Belfast. I remember it well, because we were kept waiting for 55 minutes by a senior DSD official, and, as I recall, we did not receive an apology. That senior official was intent only on impressing upon us that times had changed and that he was subject to scrutiny by the Public Account Committee and could not make decisions by himself. We stressed that we wanted merely to table for meaningful discussion the possibility of a multi-storey car park as an opportunity development site in Ballymena, and that we were willing to put our own money into the project.

257. In time, it became evident that DSD wanted to deal only with another development scheme on Alexander Street in Ballymena in which they were involved, but that was not communicated clearly to us. They had appointed private consultants GVA Grimley and were awaiting their recommendations and feedback. Two and a half years later, the issues surrounding the Alexander Street scheme remain unresolved, and somewhat protected with regard to what the real issues are. It is the subject of further, costly, private consultancy engagement. There has been no meaningful communication to the public concerning its delay, and it continues to drain the public purse. More importantly, it continues to frustrate an overall, holistic, development approach to Ballymena’s town centre.

258. There is an ongoing phased programme of work at the original car park — our initial bugbear — to improve the façade, lighting and security, and to address the anti-social behaviour issues that I mentioned. As a BID, we have received assurances on that, and all the stakeholders in Ballymena are grateful.

259. With regard to the possible development of the multi-storey car park in Ballymena, DSD was unwilling to embrace public-private partnership, and, in my meetings, its officials were obsessed with what could not be done rather than what was achievable. There was an obvious lack of strategy in relation to Ballymena, and if a strategy did exist, it was poorly communicated. My overall impression of DSD, through its involvement in this issue over the past couple of years, is that, as an organisation, it displayed a lack of ownership of its assets, and that it operated in a culture where — at least concerning our proposal — the safest option was to do nothing. With that, I hand over to Mervyn Rankin.

260. Mr Mervyn Rankin (Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District): I worked in Ballymena for 16 years until January 2006. Then the BID group invited me to stay on as an adviser — unpaid, I may say; I am not a paid consultant. I stayed on, as I have a real interest in the work that we did as a council in Ballymena and I have an interest in developing the partnership in the town centre. We put a great deal of hard work into getting to where we are today, by bringing together not only such people as Mr Eastwood and larger developers, but the representatives of smaller, indigenous businesses in Ballymena, to focus on issues relating to the town centre.

261. I want to emphasise some of Alderman McAvoy’s points. There is a definite lack of strategic planning. In 1998, when ‘Shaping our Future’ was produced, we identified key hubs and district towns. Ballymena was identified as a key hub. However, even today, there is no area land-use plan available to address town centres such as Ballymena. Therefore, we work with a town-centre plan that evolved in the 1980s and early 1990s, but many things have changed.

262. Mr Eastwood highlighted difficulties in relationships with the Department for Regional Development and the Department for Social Development. An example is the issue of on-street car parking in Ballymena. It took years for us as a partnership to get to where we are today and to find a system that suited Ballymena. The Department for Regional Development tried to impose systems that were suitable for Ballymoney, Limavady and Strabane, but they were not suitable for Ballymena, as it was a different town with a different outlook.

263. The Chairperson: I seem to remember a closure in Church Street that necessitated a ministerial decision to open it.

264. Mr Rankin: That is correct. We had a ministerial inquiry for a barrier to be removed at the top of Church Street. The street has been opened for some years now, and I have heard of no complaints.

265. The partnership was essential to bring together all the key stakeholders in the town centre. along with the elected representatives. It has achieved ownership of many things. A marketing campaign on television is steered and guided by the BID group. Last year, a huge amount of money was invested in Christmas lights for Ballymena. The group guides and works together on such issues. Therefore, there must be some strategic focus.

266. Although the Department for Social Development has been good with some initiatives, it has been mainly ad hoc. It has not rewarded the success of town centres that have flourished and are driven by the market where people come to shop. That has not been addressed. Therefore, we need a strategic framework to address that and reward that success. However, we do not say that it should not be equitable or that we should not address disadvantaged areas of other town centres. Indeed, about half a mile from Ballymena town centre is Ballykeel, which is 55th on the Noble index of deprivation. Ballee is not far behind at 57th or 58th. Therefore, Ballymena has disadvantaged areas.

267. Recently, consultants were appointed to examine a master plan for Ballymena town centre. However, no thought has been given to how that will be steered and to how groups such as BID could steer, work and grow that internally. One of the biggest difficulties at local level concerns communicating what will happen. Parachuting consultants in to come up with great ideas that may not be achievable is not the answer. They must work in partnership with locally-elected representatives, and those who invest and work in the town centre.

268. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, gentlemen. You raised various concerns about how the Department for Social Development has conducted arrangements with regard to Ballymena. The Department will receive the minutes of this meeting, so it is hoped that those concerns will not be lost on it. The Committee understands the difficulties faced by towns such as Ballymena in trying to make progress. The Committee is interested to hear how you believe that Ballymena’s success as an urban regeneration project during the past five or six years has come about.

269. Mr McAvoy: I will ask Mr Eastwood to answer that question because as a property developer who has a big interest in the town, he will have an opinion on that.

270. The Chairperson: You will understand that the Committee is examining urban regeneration in towns outside of Belfast and Londonderry. It, therefore, wants to see examples of good practice in towns that can demonstrate their success, either as somewhere to live or in retailing — the aspects that conjure up a successful project. How would you characterise Ballymena with regard to those criteria?

271. Mr Eastwood: I do not believe that Ballymena has become a success during the past five years: it has always been a strong retailing town. I am not from Ballymena. However, its catchment area for retailing in County Antrim is good and stretches as far as the north coast. Through my involvement with various committees in the town, I have found that Ballymena Borough Council is open-minded about embracing private owners, such as the partnership members. It is good at getting financial commitment, and matching it, for various projects that benefit the town throughout the year. I am involved in other towns across the Province; however, I have not seen such commitment to council/private owner co-operation. In fact, it is very much a struggle. I commend to the Committee the businesslike approach taken by Ballymena Borough Council.

272. As a stakeholder in the town, I believe that Ballymena has always enjoyed a strong retail reputation. However, it must build on its strength through projects such as the car park and the overall development of the town centre. Otherwise, it will fall behind. We must continue to search for ways to improve the town. We cannot rest on our laurels purely on the town’s reputation as a retail centre. Those are some of my thoughts.

273. The Chairperson: What about the change that has occurred in retailing in the town? In the last few years, considerable emphasis seems to have been put on the upper part of the town, around the Fairhill Shopping Centre. Has that come about by accident or has it been locally driven?

274. Mr Eastwood: That is the way that Ballymena has expanded, geographically and demographically. However, as the owners of the Tower Centre — the older and more traditional shopping centre in the town — we, as a family, do not get panic-stricken when other shops and centres, such as the Fairhill Shopping Centre, come into the town. If Ballymena has more to offer overall, that helps all the boats to rise. Therefore, businesses do not try to compete with each other, rather to build up Ballymena.

275. The Chairperson: Did that come about through natural business practices or was it locally driven?

276. Mr Eastwood: Our ownership of the Tower Centre started in 2003, but the Fairhill Shopping Centre existed, or was in train to exist, before that. Our policy is not to object to anybody doing anything sensible in the town. There seems to be an understanding that we should make the town good for the betterment of the town, and if people come into the town, everyone will feed off that.

277. The Chairperson: How did the particular projects in different parts of the town centre come to fruition? Was that left to the private sector?

278. Mr McAvoy: We emphasise that the strength of our independent traders is a major factor, and people who know Ballymena will agree with that. The arrival of the big store-owners in Ballymena was an incentive for development. However, as the top shopping town, we pride ourselves on the fact that we have the blend of the independent shops. We will not allow ourselves to be cloned like many other places where, if I were to go close my eyes, go somewhere and then open them, I could still be in the place that I had left. Ballymena has its strength in the independent names of the traders in our main shopping areas, and that stands out.

279. The Chairperson: That is a strong combination.

280. Mr McAvoy: Conclusively. Part of the success of Ballymena is the blend of the multiples and the independents, and we are proud of that.

281. Mr Rankin: You asked what was the catalyst for the success of the town. Some of the European funding and the local economic development money had a role to play. We focused on the strengths in Ballymena. We had some large manufacturing bases, such as Michelin Tyre PLC and Gallagher Ltd, and Wrightbus Ltd was beginning to develop. However, as part of our first economic development strategy, we identified retailing as a core economic development theme. We emphasised —

282. The Chairperson: Who are “we"?

283. Mr Rankin: The council did it. Initially, an economic development partnership was started which involved the Chamber of Commerce, some of the business people, the further education college, and such like. That is how we started the whole idea of moving towards a town-centre strategy, the establishment of a town-centre partnership and the appointment of a town-centre manager, and integrating that with other issues.

284. Partnership, and the integration of partnership, is one of the key factors. We do not work in isolation on community safety: community safety is part of integration into the town centre. It is extremely important for the evening economy and antisocial-behaviour problems. Like Belfast and other places, Ballymena has had many initiatives to try to deal with problems of community safety after 6.00 pm.

285. There has been integration and a partnership. It has not been easy, and there were battles to be fought. There were old allegiances, for example, the Chamber of Commerce saw itself as being responsible for businesses — and that was pointed out at the last BID meeting. However, that is now integrated into our BID’s partnership and it is very much a part of that organisation. Success is about working in partnership, ensuring that we complement each other in what we are doing, having a clear vision of the way we want to go, and a clear strategic outlay. Departments, such as the Department for Social Development, have a role to play: we need that vision and strategy as to where we are going.

286. Many of us felt that “Shaping our Future", the regional development strategy for Northern Ireland, was the start, and that key hubs were identified. I would have loved to have seen sub-regional plans that dealt with land-use planning and the other issues, rather than distinct council area land-use plan. Perhaps those are the seeds of community planning for the future, but that is a little down the way. However, success involves partnership, a clear direction and someone co-ordinating in the centre. Naturally, you would expect me to say that should be the council — and it should be. There should be strong leadership from elected representatives and from the council to try and act as the catalyst.

287. The Chairperson: OK. That is useful and helpful.

288. Miss McIlveen: Chairperson, I ask for your indulgence in asking this question. I have already met Mr Eastwood while wearing my other hat as an Ards borough councillor. Obviously, I am particularly positive about my own town of Newtownards; but so much more could be done. I am very impressed by Ballymena and I love going there to shop.

289. Mr Eastwood: Thank you.

290. Miss McIlveen: I would like to see Ballymena’s success replicated in Newtownards. Mr Eastwood has had experience of Ards borough council and the town’s chamber of trade. Can he envisage a scheme, similar to Ballymena’s BID scheme, replicated in Newtownards? How could that forward our plans for the town and, obviously, his ideas for the town?

291. Mr Eastwood: Miss McIlveen makes a valid point. It strikes me that Newtownards lacks an initiative such as the town centre partnership that exists in Ballymena, with the business improvement district meetings and the various subcommittees that go with it.

292. In Ballymena, I notice that people are not allowed to become entrenched, narrow-minded or self-interested. They meet regularly. In Ballymena, no one can hide from others and do his or her own thing: people have to face up to their neighbours and buy into the fact that we are trying to make the whole town better.

293. It is a template that I would love to see implemented in Newtownards; however, it takes people with energy to organise it, drive it through and involve stakeholders. Ballymena is lucky to have Colin Neill, who is sitting behind me. He is such a person: he is generous with his time and he will — I hope — be more than helpful in assisting other towns to develop in that way.

294. I could not recommend strongly enough to Newtownards the town centre partnership and the BID scheme initiative. I am committed to them.

295. Mr A Maginness: I thank the witnesses for the presentation. It was most useful and helpful. I have a couple of points to raise. Mr Eastwood used the problem with the car park to highlight a problem with the Department for Social Development. Sorting out a system of parking in the town centre was another problem. Both of those are, primarily, the responsibility of the DRD. The DSD is the lead Department in overall development of town centres, in taking initiatives and so forth. Was the problem with the DSD, or with the DSD trying to manage another Department?

296. Mr Eastwood: I can answer that categorically. The Department for Regional Development manages that car park. I am told that it is the only multi-storey car park that exists in Northern Ireland under Government management, and DRD manages it for DSD.

297. When we had refined our ideas, met DRD, shown it our drawings and received its written input into how it would like to see the development plan amended, it said that if we wanted to take the plan further and explore some change of ownership or development brief, we must speak to DSD. It was committed to writing by DRD that it cannot speak for ownership. That is how that evolved.

298. Mr A Maginness: So the problem really lay with the Department for Social Development in not pushing that process forward?

299. Mr Eastwood: There were a lot of frustrations in the story that I have just told. We were unable to get anywhere, even to get off first base. The Department was terribly slow to respond to us.

300. Mr A Maginness: I wanted to understand that and grasp the idea. You are a developer and you have plenty of experience. Ballymena’s development is obviously very successful. What is the formula for successful development? You have pointed to the partnership: is there anything over and above that that is the formula for success? That is my central question.

301. Mr Eastwood: Alderman McAvoy mentioned the existence of good independent retailers in Ballymena who have been there for years and know what to do and do it well. Everyone in Ballymena has bought into the goal of getting the shopper into the town. Retailers are not competing against their neighbours; everyone in Ballymena is fighting for every pound that they can bring into the town. It is a team game: that is the essence of Ballymena’s success. However, we do not want to rest on our laurels. We must keep improving the town. There is a collective willingness to fight for every pound into the town, as opposed to wondering where it is going within the town. I do not see that in other towns.

302. The Chairperson: Do you agree with Mr Rankin that the partnership approach was the key to achieving that success?

303. Mr Eastwood: I agree totally and absolutely.

304. Mr McAvoy: I can give Mr Maginness an example of how that partnership has worked between the council and the private traders. When new Christmas lights were needed in 2006, the council agreed to match the traders pound for pound. The traders raised £60,000, which was matched by the council, and the result was a magnificent display of lights for the whole area. That is how the council is working together with the independent traders and the multinationals. We have gone down that road collectively, but we will need assistance from the Assembly to enlarge, enhance and improve that partnership through the bids that we are developing.

305. Mr Rankin: Chairman, we have not addressed the point that you made earlier about the drift to the north end of Ballymena caused by the two shopping centres, and the potential for preferred development in Alexander Street. The council saw that happening. At the south end of the town there were the stores at Braidwater, the larger Sainsbury’s store and the white-goods outlets such as B&Q. We were fortunate that many of those stores are located almost in the town centre. Many other towns do not have that benefit, because the stores are sometimes half a mile or a mile from the town centre.

306. We have developed a project at the town hall, where an arts centre is opening this month. Our new regional museum, which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund arts fund, opens in May 2008. That is a £16 million to £20 million development at the bottom of Ballymena. There is a wonderful opportunity — which fits into the concept of a master plan — to create public space opposite the museum and to create a new centre for Ballymena that joins up the retail parks at the lower end of the town. That was the vision that the council had — to invest in a night-time facility for Ballymena that would include theatre and concerts. The council’s arts officer told me that the Gaiety Theatre want to use it, because it is one of the only theatres in the Province with a fly tower. That booking is there for next year, there are already bookings through until 2010. The working partnership between the council and the business people was part of the strategy.

307. The council leads those partnerships with the benefit of European seed funding. We are now searching for other sources of funding, such as working with the business people for the money. The idea of the voluntary bids is to obtain that extra money to keep the impetus going in the town centre and to keep all the partners on board. That is the key, but it needs a lead at a local level, and must be locally driven. It is a question of first among equals: partners working together for one goal.

308. The Chairperson: That is the sort of information that we wanted to hear.

309. Mrs McGill: Mr McAvoy said at the outset that he believed that the location of DSD offices in Derry and Belfast was a problem for other towns. I picked up on that point because I agree with it.

310. Mr McAvoy: At the moment, there is a DSD office in Ballymena, and it has been open for some months. That is all the more reason why DSD should be making a major effort to tackle that issue. The gentleman that we mentioned from the regional development office, Ian Snowden, is very good and works extremely well with us, but we wonder why no movement is forthcoming from the Department for Social Development.

311. Mrs McGill: There is much talk of partnerships, and you are involved in a town centre partnership, which is obviously very business-oriented and involves private enterprise, and so on. Is the community and voluntary sector involved in any of your partnerships, and, if so, to what extent?

312. Mr McAvoy: It is indeed.

313. Mr Rankin: The community and voluntary sector is not specifically involved in the town-centre partnership; it is mainly business folk, elected representatives and the other agencies that have an interest. However, the network has been built up, because the Department that looks after economic development in towns also looks after community development and the network with the community sector. The social economy is important in Ballymena, too, and I will give an example of developments in Ballymena.

314. Mr McAvoy is the chairperson of the Ballymena Business Development Centre, and, after three phases, there is now an outreach centre at Ballykeel, and units are being built in Harryville, the village of Ahoghill and the village of Cullybackey. The rent from those business units and the offices and facilities that they provide will help to sustain local community groups. That strategy was put in place to address the problem of European funding drying up and the need for sustainability for community groups in future. Thus, the community and voluntary sector has not been left out in the cold; it is not strictly part of the town-centre partnership, but it features very much in the overall strategic economic outlook for the borough.

315. Mrs McGill: DSD’s overall aim is: “Together, tackling disadvantage, building communities." From my perspective, the community and voluntary sector is key to achieving that aim and to tackling disadvantage and poverty, as outlined in the terms of reference. DSD has certainly been criticised for its piecemeal approach.

316. Mr McAvoy: We opened the Ballymena North Business and Recreation Centre, which Minister Ritchie visited about two months ago. It is situated in the heart of one of the most deprived areas of Ballymena — the Dunclug estate, of which I am sure that the Committee has heard. It has had a big drug problem for many years. This scheme provides an incentive to regenerate the area. Business units in the Ballymena North Business and Recreation Centre are used by Homefirst Health Trust and various other bodies. Thus, results will be generated in that most deprived area.

317. The Chairperson: I am always reluctant to generalise. However, could I say that the success in Ballymena has come about despite departmental involvement rather than because of it? Would that be a reasonably accurate summary?

318. Mr Eastwood: Yes, that would certainly be my experience.

319. Mr McAvoy: Chairperson, you have summed it up in one line.

320. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, gentlemen. It has been a very useful and informative session.

321. The Committee welcomes now the representatives from Larne Borough Council, Ms Geraldine McGahey and Mrs Hazel Bell. We have received your paper and are delighted that you could spare the time to come. We have just heard about the experiences of the representatives from Ballymena, and we would like to hear what you have to say. Committee members will then have an opportunity to ask questions.

322. Ms Geraldine McGahey (Larne Borough Council): At the outset, Mr Chairman, I ask that the Committee accept our apologies for being late and delaying your process.

323. My name is Geraldine McGahey. I am the chief executive of Larne Borough Council, and my colleague Mrs Hazel Bell is the town development manager. I will present evidence on behalf of the council, and my colleague and I will endeavour to answer questions or queries that you may have in relation to our submission.

324. Larne Borough Council initiated the Larne development forum in 1995 to act as the local area partnership for the promotion of economic development of the borough, and the town development office was established as one of the forum’s projects. The town development manager has been employed since January 1997. Over the past 10 years, the development office has assisted in the delivery of local economic development action plans, as well as demonstrating the benefits of town-centred management for the borough of Larne, the council and all of our other stakeholders.

325. The experience of the town development office, over the last 10 years, has been focused on a lack of policy for town centre regeneration, and we hold the view that there has not been joined-up government with a common commitment to town centres. The experience of Larne was used as one of the case studies in the January 2000 EDAW final report, which was commissioned by the Department of the Environment (DOE). It focused on the Northern Ireland town centre reinvigoration study, which was overseen by an interdepartmental steering group since it was recognised at the outset that to develop policies for the successful reinvigoration of town centres in Northern Ireland would require consultation, consent and appropriate contributions from a wide range of interests.

326. The report made a number of recommendations involving a wide range of matters including town centre management, planning, transport and housing. The policy proposed from the study fed into three key categories — organisational, policy co-ordination and incentives. However, no policy appears to have been adopted, and that has contributed to the lack of clear focus for town centre regeneration on a consistent basis across Northern Ireland. Funding for individual activities and projects in Larne has been drawn from a range of sources, including our local strategy partnership, our community safety partnership, private-sector contributions, Larne Borough Council’s own budget, European regional development funds, the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Department for Social Development (DSD).

327. For a range of reasons, there have been limited opportunities to avail of DSD programmes. For example, neighbourhood renewal is a targeted programme that provides resources for those areas and pockets where deprivation is highest. Measure 2.11 was equally targeted at specific areas that did not include Larne. The recent urban development grant (UDG) pilot scheme included Larne and demonstrated that there was a high level of interest in pursuing town centre schemes if there was some support available. We gained funding through the grant programme to support the promotion and marketing of town centres as operated by DSD. Our town centre is not eligible for townscape heritage initiative funding, and we have made an application to the Housing Executive for designation as a town centre living initiative area.

328. Where Larne is eligible for DSD programmes, those are applied for on a competitive basis. The good practice guide entitled ‘Vital and Viable’ confirms that DSD will support only those projects that have been identified in locally planned and supported city and town centre strategies, which are subject to budgets and to a number of tests.

329. Over a number of years, we have sought to identify appropriate partners and adequate resources to develop meaningful town-centre master plans. After several years of lobbying, the regional development office of DSD has confirmed that it will appoint consultants to carry out that work, and the Minister has supported that as well. We welcome that.

330. A master plan will ensure that there is an integrated and agreed town-centre strategy, which we hope will provide a framework for regeneration by all stakeholders. However, in reaching that point, it has been difficult to establish whether there was a clear process for the council to request DSD to resource the master plan or whether DSD had any programme for the production of master plans. As that is identified as a fundamental requirement for further investment of DSD resources, it has been difficult for Larne town centre to compete for any funding.

331. It is also clear that the range of powers available to the council, or to DSD, would not be implemented without a strategic context. Again, as a small local authority, Larne will be seeking further support from DSD to pursue comprehensive development projects that are identified through the master plan, including site assembly, complementary environmental improvement and public-realm investment.

332. The council cites its experiences in that regard as evidence that there appears to have been no strategic direction on the part of DSD as to when, and for where, town-centre master planning should be undertaken. Our failure to obtain definitive answers in the past to those questions strengthens the view that DSD’s targeted support for town centre regeneration, until recently, has been reactive to situations, such as civil unrest and destruction, outside of which, it is purely developer led.

333. If the latter is the case, the net result was investment only in those town centres where there was already a keen interest in private-sector investment, rather than support for those areas that were suffering substantial economic and physical decline and which, in some cases, were identified under the targeting social need policy, all of which has contributed to further social and economic deprivation.

334. The council would further cite its experiences in trying to secure support from DSD for the development of a master plan as evidence of the failure of Government Departments to deliver a joined-up approach to their customers. It has long been the policy of successive Governments to provide joined-up services to the public, and it is unfortunate that we within the various strands of the public sector cannot take a joined-up approach to assisting one another.

335. Over a period of two years, council officers obtained agreement with the regional office of DSD that a master plan was essential to address the regeneration of Larne town centre. Within parameters of very limited resources, both offices agreed that the most economically viable way forward was to combine the master-planning process with the work that was scheduled to be undertaken by Planning Service in the development of a new area plan. However, due to difficulties within Planning Service and its need to reallocate staff to development-control matters, rather than take forward the area-planning development, neither the regional office of DSD nor Larne Borough Council could get Planning Service to agree the tender brief for the necessary research work, despite the fact that Planning Service had agreed that a joint venture, funded by all three offices, was the only sensible, strategic way forward.

336. Another consequence of the absence of a strategic plan for the regeneration of Larne town centre is that private developers have acquired sites in order to create large development potential. In many cases, those sites have remained underused and derelict for a considerable time. They detract from the vitality of our town centre, creating an image of abandonment, which is unattractive and unwelcoming to visitors and investors alike. It creates an impression of a town that is dead on its feet. It would appear that, while those private-sector interests seek support to help develop their sites and projects and inevitably pursue a very lengthy planning process, other small, one-off projects quickly gain planning permission. The subsequent development results in a piecemeal, ad hoc redevelopment of individual town-centre sites that contributes little to overall regeneration and breathes life into economic sustainability and community well-being.

337. The town centre living initiative, as delivered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, also provides the opportunity for town centres, such as Larne, to ensure that there is some degree of activity outside normal trading hours. That provides a catalyst for the development of a night-time economy, which is crucial to any vibrant society. Larne does not have a night-time economy.

338. The council has applied unsuccessfully for designation under that initiative on two separate occasions. On each occasion, the reason given for not granting such designation was that there had been a lack of strategic context — the proposals failed to fit with any overarching strategic plan for the area. That further demonstrates the need for Government Departments to co-ordinate their approaches and the delivery of services and support. More importantly, it demonstrates the fact that the absence of a strategic direction in DSD to support town centre regeneration has not only hindered progress in town centres, but has actively prevented town centres across the Province from availing of other opportunities where support is most needed.

339. Given councils’ experiences, to date, it is our view that DSD should develop a programme of support to ensure that all city and town centres in Northern Ireland have strategic master plans in place, which include appropriate review mechanisms. In addition, town centre retail and leisure capacity studies must be produced to ensure that economic and business development cases can be supported. Individual town centre master plans that deal with property development and environmental improvements, and town centre strategies that deal with business development, training, marketing and promotion, would further guide future public and private investment. There should also be key performance indicators and common measurement tools in order to assess the impact of all those plans.

340. DSD should facilitate an interdepartmental group to ensure that, within their respective departmental responsibilities, there is a commitment from all relevant Departments to contribute to, and resource, town-centre regeneration.

341. In promoting partnership working within the town centre, Larne has developed connections with DRD, DSD, DETI, DOE, etc, each having its own role in the town centre, and we endeavour to ensure that our action plans recognise everyone’s contribution. Our objective is purely to seek collective ownership and commitment to delivery. Unfortunately, the process relies on goodwill. Currently, those relationships have been developed and maintained only at a local level, and any new strategic approach must be underpinned by collective working and formally recognised through an interdepartmental group, if not under the power of well-being and any new functions that might be delegated to councils under the review of public administration (RPA).

342. Developing and sustaining town-centre partnerships is vital to the success of town-centre regeneration. Such partnerships might have different structures that meet local circumstances, but they require resources to support their development. The development of partnerships is vital for engagement with local communities.

343. In such partnerships, engagement with the private sector is also a key factor. In Larne, current private-sector contributions are voluntary, and, although made by only part of the local business community, the whole business community eventually benefits. The business improvement district model contributes to economic and social benefits, which complement investment in major physical infrastructure.

344. Neighbourhood renewal seeks to support regeneration through social, economic and community actions. Given that it is a targeted programme, town centres are often excluded. Town centre regeneration funding support from DSD should extend beyond investment in physical and capital projects and should be available for a wider range of projects whereby, eventually, town-centre strategies might be considered to be equivalent to neighbourhood renewal action plans.

345. The urban development grant pilot scheme for selected regional towns should be extended and mainstreamed as a means of engagement with the private sector and to encourage investment across the region. The pilot scheme that was operated in Larne drew 15 eligible applications. Unfortunately, due to the available budget, only one scheme was actually funded. Given the impact that that scheme delivered for Larne, that is regrettable.

346. In conclusion, Larne Borough Council holds the view that there has been no strategic direction from DSD towards the regeneration of town centres. Neither does there appear to have been any attempt to co-ordinate, or join, the efforts of many Departments and agencies that have been involved in the regeneration. It is regrettable that the recommendations of the Northern Ireland town centre reinvigoration study 2000 were not fully implemented. We welcome the fact that the situation is under review by this Committee.

347. On behalf of Larne Borough Council, I wish to record our appreciation for the invitation to submit evidence to the Committee and for the opportunity to address members today. Thank you.

348. The Chairperson: Given that we are pressed for time, I will just ask one question. In your submission, you referred to a number of vacant sites and the fact that they had been allowed to remain vacant. Are those a mixture of sites and vacant commercial properties, or just sites?

349. Ms McGahey: They were vacant commercial properties that were bought by developers, many of which have subsequently been demolished.

350. The Chairperson: In my experience, some towns went through that process, and when the issue of rating vacant commercial premises was resolved, there was a speedy uptake by landlords who, if they were going to have to pay rates, ensured that they purchased property where they could, and eventually let them out to tenants. Are you saying that Larne did not experience that?

351. Ms McGahey: Larne did not experience that. The properties were demolished.

352. The Chairperson: They were just demolished because the rates were not affordable.

353. If we have any other questions we will write to the council, if you are content with that. Have members any questions at this time?

354. Mr A Maginness: What effect would urban development grants have on Larne town centre?

355. Mrs Hazel Bell (Larne Borough Council): Those are tied in with the empty sites and the master planning. There is a certain level of interest from people who want to put their toes in the water. If there were a bit more support they would be prepared to provide further investment.

356. Mr A Maginness: They are an incentive.

357. Mrs Bell: The urban development grants were an incentive for people who were unsure. One scheme is currently on site on the main street, which will make a big impact. There is potential for key sites, with support from urban development grants, to make other impacts and create the confidence of the private sector to continue investing its money. We believe that private-sector potential exists and is ready to come into Larne. However, because there is no context in which it can be done, it is difficult for us to promote that.

358. Mr Craig: Geraldine, did I pick you up correctly when you said that on at least two occasions, you went to the Department for Social Development to look for help, but felt that you were let down?

359. Ms McGahey: I would not say that we were let down by DSD, by the regional office. We have lobbied them and have had several meetings since mid-2005. The regional manager agreed with us that there was a need for a master plan and agreed to support it. The council had some funding, as did DSD, but there was a shortfall that prevented us from carrying out a study that would satisfy everyone’s needs. We approached the Planning Service, which agreed that the work that it would have to do in developing a new area plan complemented what we were each trying to achieve.

360. It was agreed collectively that the best way forward would be for all three parties to be involved in the writing of the tender brief and to finance it. However, because of resource problems in the Planning Service and the difficulties generated by planning policy statement 14 (PPS 14) and other aspects, the reallocation of resources meant that the area planning team was stood down. As a result of that, Planning Service refused to move forward. The whole master-planning process was put in abeyance until such times as the Minister agrees to make the necessary funding available. The council received an offer of funding through a local strategy partnership, but we had to turn that offer down because we had insufficient funds to take the exercise forward.

361. The Chairperson: Thank you, Ms McGahey and Mrs Bell. If we have any further queries or require clarification, we will write to you. Thank you both for your attendance today.

13 December 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr Alban Maginness

Witnesses:

Mr Simon Quin, Association of Town Centre Management

Mr Colin Neill } Association of Town Centre Management – Northern Ireland
Mrs Sharon Scott

362. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Hilditch): The Association of Town Centre Management – Northern Ireland (ATCM (NI)) network of town-centre management is represented by Colin Neill, chairperson of the network; Simon Quin, the chief executive of the ATCM; and Sharon Scott, the vice-chairperson of ATCM (NI).

363. You are welcome to the meeting. I remind Committee members and witnesses to switch off their mobile phones, because they interfere with the recording equipment.

364. Mr Colin Neill (Association of Town Centre Management – Northern Ireland): I thank the Committee for allowing us to present evidence today. The inquiry into town-centre regeneration is extremely valuable, and it is to be hoped that it will achieve positive outcomes. I am the town-centre manager for Ballymena and the chairman of the Northern Ireland region of the ATCM. I am joined by Simon Quin, who is the organisation’s chief executive, and Sharon Scott, who is the vice-chairperson of the ATCM (NI) and town-centre manager for Coleraine. Simon will provide the Committee with an introduction on the ATCM (NI) and its credentials.

365. Mr Simon Quin (Association of Town Centre Management): Thank you for the opportunity to attend the Committee. The ATCM is a UK-wide organisation with some 550 members, who are engaged in the promotion of the vitality and viability of town and city centres. Our membership comprises practitioner groups that are involved in town-centre management initiatives, and major stakeholders, such as retailers, property owners, Departments and Government agencies.

366. Through our members’ knowledge and also our work in leading the National BIDs Advisory Service, which promotes business improvement districts (BIDs) in the United Kingdom — particularly the work that we have done in England and Wales and that we are currently doing in Scotland, where we are supporting the Scottish Executive in introducing BID legislation — there are now some 60 BIDs in place. We are also engaged in the new professional body for people who work in place management, which is the Institute of Place Management. It was set up as an international body, and it includes universities, membership organisations, such as ATCM, and individuals from more than 30 countries. We have a reciprocal partnership arrangement with the International Downtown Association, which covers town-centre and downtown practitioners in Canada and the United States. That adds the knowledge of a further 550 centres. We are also engaged in a partnership called town centre management Europe (TOCEMA EUROPE). It is made up of initiatives from here and 12 other countries, and that brings in about another thousand examples of towns and cities that are under management.

367. From those organisations and projects, we have deduced that two factors are necessary to promote vital and viable town centres. First, it is necessary to have an initial town-centre planning policy to encourage development in town centres wherever possible — not only retail development but any development that is appropriate in town centres.

368. Secondly, there is a requirement for strong local initiatives, which are more effective if they are partnerships among the public, private and community sectors. Partnerships bring added value because all parties contribute, giving those involved greater knowledge about the issues that affect town and city centres. They are symbioses that enable the initiatives to do more than those that are purely led by one partner. Those requirements apply in large and small centres, although there is not a one-sized solution. The partnerships that have evolved across the world are different in many ways and must be contextualised to the local environment. It is important to remember that town-centre regeneration does not happen quickly but is a long-term process that typically takes 20 years or more. The partnership may evolve during that time from an ad hoc arrangement to a company limited by guarantee, or to — as is the case in many towns in England — a community interest company, or to a more formal arrangement in the long term.

369. It is not enough that regeneration consist of one idea. We have discovered over the years that town centres require a comprehensive strategy if they are to be successfully revitalised. That strategy must consider what the centre has to offer or what its attractions are. That should not only mean retail but that consideration should be given to a town centre’s role as a leisure and entertainment centre, a service centre for the community, a business location and a place in which people can live. The strategy must deal with accessibility and consider how consumers can get into and around the centre. It must also deal with the quality of experience that it gives visitors, — its amenity — and its safety. The strategy must ask the following questions: does the town centre feel clean? Is it a pleasant environment in which to spend time or do its visitors want to leave in a hurry? The comprehensive strategy must deal with initiatives, such as promotion, marketing and action, in order to bring together the partners.

370. Town-centre regeneration is best done through partnership. One might ask how partnerships can be best developed, how they can be sustained and how we can ensure that they are real. ATCM, working with a number of universities and our partners elsewhere in the world, has developed a 10-step programme that supports the establishment of BIDs and long-term town-centre management partnerships. We have already made a submission to the Department for Social Development (DSD) in which we gave details of the programme. It covers such issues as identifying stakeholders, developing visions and strategies, and monitoring and evaluation.

371. We believe that that is the best way in which to deliver a competitive advantage for town and city centres and to ensure that those centres that have served their communities for hundreds of years — in some cases, a thousand years — will not be destroyed in a generation by the out-of-town developments.

372. I hope that that gives the Committee some insight into the matter.

373. Mrs Sharon Scott (Association of Town Centre Management – Northern Ireland): I shall pick up on a few issues, both at a strategic and an operational level, as I am a practising town-centre manager in Coleraine. There are about 16 practising town-centre managers in Northern Ireland, and the ATCM (NI) feels that the strategic framework under which it operates with the Department is somewhat lacking. I will present to the Committee the association’s views on a proposed hierarchical framework.

374. First and foremost is the regional development strategy, of which we are all aware. It has already identified cities and towns in Northern Ireland as regional and subregional hubs, and that provides a good framework for departmental intervention. The association has found that, in the past, the intervention has been somewhat piecemeal in approach and has been driven by single issues, and that it bore no real relevance to an overarching strategic framework, which ATCM (NI) would like to see adopted.

375. For some time, the absence of a clear retail planning policy has caused real problems at a strategic and operational level for practising town-centre and city-centre managers. The lack of such a policy has hindered the growth of town and city centres across Northern Ireland. That is well documented, and we would like that to be resolved as a matter of urgency, because it certainly would help to enable a strategic approach to be taken.

376. The next level down is the area plans. At present, DSD does not have any powers of consultation on area plans, and, in particular, on the comprehensive development schemes. The association would like DSD to have such powers in future. That would give some statutory basis to the work that town and city partnerships are conducting.

377. The next tier down should be town-centre master plans, which would provide a 10-year strategic framework for development. They would consider comprehensive development opportunities across the board and would deal with transport, retail development, tourism, and the real work of town and city centres today.

378. Below that should be a localised regeneration strategy, which would be a three- to five-year plan. It is the next step after a vision or development framework has been established, and it would involve creating a clear plan of action and looking at resources and budget. That strategy would be a very individual piece of work, drawn up according to individual needs. It would be driven by the town partnerships, which, as we have said before, should have firm representation from the public, private and voluntary sectors in the area.

379. Finally, a one-year operational plan would be really important to drive forward delivery. Again, budgetary and evaluation requirements are important.

380. That is the strategic framework. ATCM feels that it should be supported by long-term budgetary provision. Most of the town and city centres in Northern Ireland take a very ad hoc, piecemeal approach to their finances. Some have a 12-month funding period, while, at the other end of the scale, the majority have a three-year funding period. Such arrangements create problems at an operational and working level for town partnerships, because environmental improvement schemes can last 18 months, while major comprehensive development schemes can last 10 years.

381. I will speak about our experience at an operation level in Coleraine. As a member of ACTM (NI) for some 10 years now, Coleraine has followed best practice. In 1999, urban regeneration consultants drew up a master plan. That 10-year plan considered how Coleraine town could progress. In 2005, that plan was supplemented with a strategy, which identified five development-opportunity sites for comprehensive development. The Department’s involvement at that level was considerable. It considered retail planning, capacity building and the future retail needs of the town. Therefore, there were considerable financial and resource implications, for the partnership itself and for DSD as an active member of that partnership. That led to a series of development briefs for two of the sites, and that has culminated in two developments going ahead. Those developments represent £115 million worth of retail, leisure and housing development in Coleraine. From an outcome perspective, the plan and strategy have delivered the goods.

382. However, the association’s problems with the Department have been twofold. First, the lack of a statutory basis for the plans has been a concern and a major stumbling block. ATCM (NI) has not been given a statutory basis in the draft Northern area plan 2016, although both documents that were produced were done so with the area plan in mind. The association’s not having a statutory basis meant that those documents did not stand up. That resulted in the Department’s having to go back, re-evaluate and prove the facts and figures that came out of the town partnership document throughout the course of the development briefs. It involved the recruitment of another consultant, more finance and an 18-month delay in the release of the development briefs, which were at a critical stage, when developers were bringing in key commercial tenants. All those commercial planning issues were coming together, yet the project had to be stalled for 18 months to allow a verification exercise to take place, which, had the association had a statutory basis, would not have been necessary.

383. Secondly, without any disrespect to the DSD officials who were involved, because they were more than positive and worked extremely hard on a day-to-day and operational basis, they were hindered by a lack of resources and, by their own admission, by the lack of expertise available for the urban regeneration project that the ATCM (NI) was carrying out. The development site was huge, particularly for a regional town. Progress on that development was held up for several years because of resource and expertise issues. The association has discussed with officials at great length as to how that might be resolved. We want that progress to be made at an operational level, where intervention has been affected.

384. Mr Neill: I want to raise an issue that is mentioned in the inquiry’s terms of reference, and that is the effectiveness of engagement. I want to reiterate what Mrs Scott has said — that that in no way reflects on individuals in the Department, for whom I have nothing but admiration. They work incredibly well, despite the lack of a structured policy.

385. However, the association recognises that there is weakness in the lack of policy and lack of urban regeneration experts. Current DSD intervention tends to be in response to opportunities that developers have brought to its attention. That can cause several problems. Intervention is not judged on key performance indicators. Unless those key performance indicators are ingrained, exit cannot be made after the intervention in order to measure it and ascertain whether it was effective.

386. Moreover, intervention by developers is all very well in a prosperous economy. However, if the market enters a recession, doubts would be raised about whether DSD can deliver comprehensive regeneration in town centres. The association is keen to see the introduction of models and key performance indicators that are used in BIDs. Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK and Ireland that does not have legislation for BIDs. Although a large majority of towns may eventually not want to move to a formal BID, it is important that it is recognised as a strong model that is driven by all the correct elements that feed into it.

387. The example of a development site in Ballymena illustrates the effect of engagement and a lack of policy. There has been a large derelict area in Alexander Street, in the north of the town, for several years. The process of development there began around 10 years ago, when the developer started to amass the site. After that had progressed for a few years, the developers approached the Planning Service with their plan. They were referred to DSD by the Planning Service, which said that DSD would have to role to play in the development. My understanding is that DSD identified its role and that it wanted there to be comprehensive redevelopment of the area. With DSD’s encouragement, the developers extended the footprint to cover other buildings that required vesting, because they could not be bought through the system.

388. Reasonable progress was made, with DSD driving the project. In fact, my understanding from the developers was that DSD indicated that it wanted to lead the project and that the developers would be the preferred developers.

389. Therefore, the project was going fairly well until it got on to the legal framework As I have said, vesting issues arose, and there were personnel changes in DSD. DSD took a backward step from legal action, because of a lack of policy and of threats of legal action from various areas. The Department had no policy that would stand up in court that could justify any potential intervention. It is almost 10 years since the project hit the ground — almost seven of those with DSD — and that situation has pertained throughout. Other than the developers trying to find ways around that situation to progress and reduce the footprint, the project has ground to a halt. The uncertainty over such a large development has rolled over into demographic changes and changes in footfall, and that has meant uncertainty for all development in the town centre. No one else will develop until that project moves forward. The project has priority 1 status, so other developers are lining up behind it, but they cannot do anything.

390. Although it is not a reflection on DSD staff, the policy is creating such problems throughout the Province. The threat of legal action against the Department and the lack of a policy to back development leave it embroiled in spending incredible amounts of money on consultants to back its case.

391. The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation, which included some strong and positive points. Your views were very informative to the Committee. Do any Committee members have questions that they wish to ask the delegation?

392. Mr Brady: From what you have said, planning is a huge issue. Ten years is an ordinate amount of time for a project to have stalled. Do you envisage any way in which to speed the process up or to improve the timescale for development?

393. Mr Neill: In this instance, planning permission had been granted for the comprehensive element of the development. The project ran aground because of the Department’s lack of policy, and because the staff attempted, through consultants, to show that they had the evidence to back what they were doing. The project ground to a halt because the Department felt that its position was not strong enough. However, ATCM (NI) keenly awaits the introduction of the new draft, or the final version, of Planning Policy Statement 5. There are issues around trying to drive retail and leisure elements into town centres first. In Northern Ireland, those developments are built anywhere but in town centres.

394. Mr Brady: Do you feel that DSD could take a more holistic approach to leisure and retail?

395. Mr Neill: It could, and a policy that backed that would allow DSD to take such an approach. The projects are developer-driven, so they depend on what the developer has in mind, and, a great deal of the time, that comes down to whether the value of the site stacks up to what the revenue returns need to be.

396. The Deputy Chairperson: If there are no further questions, I thank the witnesses for their attendance. Your evidence has been very informative for the Committee.

17 January 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Fred Cobain
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Fra McCann
Mrs Claire McGill
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Mr Alban Maginness

Witnesses:

Ms Carolyn Brown } Federation of Small Businesses
Mr Wilfred Mitchell

397. The Chairperson: I welcome Ms Carolyn Brown and Mr Wilfred Mitchell, from the Federation of Small Businesses, to the Committee for Social Development. I do not know whether you were present when I gave the weekly warning about the need to switch off mobile phones. If they are switched on, in any form, they interfere with the recording equipment. The session will follow a similar format to that of the previous session with witnesses from CO3. Perhaps, you would like to give a short presentation and take questions after that.

398. Mr Wilfred Mitchell (Federation of Small Businesses): My name is Wilfred Mitchell and I am the chair of the Northern Ireland area policy committee for the Federation of Small Business (FSB). Carolyn Brown is the FSB’s policy manager. Unfortunately Mr Stephen Lyttle is unable to attend the meeting, and gave his apologies yesterday. Mr Lyttle is the owner of a furniture retail company in Banbridge, and it would have been timely for him to have been here today. However, he has provided us with a few comments.

399. The Committee has received a copy of our written submission. We have also circulated our document ‘Reviving Retail in Northern Ireland’.

400. The Chairperson: We have received your submission and we will circulate the leaflet today.

401. Mr Mitchell: We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the committee’s inquiry into town centre regeneration. I thank you for inviting us to today’s Committee. Currently, the FSB has over 210,000 members across the UK. We are the largest business organisation in Northern Ireland, with over 7,000 members in every type of business sector.

402. The FSB works to promote and protect the interests of all who own or manage their own businesses, and lobbies decision-makers to create a better business environment.

403. The FSB carries out a comprehensive survey of its members — ‘Lifting the Barriers to Growth in UK Small Businesses’ — every two years. As 2008 is a survey year, questionnaires will be sent out to members this month. The last survey was conducted in 2006, and from that the FSB can deduce that 30% of its members — approximately 2,000 — are in retail, wholesale and motor-trade sectors. A further 18% are in business services and 8% are in the hotel and restaurant industry.

404. Members might be interested to know that almost one third of our membership operates from a retail or shop unit, and Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of such businesses in the UK. Approximately 24% of our members’ businesses are located in a city, town or village centre, and a further 24% are on high streets or the residential or commercial districts of inner-city areas. Therefore, town-centre regeneration is a key issue for the FSB, its members and the economy. Shopping is cited by 47% of visitors to Northern Ireland as a reason to visit. It is widely recognised that vibrant towns and cities are vital to the development of a wider local area.

405. In 2006, the FSB published the policy document ‘Reviving Retail in Northern Ireland’, outlining its recommendations, based on the views of its members through issues raised at branch meetings or brought to committee members. I take the opportunity to mention that, in addition, the FSB calls for a small business rates relief scheme in Northern Ireland. Non-domestic rates are one of the largest outgoings for small businesses — about the third-highest cost in Northern Ireland — and it is the only region of the UK not to have such a scheme. The scheme allows small businesses to reinvest any savings made in expansion of employment, marketing or research and development, thus increasing the chances of the success of businesses and their input to the local economy, which, in turn, contributes to regeneration. The FSB has made its views known to the Economic Research Institute of Northern Ireland (ERINI), which is looking into the feasibility of such a scheme for the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP).

406. There is no doubt that the single, most effective measure that could be taken to regenerate our town centres is to put a halt to the development of out-of-town and edge-of-town shopping centres. I am aware that other delegations before the Committee have mentioned the situation in Banbridge. However, I had hoped the Stephen Lyttle would have been able to tell the Committee about his personal experience of the situation. He and his fellow traders in the town are extremely concerned about the proposed development of a massive Tesco Extra store at Bridgewater Park, which would not only sell food, groceries and other household products, but also clothing, hardware and electrical goods. That proposed development has the power to deprive Banbridge town centre of business. Tesco already has a store in Banbridge, and, apparently, has planning approval for an extension. Although it has taken trade away from existing shops, it at least retains a footfall in the town centre. When existing businesses close, trade and jobs are lost, not to mention the vitality and unique character of the town.

407. To enable town centres to develop and grow, out-of-town retail needs to be curbed — unless demand for unique products can be made. Even then, the impact on existing retailers must be taken into account. We recommend that existing retail parks should source their products from local, small producers.

408. The measures in place for urban regeneration are numerous, but not always accessible to the small, independent business owner.

409. In Northern Ireland, 95% of businesses employ between 0 and 9 employees, and an estimated 74% have fewer than five. Many of those businesses, if not most, have no dedicated administration centre, human resource department or finance office. Usually, the owner does all the paperwork, perhaps with the help of a bookkeeper. Those businesses play a vital part in our economy and they do not have the time or resources to identify any relevant or appropriate grants or schemes.

410. The ‘Living over the Shop’ town-centre living initiative in Enniskillen is a good example of a leaflet that explains a scheme simply and clearly, and it includes a step-by-step guide to the grants process. Some of those steps may be complicated, for example, obtaining planning permission.

411. We recommend that regeneration initiatives available to town-centre businesses are well publicised and promoted, that criteria are clear and that the application process is as simple as possible. Local advice and support services will help to increase take-up. We also welcome schemes for more modest improvements which have less complex eligibility criteria and application procedures.

412. It is also vital that regeneration strategies work in harmony with other strategies, such as those promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, double competitiveness and increased export. We welcome the initiative taken by ICBAN (Irish Central Border Area Network), which has recognised the importance of reinvigorating Northern Ireland’s towns and rural areas. Such a project will undoubtedly ensure that those areas are supported and sustained as vibrant social and commercial centres.

413. Other strategies include: good community relations, safe and shared space, and so on. For example, the redevelopment of a town square needs to encourage the development of surrounding businesses, cafés and restaurants; co-ordinate with road, lighting and improvement schemes; and work with the PSNI on safety and in addressing vandalism and graffiti. It must work with the relevant agencies to promote required education and skills for prospective employment. It often seems to independent businesses that workers arrive and dig up the roads without any consideration of the impact on traders, who need access to their customers and goods delivery vehicles. Such work can have a severe impact on trade.

414. The FSB welcomes proposals to introduce a single Government enquiry line and to reduce the number of Government websites.

415. It is most important that Departments talk to one another and identify impacts and shared goals. Working in partnership and consultation with local people and stakeholder engagement is integral to successful regeneration.

416. The FSB looks forward to the outcome of the review of public administration (RPA) and would welcome the introduction of greater economic power to local councils. Among other things, that would increase the ability of local businesses to get to know well-informed staff, to know who to talk to and would encourage those businesses to seek advice. Furthermore, the FSB will welcome involvement in community planning partnerships, which will give local businesses a direct voice on the development of their areas.

417. Car parking is a major issue for town centres. Retail centres outside, and on the edge, of towns and multinational supermarkets are able to provide huge, free car parks, whereas town-centres are increasingly pedestrianised, with only expensive, metered parking or private, multi-storey car parks available. We supported members in Bangor when on-street car parking charges were proposed. It was obvious, in that case, that people would choose not to pay or time their visits to the shops, but would choose to travel to Bloomfield instead.

418. That proposal has not yet been introduced. Of course, what I have outlined needs to be balanced with environmental and congestion considerations.

419. Public transport is another reason for the importance of communication between Departments and agencies and joined-up Government. The issue of parking leads into a consideration of alternatives, and the role of public transport in bringing people into towns. A recent transport survey found that only 9% of households in Northern Ireland would be able to get a bus from their nearest bus stop every 15 minutes. Furthermore, 27% of those surveyed did not know how often they could get a bus.

420. The new Metro bus network in Belfast appears to be a success — passenger use has increased. However, it remains relatively expensive compared to other European cities, such as Amsterdam, particularly for peak-time commuters.

421. Elements that make public transport successful include dedicated bus lanes; well designated bus stops with shelters, which also provide advertising opportunities; good travel information; efficient services that run on time; and routes that take people where they want to go, when they want to go, including in the evenings. In non-city areas, it is important to have continually improving flexi-bus services.

422. We have welcomed the E-ways proposed for east and south Belfast. Such a service will transport people quickly and efficiently into and across the city. Research carried out by KPMG noted a major investment in light rail and tramways in major European cities, particularly London and Paris. Therefore, it is good that Belfast is keeping up. However, good facilities, such as waiting areas, shops, cafes and tourist outlets are required at depots and at the stops.

423. Ms Carolyn Brown (Federation of Small Businesses): I have been told that the Committee is interested in examples of good practice from outside Northern Ireland. One such example is the Boston Main Streets programme, which is a public-private partnership initiative. The programme was formed by the city of Boston in partnership with businesses, landowners, rentowners, residents, as well as the community and city officials. It is committed to: “making Boston’s neighbourhood commercial districts thriving, vibrant centres of commerce and community".

424. Furthermore, its aim is to:

“develop long-term strategies to increase the economic power and resources of neighbourhood commercial districts while pursuing initiatives that build knowledge and capacity for Main Streets programs and the businesses they serve."

425. The programme provides businesses and community residents with the tools and information that they need to enable their historic commercial centre to compete in today’s market. Since it began in 1977, over 1,000 communities in 40 states have taken part in the Main Streets programme, which has generated more than $3·6 billion in new investments, over 83,000 new jobs, more than 33,000 new businesses and more than 36,000 building rehabilitation projects.

426. Some of the programme’s elements include providing assistance in organisational development; strategic planning and market development; co-funding to support the cost of hiring an executive director — the equivalent of a town-centre manager in the UK; annually matching locally raised funding to support promotional events in the district; and co-funding towards improvements to private or public property. A sort of city loyalty card — the Boston Community Change card — has been introduced. Anyone can apply for the card, which offers local shopping discounts. Some of the money is returned to the shopper and some goes to community charities that can be nominated.

427. The city also has a Corporate Buddy Program, which links each district with a large business which provides financial and technical services. The programme provides two key elements to the Main Streets districts, including an annual $10,000 funding commitment over four years, and technical support ranging from financial planning to company volunteer projects and graphic design support.

428. In turn, each Main Streets area is expected to provide matching funds to the organisation’s director for promotional events, office space in the district, and materials and service for the operation of the organisation and for promotional events.

429. One of the most interesting outcomes has been the discovery that Government cannot do everything, and that each community must take a lead in shaping the character of its neighbourhood. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) acknowledges that the responsibility for town centre regeneration does not lie solely with Government. Businesses are part of the community, and we want to be involved and to contribute. The main elements of the programme’s success were its shared vision, community involvement and a shared willingness and input of resources.

430. The Chairperson: Thank you both very much. I have two questions, and then I will open up the session. All of us are aware of the problems faced by small local retailers, which appear to be worsening. We have seen those difficulties for ourselves. Has the Federation, or any other body, carried out a statistical analysis that shows the extent of the demise of those retailers? Are there any figures available that indicate the impact of huge out-of-town developers on places such as Antrim or Banbridge? I do not expect that information today. I just wonder if it is available.

431. Ms C Brown: Some information is available on the demise of independent retailers in certain areas.

432. The Chairperson: It would be very helpful to have that information.

433. Mr Mitchell: There is a separate section on Northern Ireland in our Barriers to Growth survey, which will contain elements of that information.

434. The Chairperson: Thank you; it would be helpful to have that — perhaps sometime next week.

435. You mentioned Boston in relation to the Main Streets programme. Have you carried out any research on that? Has the Federation visited Boston? How did you become aware of it?

436. Ms C Brown: A member of staff has been on a study visit to Boston and has identified it as an area of good practice. Since that visit we have done some more research ourselves.

437. The Chairperson: You made some useful comments about Boston. Is a resumé of that visit available, and would it be of any help to the Committee’s inquiry?

438. Ms C Brown: Unfortunately, that member of staff has left the organisation, but we can provide the Committee with that information.

439. The Chairperson: That will be very helpful.

440. Mr Hilditch: Thank you very much for your presentation. Banbridge was mentioned earlier in the discussion about out-of-town shopping. I attended a presentation last year at which Banbridge’s town centre manager said that the out-of-town shopping centres had been successful in bringing visitors into the town. It is clear that there are differing views on the matter.

441. I agree with you when you say that you do not want to have 30 or 40 town centres in Northern Ireland that look exactly the same. I do not want to stand in the middle of Banbridge, Coleraine or Bangor, looking at the same shops, feeling that I could be anywhere. Has the Federation carried out any research into niche retailing in town centres — particularly the cultural town centres — that would provide a unique visitor experience?

442. Mr Mitchell: I do not think that any research has been undertaken on that subject. That is something that is becoming live. The people at the grassroots tell us about the pressures that are coming up and spilling over. We have not conducted any research of that kind. However, by the looks of the pressures that are coming, it is something that we will have to do.

443. Ms C Brown: The Bridgewater retail park and the Outlet centre outside Banbridge, which concentrates on cheaper designer products, encourage people to stop in the centre of Banbridge as well. The proposed development is a massive Tesco Extra store, a one-stop shop measuring 130,000 square feet — the biggest retail floor space in Northern Ireland. I am sure that you will agree that Banbridge is not the largest town in Northern Ireland.

444. That will probably take people out of the town centre. Although they may go to the outlet store to buy a designer tie or a pair of shoes, they certainly could not get their lettuce and tomatoes there. However, they will be able to buy those items at the big Tesco Extra. Traders are concerned that it will take away any need to go into Banbridge.

445. Mr Hilditch: I ask that the Federation of Small Businesses examines the issue of niche retailing.

446. The Chairperson: No other member has indicated that he or she wishes to ask a question. Thank you very much for your informative presentation and for taking questions.

29 May 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen

Witnesses:

Mr Adrian McCreesh } Cookstown District Council
Mr Terry Scullion

447. The Chairperson (Mr Campbell): The next item on the Committee’s agenda is a contribution from representatives of Cookstown District Council and Cookstown Town Centre Forum. I apologise for the delay, gentlemen. We have been held up a little, but we are glad to see you. I ask you to make a brief opening contribution, and the Committee will follow with some questions. Having listened to the Strabane representatives, you will already know our line of inquiry.

448. Mr Adrian McCreesh (Cookstown District Council): Thank you, once again, for the opportunity to come before the Committee. I am a director of development for Cookstown District Council. My colleague, Terry Scullion, is our town strategy manager. He is responsible for many of the success stories that we have achieved in Cookstown over the last several years.

449. I have listened to the Strabane representatives’ contribution and, effectively, they could have written our script. Therefore, I will not put the Committee through any pain by replicating what has already been said. Many of the strategic issues mentioned by Philip Faithful also apply to Cookstown, as a west-of-the-Bann, provincial town.

450. I will go off script, think on the spot and introduce a few other issues that the Committee may want to ponder and, perhaps, explore with other Departments. It is nearly lunchtime, so I will talk for a few minutes and that will be the last that you will hear of me. I will then hand over to my colleague.

451. Cookstown is a provincial town — like every other town in the west — and has a population of 12,000. Historically, it is predominantly an agricultural, market town but it has faced severe problems. Mr Brady mentioned the high unemployment levels in Newry and Strabane. Unfortunately, Cookstown had similarly massive unemployment — 20% in the 1970s and 1980s.

452. Over the past 15 years, there has been a significant economic sea change in Cookstown, where levels of social deprivation and unemployment have reduced drastically. The town has had its first significant inward investor in 27 years, and we are blessed with a very strong indigenous business population base, which creates the vast majority of employment in the area, and, invariably, its wealth.

453. Let me focus on the town centre. It accounts for approximately 30% of employees in the district council area. Of a population of 30,000 to 35,000, one third work in or around the town centre. Cookstown is therefore a significant employer as a geographical location, and the retail sector is a significant employer.

454. The Chairperson: I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr McCreesh. Is that figure of 30% roughly commensurate with other towns west of the Bann?

455. Mr McCreesh: Unfortunately, Chairperson, I suggest that it is slightly higher. I would need to do the maths, but I suspect, based on my knowledge of the west, that Cookstown is outperforming other towns in Mid Ulster as a retail destination. We believe that the town is established as the retail centre of Mid Ulster — the parliamentary constituency — comprising Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon.

456. We have been punching above our weight for the past eight or nine years. We have enacted a strong, comprehensive, effective and aggressive marketing and promotional campaign to build the base of the town, develop the independent retail traders in the town, and ensure that the brand names that are currently going elsewhere come into Cookstown. They have done so in big numbers, and, as you said, Chairperson, there are pros and cons. It is a very delicate balance, and, like everyone else, we are struggling to achieve that balance between getting the brand names in, and building and securing our independent traders. Some 60% of the businesses in the town centre are independent traders. There are traders there who have been in the town for between 80 and 120 years, and we want to maintain them. I want my children and my grandchildren to be going to those businesses in 30 or 40 years’ time. That is the challenge that we face. That said, we recognise that neither you, I, nor anyone else will change purchasing behaviour. Consumer trends and shopping trends are changing, and we are trying to change with them, but, at the same time, we are trying to secure and maintain the economic base and our establishment as a retail town.

457. We established the Cookstown town centre forum in 2002. Like many town centre forums or partnerships, its 21 members comprise councillors, private-sector representatives, people from the community and voluntary sectors, and others. Our first task was to employ a manager. The Council invested in that task, and we were fortunate to recruit Terry Scullion. We developed a 10- to 12-year strategy for the town centre in 2003, encompassing promotion, infrastructure, environmental improvements, retail and accessibility — all the issues that have to be examined in order to ensure that a town centre works. Minister Hanson — who I believe was the Minister with responsibility for this Committee’s Department at that time — launched the strategy with great pomp and ceremony. We invigorated the town and created some momentum, and the private sector came on board. To date, we have been genuinely successful in delivering the strategy.

458. The problem is that the financial support that we have received since then has gone, and I want to bring that to the Committee’s attention. I am concerned that when, particularly, the public sector secures private-sector buy-in and creates momentum, there must be delivery.

459. We have delivered on part of our strategy. Our concern, which is shared by the town’s elected councillors, is that we do not have the resources to finish the job. When the strategy is completed, we will have to establish a new one. That is where the Department can come in as a leader.

460. Bearing in mind the town centre’s issues and problems, we need leadership from central Government. We can only do so much at a local level in our towns and villages; you have experience of that, Chairperson. Whether that leadership comes from DSD or DETI, I do not know, but at the moment, various Departments are dipping their toes in the water regarding town-centre regeneration, and some Departments are responsible for various elements. I know that Government works in that way, and that is the way it has to be, but there is a significant lack of co-ordination and cohesion at central Government level. That is having a detrimental effect, and reduces our ability to make things happen at a local level, particularly in the west.

461. We could talk all day about the west, the east, and about urban and rural issues. I have already talked about the significant amount of employment that Cookstown provides. A successful provincial town that is performing well and creating employment and wealth has a massive impact on rural areas.

462. Town-centre investment benefits urban and rural areas. Many of the 3,000 workers that I talked about are rural employees; they live in rural areas, and are farmers’ sons and daughters, and so on.

463. A healthy town centre has a significant spin-off effect for rural communities. That was clear in my area of Mid Ulster in the 1970s and 1980s when our towns were on their knees and not performing. The rural areas also felt that pain. Therefore, that is two sides of the same coin. I want to ensure that people are clear that urban and rural issues are interrelated, particularly in the west, where provincial towns play that critical role.

464. The document that we provided outlines all the schemes that we have invested in, including town-centre promotion and marketing initiatives; a town-centre health check and baseline study; shop-front painting schemes; and Living over the Shop schemes, all of which we are currently spearheading at pace and driving forward energetically. As a local authority and a small council, we are investing as much as possible in those schemes. There has been much buy-in, and we are outperforming Derry and Lisburn in the Living over the Shop scheme. We are happy with that. The difficulty is that, as a small local authority, we have limited resources. We are now at the point when our ability to keep the momentum going is basically at an end.

465. Philip Faithful talked about Strabane’s need for money to employ a manager. In Cookstown, we were fortunate in that we submitted a bid through Cookstown’s local economic development strategy. Furthermore, through the EU building sustainable prosperity programme, we received a 50% grant to employ Terry Scullion. As a council, we matched that funding. We also received support from that programme for environmental-improvement schemes and to pay professional fees, and so on. That funding ended with the programme in 2007.

466. I have been vocal about such issues with DETI officials. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment was in Cookstown a number of weeks ago, and I also bent his ear on those issues. I am bringing this matter to the Committee’s attention because co-operation among Departments is required in order to address the issue of town-centre regeneration.

467. Local authorities are being invited to submit bids to the new European sustainable-competitiveness programme for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, town-centre regeneration is ineligible. Previously, we could access such programmes to seek investment in our town centres; however, they say that because of the Lisbon agenda, their focus must be on small-business start-ups, which I understand. We agree with, and invest in heavily in, business start-ups. I have no issues with small businesses, or with business growth that focuses on innovation and research and development. However, at best, only 1% to 5% of businesses in the west meet the criteria of the new programme. The argument is that we have to build that base, and I also agree with that. However, as I said, town centres are now ineligible for funds from the programme.

468. Minister Dodds launched our local economic development strategy three weeks ago. That strategy includes a whole section on town-centre regeneration. No elements of that part of the strategy will be eligible under the new European sustainable-competitiveness programme.

469. We are talking about town-centre promotion, town-centre marketing, and support for the council and the town centre forum to employ a town-centre manager. We either invest in our town centres or we do not. Central Government collectively must come together and give it due credence or not. I suggest to you, Chairman, as someone from the west, that you understand the impact that town centres have on urban and rural areas, on districts, and even on subregions. The central Government programmes should be negotiated in a way that allows investment to go to the areas where it is most needed.

470. Mr Terry Scullion (Cookstown District Council): I would like to acknowledge the efforts of DSD staff who are involved in our town-centre forum and work with the council and the forum on a regular basis. Given that there is limited structured policy in DSD for urban and town-centre regeneration and, by their own admission, there is a lack of urban-regeneration expertise in some cases, they are very good.

471. From a Cookstown perspective, many of the DSD interventions are too narrowly focused, ad hoc, and often involve single-driven issues that are not necessarily based on key performance indicators that are pertinent to a town centre, nor is intervention measured using such indicators.

472. Examples of that are comprehensive development schemes, town centre master planning and urban development grants — and Cookstown has not been able to avail of any of those schemes.

473. The witnesses from Strabane referred to the issue of DSD’s direct consultation with local communities and key stakeholders in urban regeneration, and that could be improved to bolster the health of the town-centre economy. Many of DSD’s support initiatives are exclusively focused on neighbourhood renewal initiatives and that narrow focus does not address the wider urban and social economic issues from a town-centre perspective. Although Cookstown district as a whole is classed as the sixth most deprived district in Northern Ireland, it is not a neighbourhood renewal area.

474. Adrian McCreesh referred to the concept that town centres play a vital role in the economic activity of Northern Ireland with regard to jobs and wealth creation, not to mention the community cohesion that can be developed through those initiatives, and that is often overlooked by the lack of joined-up government. DETI, through the European programmes branch, has funded many of the town-centre regeneration initiatives or former town-centre regeneration strategies. However, DETI has now walked away from town-centre regeneration and left it to someone in central Government to pick up where it left off. It now appears that DSD holds the central remit, and there is an expectation that DSD will support implementation of town centre regeneration strategies.

475. Another example of the lack of joined-up government is the delay in implementing PPS 5, which has been bandied about for quite some time. That is a critical retail policy that Cookstown — and many other town centres — could do with. I hope that that will move forward in the not-too-distant future.

476. At a strategic level, I question DSD’s funding commitments to the main urban centres. Although many of its documents and publications consistently recognise the significant benefit that town centres and town-centre partnerships play as an effective method of engagement with local stakeholders, it will fund only our two main cities — in the north-west and Belfast — at the expense of other regional towns across Northern Ireland.

477. Another area that ties in nicely with the Committee’s inquiry is the EDAW consultants’ report of 2000 into the reinvigoration of town centres, which was issued in 2002 and commissioned by the Department of the Environment. It stated that:

“Town centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at that heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, marketing and promotion."

478. I will not go into the details of the report. Nevertheless, it contained 27 valid recommendations, some of which are very pertinent to this inquiry and, to a large extent, many of them have not, at this stage, been implemented or come to fruition for some reason or another.

479. We would like to see DSD move the situation forward by, first of all, putting in place a strategic framework of policy for town-centre regeneration. We look to DSD as the main Department to take forward regeneration initiatives. There must be a clear demonstration of a joined-up approach to town-centre regeneration through clear and purposeful policy, based on consultation with key urban-regeneration stakeholders locally and across Northern Ireland. Single-issue intervention can be ad hoc in how funding is administered to town centres. Perhaps one of the ways to redress that would be for each town to have an economic assessment or health check carried out on it, rather than the current ad hoc approach, and that should be based on some form of strong socio-economic information, rather than purely on disadvantage and poverty, preferably assisting both performing and underperforming towns.

480. Cookstown’s area plan will run until 2010. There is no legislative requirement for DSD to be consulted on area plans, but that would be especially welcome, particularly when it comes to town-centre master planning or comprehensive development schemes. We are halfway through our town-centre regeneration strategy, although we have several initiatives still to implement. However, it would be useful for DSD to buy into that process with a view to localised 10-year master plan, or to feed into our current strategy to take the broadest view possible of town-centre regeneration, marketing and promotion, environmental improvements, accessibility, transport, infrastructure, vacancy management, etc, which will ultimately feed into local operational plans that have local stakeholder buy-in and are relevant to the needs of town centres. The policy and planning framework should be supported with long-term budgeting and delivery time frames.

481. The other issue that is becoming more pertinent in town centres, particularly in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland is business improvement districts. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have the legislation to create business improvement districts. Although such legislation might not apply to all town centres and might need to be customised, it would be a welcome intervention by Government.

482. The Chairperson: You covered a lot of ground in a short time. It seems that Cookstown is endeavouring to tell its success story. However, as Cookstown is different in layout to Strabane, some of the advantages that apply to Cookstown might not be easily transferred. Your figures state that vacant and derelict business properties decreased by 27% — how much of that decrease do you attribute to the change in rates, or — like most things — is a combination of factors responsible?

483. Mr McCreesh: There is a combination of factors. The figures cover up to 2007, and we are very pleased with them. However, although we are proud of what we have achieved — you are correct that the statistics are accurate and have been independently validated — people are feeling the pain. We could have filled the public gallery today with a delegation of retailers, but we did not want the focus of the meeting to be on their plight. Our retailers are feeling the pain, and if an analysis were carried out, it would show that the number of empty premises would have increased on the 2007 number — in the past eight months, there has been a notable increase in the number of empty retail premises.

484. You are correct that Cookstown is fortunate structurally — it has the longest and widest main street in Ireland, it is busy, vibrant and has vitality. However, empty premises are very visible, and they are increasing in number. Unfortunately, many of those who are vacating premises are independent retailers who have been in the town for a long time. Consumer patterns have been affected by out-of-town shopping centres, the increase in Internet shopping, the increase in rental costs and the huge burden of rates — newsagents have to sell a lot of newspapers to cover their rates bills.

485. The Chairperson: There is a debate to be had about independent retailers versus multinationals, and the location of shopping centres on the edge of town versus the town centre, as much a Cookstown phenomenon.

486. Mr McCreesh: That is right, but the clock cannot be turned back — we are where we are. A large shopping development, which is located just out of town, has recently opened. It houses all of the major retailers, and the independent retailers stop me at every opportunity to tell me that it is killing their businesses. However, we are where we are, and the legislation is as it is — as the local authority for a small provincial town, we welcome all investment into our town and we try to get that investment as close to the town centre as possible. We made that decision on the fundamental premise that if the multinationals did not invest in Cookstown, they would do so in Dungannon or Magherafelt.

487. The Chairperson: Everyone works on that premise.

488. Mr McCreesh: We cannot change the past, but we can influence the future, for example through draft PPS 5. You may have asked the representative from the Strabane Chamber of Commerce whether, when proposals for such shopping centres are received in future, the starting point for planners will be to ask whether it can be developed in the town centre. If not, why not? That should be the starting point for the planners, rather than just building such shopping centres out of town — they should examine what is available in the town centre, what empty premises are available, and whether the plans could it be incorporated. That is how to address such situations in the future.

489. I mentioned the removal of DETI funding. Provincial town centres are unsure of DSD funding because the criteria is very unclear — towns are selected at random, which is a problem that the Committee must address. In addition, the rural development programme excludes towns, which means anywhere with a population over 4,500 people. Therefore, provincial towns in the west cannot tap into the rural development programme — where are we to go? Other than raising rates, there is no way to raise money apart from a cross-border initiative through ICBAN, which people in the west have tapped into.

490. INTERREG IVa will perhaps offer major opportunities. If members get the opportunity to talk to those responsible for INTERREG IVa and the Special EU Programmes Body, we would be very grateful if you could encourage them to support town-centre regeneration.

491. Mr F McCann: You covered so much in your presentation that it is hard to find anything to ask about. The previous witnesses were from Strabane, and I asked them about the leadership — or possibly lack of leadership — shown by Departments. Has the Department made any attempt to draw the strings of the strategy together or to work with the council and others to develop it?

492. Mr McCreesh: The Department has worked with us on very small specific projects, such as marketing campaigns, and so on. Do not get me wrong; we are grateful for that support. We have developed a relationship with certain individuals in the Department simply to learn how they do business. However, there has been no strategic approach to developing a master plan for Cookstown. Our achievements are in spite of the absence of such an approach.

493. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for attending today’s meeting. I am sure that we will be in contact with you again.

29 May 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Gregory Campbell (Chairperson)
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín

Witnesses:

Mr Jarlath McNulty } Strabane 2000
Ms Heather Torrens

Mr Joe Barber, Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Mr Philip Faithful, Strabane District Council

494. The Chairperson (Mr Campbell): We turn to the Committee’s inquiry into town centre regeneration. First we shall hear from four representatives of Strabane 2000, Strabane District Council and the Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry. You are all welcome.

495. Mr Philip Faithful (Strabane District Council): I am chief executive of Strabane District Council. Also present is Ms Heather Torrens, who is the manager of Strabane 2000; Mr Jarlath McNulty, chairperson of Strabane 2000; and Joe Barber, who is vice-president of the Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

496. I thank the Committee for allowing us to make this presentation. We will do it in three quick slots, so I hope that we will not bore members. At the outset, I wish to also thank the Department for Social Development’s north-west development office for the good working relationship that we have with it. I appreciate that that office is always available for support and advice.

497. The brief from Strabane 2000 — of which I am also a member — is to work for the development of the town centre. That group consists of representatives from Strabane District Council; the Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the community; and statutory agencies, including the Department for Social Development, the Roads Service, the Planning Service, the Housing Executive, the Rivers Agency, and others, as required.

498. The primary point that I wish to make in the short time that we have is that there is a need for a major development plan for Strabane. For some time, we have talked about trying to establish a 10-point development plan with the north-west development office. Now is the time to put that in place.

499. Strabane is emerging from a period of conflict. At one point, it had the unenviable reputation of being the most bombed town in Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, we are still paying the price for that. A 10-point plan will, therefore, provide at least some direction, because development in Strabane has been carried out on an ad hoc basis, and we have tried to move forward as money became available or as projects came on line.

500. There are priority areas for development: Lower Main Street, Abercorn Square, Railway Road and the canal basin are prime development targets for the district council and the development office. There are derelict sites, in particular Dock Street and Lower Main Street, which need major work, which is why I am calling for a development plan.

501. There is also the issue of the town centre versus retail parks on the outskirts. I am sure that MLAs have experience of that issue from their own constituencies. Traders say that the town is suffering from dereliction. The edge of town seems to be flourishing, considering the closeness of the border, and a large Asda store — which is, I hasten to add, very welcome. However, the store is taking people from the town centre to the periphery. Traders such as Joe Barber, who is manager of Linton and Robinson, a large hardware shop, see that progressive flow of trade to the outskirts of town.

502. The town centre needs to be revitalised, and we ask DSD to put more effort into that area. As a result of that perceived movement of trade to the edge of town, shops in the centre are empty and without tenants. Investors would see a town with boarded-up shops or with shutters down as almost a no-go area.

503. Strabane has, however, many unique shops, most of which are family-run businesses. The district council has a good working relationship with DSD, but the urban-development grant is used on a limited basis in the town, and, as far as I am aware, there has been only one successful application for a grant.

504. Strabane needs investment. As chairperson of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, I was invited to the US-NI investment conference. Before inviting American or other foreign investors to Strabane, the town centre definitely needs a facelift. We are also asking for help to establish new opportunity sites. I realise that it is not the role of this Committee to work directly with Invest NI or DSD, but there needs to be joined-up government in that respect.

505. Interest in Strabane is growing, but to date it has been drip-fed funding from DSD. Private developers are interested in sites on Smith’s Mill, Lifford Road and in the town centre. As an example of joined-up government, perhaps Invest NI, DSD and the Bain panel could work together on the reallocation of public-sector jobs.

506. They say, “build it, and they will come". Having lost the textile industry, Northbrook Technology is now the area’s biggest employer. Advance factories helped greatly in attracting that company.

507. Strabane 2000 is running a major bridge-building project in the town, and there is a £650,000 shortfall in funding for one of the bridges. Perhaps DSD would consider funding the remainder of that iconic project.

508. We have been lucky over the last seven years in some ways: we have a new library; a new arts centre; a new sports complex at Melvin; and new streetscapes. However, there is an awful lot of work yet to be done, and we are starting from a low base.

509. I would ask for a strategic approach to town-centre development — ask the sectors what they want. I have been chief executive of the district council in my hometown of Strabane for seven years; I would like to see major development there within the next seven years.

510. The RPA brings Strabane and Derry/Londonderry together. Do not let DSD leave Strabane behind. Reports from DSD indicate that, in Derry, 600 buildings have been redeveloped; £100 million has been spent on funding physical development; £400 million has been spent by private investment; £70 million has been spent on community developments; and £30 million has been spent on recent site developments. Strabane received less than £2 million from DSD in that time.

511. I understand that Sir Roy McNulty is carrying out a report on Ilex. In relation to the RPA, perhaps there should be some consultation directly with Strabane on how developments within the Derry area will come together.

512. Finally, I want to mention the north-west gateway initiative. There should also be a gateways initiative between Donegal and Strabane — a vision for the north-west; not just Derry/Londonderry.

513. Mr Joe Barber (Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry): Chairman, on behalf of Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I thank you for the opportunity to present our case.

514. Strabane Chamber of Commerce is committed to the regeneration of Strabane town centre and that of other towns within Strabane district. We do not always want to rely on jobs in Derry/Londonderry and other parts of the north-west. We feel that we are more than capable of playing our part in the regeneration of the whole region. There is a lot of untapped potential in Strabane district. The north-west as a whole would benefit from a stronger economy in Strabane.

515. As members are all aware, Strabane suffered more than most other towns during the Troubles. That has left a legacy of underdevelopment and underinvestment. As a result, we need more help than most just to be able to draw level with the other population centres in the north-west. The town centre of Strabane still has many family-owned and family-run independent shops offering quality goods that are not available from high-street retailers. That unique mix has potential for the future, because a discerning shopper will struggle to find the same product and choice elsewhere.

516. As retailers, we need to create the correct atmosphere inside our premises. That is more difficult if potential customers do not get a good first impression of the town when they arrive. If neighbouring towns and cities get flagship regeneration programmes that gives them further advantage, that adds to the legacy of the Troubles in Strabane.

517. The image of the town has suffered. Some of the bad press has been justified, but by no means all. That means that we have to work harder to change the media perception and attitude towards Strabane. The chamber is in talks with the council to try to fund a position to facilitate better marketing of the town to investors and the public.

518. The post may be able to promote investment in a way that may not be open to the council itself. The precise details have yet to be worked out, but the main problem is funding. The council has indicated that if we can get all the details worked out, it would be prepared to help with that. However, we still need to raise more money to sustain such as post.

519. In an effort to regenerate Strabane, the private sector has developed an edge-of-town retail park. That is doing well; it attracts an inward migration of shoppers from Omagh, the Maiden City and Co Donegal. The main retailer at that site is Asda, which recently stated that it had secured takings of £1 million in one week.

520. The link between the old town centre and the new edge-of-town development must be made more attractive to encourage customers to travel further into the town, which is not happening at present. The distance is short, but the appearance is that the new development is isolated from the town centre. That not only means that we do not reap the full benefit of the potential that is being generated, but that customers are put off from coming into town, so the traders in the town centre lose out.

521. There has been more than £30 million spent on site acquisitions in Londonderry/Derry. The north-west DSD office is seeking further acquisitions there to develop the city centre further. There appears to be no plans to adopt the same strategy in Strabane. At present, there are around 15 to 20 derelict sites, which — if invested in and developed — would serve to stimulate investment and growth in the town centre.

522. The properties along Railway Road, which links the retail park to the town centre, are mainly old and shabby in appearance. Investing in the development of that area would also add to the positive feel of the town, and attract more retail development to link the two areas.

523. Despite everything, there is a large and growing degree of optimism. Planning applications are already in the system and more are being drawn up for major private developments, both in the town centre and on the edge of town. We need a coherent strategy that will bring public-sector investment on line when it is needed to stimulate and develop that growth.

524. The recent American investment conference heralded a potentially massive leap forward for Northern Ireland. Recently, several American business representatives attended a lunch hosted by Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at which Dr Paisley was guest speaker. At the same event, one representative announced a new private investor’s commitment to invest £60 million in Strabane and create over 100 graduate-level jobs in the town, subject to planning approval. That would be a major boost for all of the businesses in Strabane.

525. Members will already know that success breeds success. The potential for further investment is huge. We need all Departments to work with one another and with bodies such as Strabane District Council, Strabane 2000, and Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to ensure that we maximise this opportunity.

526. Mr Jarlath McNulty (Strabane 2000): As chairperson of Strabane 2000, I thank the Committee for receiving our delegation.

527. You have heard the chief executive of Strabane District Council and Joe Barber from Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry speak about infrastructure and economic development. I will speak briefly about community development. When I say “community development", I am not talking about community centres, play areas or sporting facilities. All of those facilities are welcome and are badly needed, but the community development that I am referring to is the development of our people — their increased sense of ownership and confidence, their expectations of the new Assembly, and their understanding of what it means to work in real partnership with Government and the statutory sector in developing their own community to the betterment of all.

528. The Committee for Social Development can play its part in that development and show its confidence in the wider development of Strabane town by helping to develop — in partnership with Government agencies, Strabane District Council, the community sector and Strabane 2000 — a strategic plan that has financial backing so that, over the next 10 years, it can achieve its aims. It is time for Strabane to step out of the shadow of its neighbouring towns — as well as Derry city — and take its rightful place in the north-west region. Anyone who has visited Strabane in the last four or five years cannot help but be impressed by the development in the community sector, of which I am sure that some members are aware. That success must be integrated into the development of a new town centre.

529. The Chairperson: Obviously, the Committee is considering town-centre regeneration per se. There will be issues that will affect Strabane that will not affect other towns, but, equally, there are issues that will affect every town. That came across in your presentation, with the example of the edge-of-town development scenario. Do you have any thoughts on how to reconcile the welcome that was given to projects such as the Asda development and the possible impact that such developments may have on the old, traditional town centre? How will strategic development reconcile those?

530. Mr Faithful: My first point is that the outside development and the town centre are not miles apart — there is less than a mile between the two locations. From our perspective, it is important to develop the links between those locations and ensure that, rather than stopping in one area, people are travelling between the two. The lack of car-parking facilities that would allow people to stay in the town centre is indicative of the problems that are faced in that area. We must increase the reasons for people to stay in the town, by developing the streetscapes and making the town more welcoming.

531. The Strabane by-pass has helped us dramatically in respect of traffic flow, but, like all by-passes, it has taken people away from the centre. We want to ensure that we have a welcoming town centre, and that means obtaining investment from DSD to develop that area. Abercorn Square is a fantastic facility because all the other streets radiate out from it and there is a direct route to the Asda store from it, but that type of area currently needs major development.

532. Mr Barber: Strabane 2000 held a meeting with representatives from the Planning Service office in Omagh. At that meeting, Dr Chris Boomer stated that the showgrounds development in Omagh had done well in so far as it brought people into Omagh, but he also said that they came as far as the showgrounds and then went home, because they had established that there was not a strong enough link between the showgrounds and the town centre. That problem is being addressed, but a similar situation occurs in a lot of smaller towns.

533. As Mr Faithful said, it is a five-minute walk, at most, from Asda to the town centre, but the streetscape puts people off from going into the town centre. There is not a coherent link between the town centre and the new retail centre.

534. Mr F McCann: You have addressed some of the issues that I was going to mention. Your document contains a criticism of DSD in relation to its attitude to an overall strategy. Has Strabane 2000 put pressure on DSD to come up with an overall strategy that will encompass the whole town, rather than parts of it?

535. Mr Faithful: It has. I am not here to blame DSD. In fact, I should have been knocking on its door more than I have. We had meetings with senior officers in the north-west development office, and, following two of those meetings, it was decided that there should be a 10-point action plan to progress a strategy development in the town centre. That has been reinforced by local ministerial visits to the town.

536. The Chairperson: Who is responsible for the 10-point plan?

537. Mr Faithful: I would like to see co-operation between Strabane 2000 and DSD, but funding will be an important factor. The council can contribute £10,000, for instance, towards some sort of development plan, but we do not want to end up with another redundant document. If there is going to be a strategic development plan for the town, there must be a working document.

538. At our most recent ministerial visit, which — I think — was from Conor Murphy, we talked about having some type of a tick-box system, of which Abercorn Square will be the first element. When that development is finished, it is proposed that we will move on to the next. At present, it seems that we are making things up as we go along — we develop Main Street, stop for four or five years and then develop something else. Major investment is required. We are not talking about a mere £2 million coming from DSD; more is needed.

539. Mr F McCann: It is difficult to believe that any progress can be made without some type of strategy for the future — and that applies to any of the town representatives to whom we will be talking. As a scrutiny Committee, can we assist you in any way?

540. Mr Faithful: In many ways, it is up to us to progress this matter with DSD. Our being here today will add impetus to the strategic development that is due to come. We, as much as anyone else, need to put pressure on DSD to do that.

541. The funding mechanisms are important. Strabane 2000 has no funds; its representatives go out and look for funds to develop bridge projects or streetscapes. However, Strabane District Council will eventually make the decisions on how the matter is progressed. We always have to put our hands in our pockets.

542. Mr McNulty: It is important that DSD links directly into whatever plan is adopted and plays an active part in it. I, as a local councillor, have seen many plans — as have all elected representatives — so it is important to ensure that the anticipated 10-point plan will be acted on and financially supported.

543. Mr Brady: I represent Newry and Armagh, and my area has always had an affinity with Strabane. In the 1980s, Newry and Strabane had some of the highest unemployment rates in western Europe. There has been a big turnaround in Newry. The greater Newry vision group was similar to Strabane 2000, and it comprised members of the Chamber of Commerce and the enterprise agency. However, Newry’s biggest employer is still the health trust and Daisy Hill Hospital. There is little manufacturing industry, but there has been local investment in such schemes as the Quays — a huge shopping complex.

544. Do you have contact with areas of similar historical backgrounds to that of Strabane, but which have managed to improve their lot? Newry is a city — although it is not much bigger than Strabane.

545. Mr Faithful: Strabane District Council discusses such issues at chief-executive level.

546. Ms Heather Torrens (Strabane 2000): I liaise closely with Cookstown and Dungannon on the Living over the Shop scheme and other town-centre projects. However, as is the case in any town, continuity of funding is vital for successful town centre regeneration.

547. Mr Brady: Newry and Strabane are both beside the border. Sainsburys in Newry has some of the highest retail sales figures — in Britain and here — due to customers coming from the South. Has Asda in Strabane had a similar experience? Mr Barber mentioned that it makes £1 million a week.

548. Mr Barber: You asked whether we have linked up with other towns. Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been in close consultation with its Newry counterpart in an attempt learn from their experience and implement the same programmes, pro rata, in Strabane.

549. You also made comparisons between Sainsburys and Asda. Asda in Strabane is second or third in its class in Britain and Ireland. It is the busiest store that Asda has in Northern Ireland, and the first that was purpose built. Coachloads of shoppers used to come, weekly, from Sligo to Strabane. However, a store has opened in Enniskillen and the coachloads now go to Enniskillen. We were not able to maximise the potential of the retail park. It is viewed as a separate out-of-town centre because there is not a strong enough link to the town along the Railway Road.

550. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. We are just embarking on the town-centre regeneration inquiry. However, the information that you provided in advance was very useful and your contribution today will also be invaluable to our investigation. We will be in touch with you again before the conclusion of the project.

551. Mr Barber: It would be worthwhile if members were to come to Strabane to see the situation for themselves.

552. The Chairperson: I was wondering when the invite would come. I am sure that the Committee will be only too glad to take you up on that offer.

19 June 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr David Simpson (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Fred Cobain
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín
Mr Alban Maginness

Witnesses:

Mr Glyn Roberts } Northern Ireland Independent Retail Association
Mr Joe Quail

553. The Chairperson (Mr Simpson): I welcome Donald McFetridge, Glyn Roberts — the newly appointed chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) — and Joe Quail, one of the four millionaires who live in Banbridge. [Laughter.] We are pleased to have such distinguished people before us today.

554. Mr Glyn Roberts (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association): Thank you for a second opportunity to brief the Committee on its inquiry into town centre regeneration, and congratulations to you, Mr Simpson, on your appointment as Chairperson of the Committee for Social Development.

555. You mentioned my colleague Joe Quail who, as you will be aware, is the managing director of Quail’s Fine Foods in Banbridge.

556. The NIIRTA has over 1,000 independent retailers who generate in excess of £500 million turnover each year in Northern Ireland. Its collective membership employs over 20,000 staff and makes a major contribution to the Northern Ireland economy. Most member stores are owned and managed by local families, rather than by large multinational companies with shareholders. They are crucial in providing local employment, and they act as a strong focal point in local communities.

557. Northern Ireland is a small business economy, and 98% of its businesses are small. The independent retail sector within those figures is the biggest subsector of that economy and plays a vital role as the backbone of Northern Ireland’s private sector.

558. We launched recently our report, ‘Nightmare on Every Street’, at the Assembly. It sets out our thinking on how the Northern Ireland Executive should support small shops and the development of our town centres.

559. Part of the report was written by Donald McFetridge, the head of retail studies at the University of Ulster. He predicts that there will be more than 700 shop closures in the next three to five years; a loss of more than 7,000 jobs; and the appearance of food deserts across Northern Ireland, if the Executive do not act. The report, which was launched at the Assembly, highlights why a new PPS 5 (planning policy statement) is required. Members will be aware from our last presentation that that planning policy statement is currently in draft format. It is with the Department of the Environment (DOE), and there is an onus on that Department to publish and implement it.

560. The policy framework, within which the Planning Service makes its decisions, is hopelessly out of date, and in the interim, irreparable damage has been done to town and village centres across Northern Ireland — including such areas as Antrim, Ballyclare, Ballycastle, Banbridge, Larne and Crumlin. Those towns are threatened by proposed major out-of-town — or edge-of-town — superstore developments. We face the prospect of the building of Ireland’s first ever Tesco Extra store at Bridgewater Park, which is a mile or two from Banbridge town centre. It will be the largest Tesco store on the island with an area of 130,000 sq ft.

561. Increasingly, those out-of-town developments are disproportionately large. Not only do they affect our member businesses, which, in the main, are grocery retailers, but they affect every retail outlet on the High Street. As members will know, the big multiples sell everything from electrical goods and clothes to insurance — even insurance brokers on the High Street are being affected by the large stores.

562. Despite the many misconceptions, our association is not against multiples: it is against out-of-town development.

563. Multiples create alternative town centres. The publication of PPS 5 would provide a level playing field by encouraging the development of town centres rather than unsustainable out-of-town development. The out-of-town locations chosen by multiples not only cause damage to the local economy and jobs but destroy the very character of our town and city centres. England had a similarly ill-thought-out policy to the current one here, and that resulted in 42% of small towns and villages no longer having a shop of any kind.

564. Our report refers to the finding of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops at Westminster that over 2,000 local shops close every year. That group’s report contains the startling prediction that by 2015 no independent retailers will remain in the UK. Importantly from an environmental perspective, the group calculated that the average person in England travels 893 miles a year to shop for food, and we are concerned that Northern Ireland is going down that road. Indeed, Main Street in Antrim is the perfect example of retail dereliction in Northern Ireland. The street has few shops and has largely been reduced to hosting taxi depots and Indian takeaways, but there are few retailers.

565. There is a genuine choice: do we want town centres that are full of shoppers and vitality or huge one-stop grey boxes on the outskirts of towns and surrounded by huge car parks? The National Retail Planning Forum carried out definitive research on the impact of the opening of 93 superstores in England and Wales, and it concluded that every superstore that opens in an out-of-town location results in the net loss of 276 jobs within a 15 km radius. Most are lost from local retail outlets, and it is important to point out that many of the big out-of-town shopping centres are staffed largely by part-time workers.

566. As all MLAs will appreciate, it is important to note that many small retailers provided much-needed employment and investment throughout the dark days of the Troubles. In a period of new political stability and prosperity, they are concerned that their futures are under threat, because the planning system is out of date and PPS 5 has not been introduced. In a six-year period, the Department of the Environment granted planning permission for in excess of 8·5 million sq ft of retail space, which is 5 sq ft for each man, woman and child in Northern Ireland. In the same period, it rejected only one application. Northern Ireland currently exports revenue of more than £750 million from its economy to the bank accounts of the large multiples.

567. Under the existing very weak planning policy, major retailers can come up with every possible excuse for town centre sites being unsuitable. If their proposal is on a large enough scale and figures are produced to prove the demand and available income, multiples are able to argue their case. The Northern Ireland Executive cannot claim to support local small businesses while allowing the current weak and out-of-date planning policy to remain, because it devastates not only the economy but the community and the environment.

568. The wider policy framework for town centres is not in our report. We and our colleagues in the Association of Town Centre Managers, with whom we have an excellent working relationship, consider that it is incumbent on the Department for Social Development (DSD) to establish a panel of advisers to hold regular discussions on urban regeneration and the prospects for our towns and cities. The panel should include economists, property market specialists, retailers and town centre managers.

569. It is crucial not only that we invest in town centers, but that we ensure that we have a strong network of town centre managers. Over the years, there has been a reduction in town centre managers from around 23 to around 16. That has been a result of the removal of funding — as members will be aware, some of those posts were funded by European money — or of the councils having relabelled them as economic development officers.

570. Greater priority must be given to the establishment of town centre partnerships, such as those that exist in Ballymena and in half a dozen other towns in Northern Ireland. On a recent visit to Ballymena, I was struck by how well such partnerships operated with local retailers, councillors, and DSD and Department for Regional Development (DRD) officials on their boards. Such partnerships are important because they bring together all the key players that are necessary to make town centres successful.

571. The concept and the recognition that our town centres play a vital role in Northern Ireland’s economic activity through job and wealth creation, not to mention community cohesion, has been overlooked due to the lack of joined-up government. Historically, Northern Ireland has failed to recognise the value of core town centres, and there has been a lack of co-ordinated action by statutory bodies, such as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), the Department for Social Development, the Department of the Environment and the Department for Regional Development.

572. We must adopt an holistic approach that is based on an integrated town centre strategy that has business-development, training, marketing, promotion, property-development and environmental-improvement components. The Executive should consider the Association of Town Centre Managers’ (ATCM) recommendation of having a town centre regeneration agency to champion our town centres and to ensure that the Executive co-ordinate their policies and that investment and funding become higher priorities.

573. In conclusion, given the importance of the independent retail sector as a major economic driver in town centres, a robust PPS 5 must be published. While PPS 5 remains unpublished, it effectively ties one hand of the Department for Social Development behind its back in its efforts to regenerate town centres.

574. I thank the Committee for giving us its time, and I look forward to members’ questions.

575. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. Mr Quail, do you wish to say anything at this stage?

576. Mr Quail (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association): I thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak. Earlier, the Chairperson mentioned scones he could build houses with; I can tell him that local businesses cook food every day that is fresh and tastes better. We have fantastic town centres, and, if we do not want them to end up like those in England and the rest of the UK, we must look after our bakers, butchers and fishmongers, so that our food is fresh and provides better nutrition for our local communities. We must look after people who do not have cars and cannot go to out-of-town shopping centres; they comprise about 23% of the population. It is an important issue, and the Committee is doing good work. We must support local towns.

577. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Several members have indicated that they wish to ask questions. For the record, I declare an interest in the Bridgewater Park development at Banbridge, which Mr Roberts mentioned in relation to a Tesco application. As the MP for the area, I have been involved in that matter. I will not mention it further.

578. Mr Roberts, there is a train of thought that Northern Ireland has about 1·7 million or 1·8 million people and that out-of-town shopping malls — to use American terminology — will find their level. Only so many of them can be built in Northern Ireland, and there is a growing population. I suppose that, were the developers of such shopping malls here, they would give another spin to your argument. How are we to achieve the right balance between getting the big brand names into towns while maintaining the existing independent traders? How will councils, in particular, make their decisions? Councils across Northern Ireland welcome development and investment into their areas, as it helps with their overall issues with rates and so on.

579. Mr Roberts: It is important that consumers can choose from a variety of different retail outlets.

580. It is essential that there is variety in town centres.

581. We believe that multiples should work with town centres and invest in what currently exists. There is currently a Tesco store in Banbridge. When a multiple locates to a town centre, it is always good for the town centre because it generates footfall for other retailers. My colleague Joe will expand on that. Other retailers become a player in the town centre. Therefore, we take the “town centre first" approach.

582. Increasingly, multiples put forward plans that are, effectively, so big that there is no possibility that they could be located in town. We believe that they do so deliberately. Although I do not wish to harp on too much about Banbridge, the situation is that the current Tesco store in the town centre will be expanded from 30,000 sq ft to 60,000 sq ft. Local traders have no objection to that at all.

583. That returns to our point that, essentially, PPS 5 creates a level playing field on which multiples can locate here and independent retailers can thrive and make a huge contribution to the economy. If you consider the whole issue of tourism, retail, obviously, has an important part to play in that. Tourist shoppers will not come here if the same stores are available in their towns and cities. There must be diversity of retailing, not only in food, but in all types of specialist retailers, such as independent bookshops. That diversity must be brought back.

584. Officials in Belfast City Council have told me that the big thrust there, as Mr Cobain and Mr Maginness will testify, is to try to get some of those independent retailers back into Belfast city centre and to try to ensure that visiting shoppers are offered a diversity of retailers. That is our position. We want councils to play a strong role in that. That is why we are big supporters of town centre partnerships, in which the council, DSD, retailers and so on can get involved and work together to build up and regenerate town centres. That is an important role.

585. The review of public administration (RPA) is still some way down the road. With the powers that councils already have, and the more extensive powers that will come to them, they will play an enhanced role in regeneration. They will take the lead. Perhaps, some degree of power will be taken away from DSD and put into the hands of local councils. That could well be a positive development. Our members want to be part of that process.

586. The Chairperson: You mentioned in your answer that it was important to try to encourage developers and brand names into town centres. One difficulty during the past several years has been town centres’ infrastructure. During the past couple of years, and on a continuing basis, public realm works have been carried out through councils. What input has your organisation had in the public realm with different councils in order to accommodate and facilitate other development in the area, especially on parking and such issues?

587. Mr Roberts: Parking is becoming an increasingly big issue. When I visited Ballymena recently, I was struck at how good the town’s parking facilities were. In some car parks there is a small charge; it is just 30 pence an hour. That brings into question DRD’s policies in particular. In one sense, it reiterates the problem that we have highlighted previously to the Committee; the fact that three different Departments — DSD, DRD and DOE — are responsible for planning. At times, there are many agencies and cross-departmental groups to work with in order to try to get things done and deal with problems in town centres. There are almost too many players.

588. Car parking is a key issue. It is also important that there is a good public-transport system. For many people who are elderly, have mobility issues or are single parents, travelling to out-of-town facilities is not an option because public transport is not good enough. Those people rely on their local shops.

589. It is a matter of getting across the importance of the holistic approach to which we referred.

590. That is why DSD should work with town centre agencies to bring together other Departments with the private sector and so on. The key point that the Committee’s inquiry should consider is how to get all the players together to work for the benefit of town centres.

591. Ms Ní Chuilín: I welcome both witnesses. Have you discussed the links between town and village regeneration and the provision of social and affordable housing?

592. Mr Roberts: That is an important issue. There has been a big thrust to get more people living in Belfast city centre, and the issue of social housing will be part of that. Retailing is an important aspect of any town centre, as is the night-time economy and getting people to live in the city, town and village centres. Historically, because of the Troubles, that was not an option. However, now that all that is behind us, it is important to address the issue.

593. It should not simply be a matter of building expensive flats; real investment in social housing is also important. I refer back to the point that I made previously about a joined-up approach being required, which includes working with the Housing Executive and the housing associations to ensure that there is adequate social housing. Given the community role that our members play, that issue is crucial, because the local shop, like the local post office, is an important focal point. Our members pride themselves on their role in the community and their understanding of their customers; therefore, it is important for us to address a lot of those issues about housing. It is a crucial part of regeneration.

594. My personal view is that we should consider the experience of areas in which developers who built private flats had to set aside a portion of the site for social housing.

595. Ms Ní Chuilín: What are your views on the suggestion that — owing to a lack of clarity — towns and villages are selected for regeneration at random by DSD?

596. Mr Roberts: You are right; DSD is more active in some towns than others. For example, DSD is heavily involved in the regeneration of areas such as the Cathedral Quarter and the north-west region of Belfast city centre.

597. Perhaps the key to addressing the issue is to give the local authorities more responsibility for urban regeneration and town centre regeneration. Obviously that would have implications as powers would have to be devolved to local councils from the Department for Social Development. I understand that the Minister of the Environment indicated that that might be an option for local councils in the future. Given that locally elected representatives know the areas better than a departmental official who may have been drafted in, it would be better to have them in the driving seat.

598. Mr Hilditch: I declare an interest as a director of Carrickfergus Development Company. I thank the witnesses for their presentation. Banbridge has been cited as an example of some the issues that have been discussed. At one stage, wearing another hat, I heard a presentation from a town centre manager of Banbridge. At that stage, the Outlet just outside Banbridge was seen as a positive development as it provided visitors and increased the footfall in the area. That view now appears to have been reversed. Is that change of attitude based on the type of new developments?

599. Mr Quail: The Outlet is a group of discount stores. It is difficult to assess the number of people who have come into the town as a result of shopping at the Outlet. I do not feel that they have come into the town; the Outlet is perhaps a one-stop shop. That is what we have been worried about when considering out-of-town development. If a development such as the Outlet had been built in the town, a greater influx of footfall would have resulted to both sides. I live in Banbridge, and I have been to the Outlet about three times. Banbridge has great links as it is on the main corridor between Belfast and Dublin, so a phenomenal infrastructure is already in place. If the Outlet had been developed in the town centre, we would have had a greater success story.

600. Mr Hilditch: Do you see any positivity in the future?

601. Mr Quail: People ask whether there has been a big influx of people. Figures show that between 30% and 40% of footfall at the Outlet is from the South. Given that we have a café and a food shop, I would have expected to have seen much more of that at our businesses, but I see only two or three Southern customers a week, which is low. When I ask them why they are in Banbridge, they say that they are there for the good clothes shops that already exist, not for the discount shops. Customers drive to the Outlet and stay there. If development is to be encouraged throughout Northern Ireland, it must be in conjunction with the successful businesses that already exist.

602. Mr Roberts: Although problems are associated with the Outlet, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Tesco’s application. The range of products that Tesco sell in some of its big stores in England is known as class-1 retailing and includes everything from coffins to cradles. That type of scenario in an out-of-town store sucks the life out of town centres. There are similar concerns in towns such as Ballyclare, Crumlin and Larne that the planning applications that are going ahead will have implications for existing retailers. We do not want special treatment from the Executive; we are simply asking for a level playing field in the planning system to ensure that development by the multiples is sustainable. Some of the planning applications for out-of-town development by the multiples such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s are not in any way sustainable.

603. Mr Hilditch: You said that Ballymena was an example of good practice in partnership. In Northern Ireland, legislation does not exist for Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Is the partnership in Ballymena based loosely on the BIDs system, and would you welcome such legislation?

604. Mr Roberts: I understand that some work has been done in Ballymena on, for instance, Christmas lighting. Some of the local retailers put money up for that. The problem generally with the BIDs system is that resentment is created when some businesses put money in and some do not, yet the businesses who do not invest still benefit from environmental improvements to the town such as greater lighting or trees. Businesses are gravely concerned that they already pay the highest electricity costs in the UK, along with other issues and the credit crunch, which also have an impact. Perhaps consideration should be given to the issue, but everyone has to contribute, not just a few.

605. Mr Hilditch: Do you agree with pedestrianization?

606. Mr Roberts: The jury is out on that. It has worked in some areas; I do not know what my colleague Joe Quail would think if Banbridge were to be pedestrianised.

607. Mr Quail: Good parking would be needed, and a lot of investment would be needed for pedestrianization. People often say that bicycle use should be encouraged, but public transport has a long way to go before pedestrianization can be considered.

608. Mr Burns: I declare an interest as a member of Antrim Borough Council. This is a big issue in the South Antrim constituency, because Tesco has applied for planning permission for stores in Ballyclare, Newtownabbey and Crumlin. I would like to hear what you have to say about out-of-town stores, edge-of-town stores and stores situated in town centres. A tremendous amount of space must be provided for car parking at such stores. Free car parking is provided at the big out-of-town stores, but it becomes more expensive as one get closer to the town centres.

609. Shoppers seem to want the best of both worlds. They want to retain local shops, such as the butchers and the bakeries, but they also want to do their main shopping at the larger outlets.

610. Mr Roberts: The definitions are set down in existing planning regulations. We recognise that there is demand for stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, and we have no problem with that. An ASDA has opened in Ballyclare recently, which is in Mr Burns’ constituency. The other traders have worked alongside ASDA, and that has helped to generate footfall. However, Tesco now wants to buy the old FG Wilson site and build an edge-of-town store, but Ballyclare is a substantial market town, and it already has an ASDA.

611. A 46,000 sq ft Tesco store has been proposed for Crumlin, which is a small village that already suffers from traffic congestion. Some local people seem to want the store to be built, but they also want to keep the local shops. Do we want to reach a point where we will have to drive to an out-of-town store to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread? A balance must be struck, so that local butchers, bakeries, grocery shops, and so on, can coexist with the multiples. There is enough room for everyone, but it comes back to the question of PPS 5 providing a level playing field and encouraging the multiples to invest in our town centres, rather than in edge-of-town or out-of-town developments.

612. I have spent a lot of time in many of those areas, and the councils there would love to have the diversity of retailers that exists in places such as Banbridge. It is a wonderful asset to have, particularly when more people want to buy local meat and poultry and where the multiples have a poor record in providing local produce. Our members are committed to sourcing local produce, and local retailers want to source and sell local produce. Our members also have a real commitment to serving the community and to high levels of customer service, which one does not get with the multiples. Therefore, if there were a level playing field, our members could compete with stores such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

613. Our members have many unique selling points, but a level playing field must exist, as that will help our sector to grow, and it will be good for the economy, tourism and, in particular, the environment, which is another aspect that has not been highlighted. Our colleagues in Friends of the Earth strongly support our view that every time someone goes to an out-of-town shopping centre, they have to use their car. That contributes to the carbon footprint and to congestion, and — as has been mentioned already — our road and rail infrastructures need massive investment. Therefore, out-of-town shopping does not help on a range of fronts.

614. Mr Quail: When policies in England were in such a state that they allowed for lots of out-of-town shopping centres to be built, all the supermarkets did just that. However, when they were told that they could no longer do that, they realised that demand still existed and they moved back to the high street. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. A moratorium on building in out-of-town locations would solve the problem quickly.

615. Mr Burns: I do not want it to seem as though we are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but the multiples have submitted planning applications for many locations before PPS 5 has been published. Therefore, many edge-of-town or out-of-town stores will be built.

616. Mr Roberts: You have made an important point. Multiples are using the limbo situation to make as many planning applications as possible while the existing, very weak, planning policy is in place. We are very clear that if PPS 5 were published, there is no way that the Banbridge store would get off the drawing board. Developers and multiples are using this period to try and get as many applications through as possible, and that is why the new Minister of the Environment must publish PPS 5 as soon as possible.

617. The Chairperson: Before I call the next member to speak, I ask Glyn and Joe to make their responses reasonably brief, because time is running on and the Committee is still to hear a presentation from another organisation.

618. Mr F McCann: The Chairperson probably made that comment because he knows I can be a bit long-winded at times.

619. Mr Cobain: Do not disappoint us.

620. Mr F McCann: Thank you, Fred.

621. Mr Roberts, you talked to the Committee recently about the closure of post offices — it must seem to you that every time you come to the Assembly, it is to discuss another blow to town centres or villages and the impact that developments have on them.

622. The Housing Executive has been making a big play about the living over the shop (LOTS) scheme. How has that scheme impacted on towns and villages? Should it be extended?

623. Mr Quail: I live over a shop and it is great, so I would be all for it — I hope that that is a quick enough answer.

624. Mr Roberts: The scheme is important, but to achieve that scenario we need robust town centres that are filled with local retailers. Another reason why we need a proper planning system that prevents large-scale out-of-town developments is that those are detrimental schemes such as the LOTS scheme. We need vibrant town centres with people living in them — living above shops — and we need to develop the night-time economy. All of that is important to a town centre, and retail is an important element of that. Again, all roads lead back to PPS 5, but the LOTS scheme is a welcome development.

625. Mr F McCann: Earlier, you spoke about towns that are dying in front of us. Are there any towns for which there is no way back? Every town and village has its own strategy for dealing with regeneration, but fighting to retain a village or town centre is the common thread running through most of those strategies. Does NIIRTA try to find a common approach for dealing with this problem, or are towns and villages left to produce and run their own strategies?

626. Mr Roberts: We are very concerned about Antrim, where the main street is, effectively, a retail ghost town. Antrim Borough Council is very supportive of the Junction One development, and, as Mr Burns would agree, Antrim town needs major investment in order to regenerate it. Other areas — such as Lurgan, for instance — are really struggling. However, in saying that, Lurgan has a very active town centre with active traders who, in an organisation called Lurgan Forward, are working hard to try and turn the situation around.

627. Our members generally get involved in local chambers of commerce, and they work with the councils. For example, Banbridge Traders Association works very closely with the town centre manager there. It is important that we have a good network of town centre managers and town centre partnerships. Those networks can bring all of the players together; including the Housing Executive, the police and all of the people who are needed to make a success of town centres.

628. We also need to look at real investment in town centre managers. A very good system operates in Belfast city centre, where there is an excellent team. However, where there are no town centre managers — such as in Antrim and other towns — we need real investment in such activity. Town centre partnership is a model that is good for towns.

629. Mr A Maginness: I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Simpson on his appointment. I also pay tribute to the outgoing Chairperson, Gregory Campbell, for his work.

630. I understand what Mr Roberts said about PPS5 and the need for it to be updated. I also understand the need for a definitive position in relation to the issues and that there is a planning vacuum. However, such a vacuum should be filled by the planning appeals commission (PAC). What is PAC’s position? Have you been following what it has been doing in relation to planning applications? It is the PAC’s role to fill the gap where there is controversy and lack of policy. However, it may be that the PAC is intent on supporting out-of-town developments in the absence of a revised PPS5.

631. Mr Roberts: A reform of our planning system is long overdue, because there are a number of problems with it. In Crumlin, for example, the Planning Service did not carry out a retail impact assessment. We thought that that was very remiss. There are other situations in which important decisions are taken under article 31 of the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991. Under that provision, the Minister takes the decision, which was certainly the case in Banbridge.

632. It is important that retail planning powers remain with the Department of the Environment and are not devolved to local councils. Retail planning has huge implications beyond local authority boundaries, and it is important that those powers are set aside. The review of public administration will have huge implications for the Planning Service across the board. However, we would like retail planning powers to be retained by the Department.

633. Mr Craig: Mr Roberts, you referred to a Tesco store in Banbridge that is planning to double in size. Something similar is happening in my area. What is the optimal size for a development such as that in a town centre? Also, does it matter what breadth of facilities it offers? For example, if it were solely a food store, rather than a superstore that sells almost everything, would it still be a threat to the rest of the town centre?

634. What are your views on someone building a mall in the middle of a town centre? Would that drain people away from the main streets of the town?

635. Mr Quail: The Tesco proposal for the store in Banbridge is to increase the size of the store from 30,000 sq ft to 60,000 sq ft. That would not have much of an impact because one can go into any of their stores, and they are selling televisions, white goods, etc. The size of the stores will only increase by so much, and I do not envisage Tesco building a 130,000 sq ft store in Banbridge.

636. What you find whenever you go into the multiples is that they have a huge range of stuff; however, when it comes to the specialist store, it is not the same. I looked at the Tesco store at Knocknagoney, just to see what 60,000 sq ft store looked like. There were lots of goods, but it was very difficult to say what extras such a store would offer.

637. As regards a mall in a town centre, as long as it is in the town centre then it is up to us, as business people, to compete. If the development were in the town centre, and if we had a good business, we could compete. We are not asking for special treatment.

638. Our company has changed a lot. My great-grandfather started with a butcher’s shop 100 years ago. The business is now a lot bigger. Everyone has to change. Nobody is against change, but let us change together as a community. I am a great believer in economics, and that if you have a good business, it will work.

639. Mr Roberts: When multiples locate in town centres, it increases the footfall for our members. The bulk of the shopping carried out with our members consists of five or six items; it is not the big weekly shop. The presence of the multiples adds to that footfall. Victoria Square, in Belfast, is a good development. The way that it has been designed, with its entrances and exits, is good for Belfast city centre and complements the area, and our members in the city centre have seen an increase in their footfall as a result.

640. The multiples have an important role to play. What we are saying to them is: invest in our town centres and work with existing town centres rather than create alternative town centres. Some of the multiples have changed. For example, Tesco Local stores, which are much smaller, are an attempt by Tesco to get into our market. Marks and Spencer is moving more in the direction of smaller, food-based stores, and Sainbury’s has bought up Curley’s.

641. The multiples can, therefore, change and adapt. Looking at the size of Tesco’s annual profits, it would be a minor adjustment for the company to have to invest in town centres and not have gigantic stores on the edge of towns. Doing that would not make a bit of difference to its profits.

642. The Chairperson: Thank you very much.

23 April 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín

Witnesses:

Mr John McGrillen } Northern Ireland Local Government Association
Mrs Karen Smyth

643. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Hilditch): We will now receive a briefing from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) on town-centre regeneration. I welcome John McGrillen and Karen Smyth. You can make a presentation after which members will ask questions.

644. Mr John McGrillen (Northern Ireland Local Government Association): On behalf of me, Karen and NILGA, thank you for inviting us this morning. My day job is chief executive of Down District Council. Given that my council has some coalface experience of town-centre regeneration, NILGA has asked me to assist with the project. We invited all councils in Northern Ireland to provide evidence, and many made submissions. However, rather than relay specific instances that were raised in that evidence, we will give an overview of local government’s view on the success of town-centre regeneration.

645. We recognise the importance of town-centre management, which is a complex issue that is at the core of tackling disadvantage and poverty. That is also at the core of local government. Therefore, NILGA has a significant interest in the matter. We recognise the complexity of the issue and contend that effective town-centre regeneration cannot be the responsibility of one Department only. In order to address deprivation and poverty successfully, local government must produce sustainable, social, economic and environmental benefits to local communities.

646. In order to achieve that end, we require a committed, co-ordinated and resourced programme of work by a range of stakeholders, including the Department for Social Development (DSD); the Planning Service; Roads Service; Invest NI; the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; occasionally the Arts Council; local councils; and local communities. Furthermore, the utility providers are key stakeholders, because they provide services in town centres. Difficulties can arise if utilities are not co-ordinated when work begins.

647. Successful regeneration relies on a medium- or long-term commitment, as opposed to a short-term commitment. Moreover, its approach must be integrated. Most local authorities recognise DSD’s huge efforts to address town-centre issues. However, as I said previously, those authorities recognise that the Department cannot address those issues on its own. The belief is that DSD’s current approach tends to be slightly project-driven and, as a result, is narrowly focused. It could be more broadly focused.

648. Local government believe that many Government agencies are failing to fulfil their obligation to create vibrant town centres. For example, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment does not see any role for itself in the development of the retail sector. It concentrates on manufacturing and tradable services. Although area plans often recognise the need to develop master plans for town centres, the Planning Service has not recognised any need to develop those master plans. In many instances, that role has been left to the local authority or, increasingly in recent times, to DSD.

649. Roads Service simply does not recognise the benefits that arise from high-quality public realm or the critical role that its services play in delivering vibrant town centres. One could argue that DSD’s current work and spending on master planning and investment in the upgrade of streets and street lighting is addressing other Departments’ fundamental failure to fulfil their contribution to the town-centre regeneration effort. The lack of co-ordinated action and commitment of other statutory bodies, such as Roads Service and the Planning Service, could negate DSD’s investment in the longer term. Without a co-ordinated and sustainable long-term approach, those towns could easily return to their original state in a short space of time. Therefore, the effectiveness of that spend could be questionable if other bodies do not commit to projects.

650. Many councils that made submissions to us believe that DSD’s work to date has focused principally on environmental improvement schemes. Although we welcome such schemes, many people argue that a more holistic approach must be taken in order to tackle issues such as dereliction. Such an approach would include the use of vesting powers to create comprehensive development schemes, and shopfront improvement schemes could be used more widely in order to deliver more effective overall outcomes.

651. A number of respondents argued that on some occasions there seemed to be a reluctance on the part of the Department to engage in public-private partnerships, which has led to an uncertainty about the future development of town centres. The central promenade in Bangor is an example of that.

652. The Committee has asked NILGA to identify where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty. It is fair to say at the outset that that is quite a difficult question to answer, as it would require us to have established baseline indicators for disadvantage and poverty before the commencement of any of the DSD work. It would also require an ability to measure against benchmarks. We are not clear as to what extent that has been done.

653. It is difficult to establish the causes and effects. If there has been improvement, has that come about as a result of DSD spend, or has it come about as a result of other measures, such as better training, job creation through a large inward investment project in the area, or better educational attainment? It is difficult to establish whether those objectives have been met. Such measures tend to be long term in nature; one cannot really take a short-term approach, as it is difficult to establish the implications of a short-term project on the reduction of poverty and deprivation.

654. Many councils are of the view that the areas that are designated by DSD for neighbourhood renewal are not recognisable, coherent communities for local people. The designation of such areas does not necessarily make sense to people who live in them because they tend to be geographically based. To ensure a meaningful change in impact, NILGA proposes that there is a need for a radical change in the approach to targeting resources to larger subregional areas that are experiencing poverty and disadvantage. Factors that impact upon a community do not necessarily rest within that community, and such factors need to be considered when addressing those issues.

655. A number of councils believe that DSD intervention is inconsistent when dealing with derelict sites and properties. A number of key opportunity sites were identified in council responses that had remained undeveloped for a number of years despite approaches to DSD for intervention. Those continue to be major blights in town centres. The experience has been that the approach that has been taken has been successful in some town centres, but that that approach has not been taken in other town centres.

656. NILGA was asked to consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities when taking forward regeneration initiatives. Most councils commented that there is a genuine commitment by the Department to engage with local communities, however, a number felt that some more work needed to be done through councils to sustain and develop relationships, particularly with traders and residents. From a personal point of view, having been involved a project in Downpatrick and one in Newcastle, the Department has done an excellent job in engaging with local stakeholders in delivering those projects. However, that would not appear to be the case right across the board.

657. We were also asked to identify examples of best practice from elsewhere. For the purpose of the submission, given the limited time that was available to the officials, they principally examined other initiatives that are taking place in GB. A number of councils have suggested that the Department should give serious consideration to the introduction of legislation to allow for the creation of business improvement districts.

658. Business improvement districts have been introduced in town centres right across other parts of the UK, and Northern Ireland is the only jurisdiction in the UK that has not yet enacted that legislation. It has proven to be successful, and there has been a significant uptake across Britain. It is a concept whereby businesses within a defined geographical area can elect to pay additional rates to a local authority to address issues that affect the area in which they conduct their business.

659. It is a flexible approach — a business improvement district can consist of as little as two properties or shops, or it could be as large as a whole town centre. It works on the basis that people vote on whether they wish the areas to be allocated as a business improvement district, and if more than 50% of the businesses in the area do so, they can identify a programme of work that can be taken forward to address some of the issues that they want to see tackled. That can cover matters such as crime reduction; improving cleansing; promoting and marketing the town; and improvements to the public realm.

660. Therefore, although we in local government recognise that a business improvement district might not be suitable for all towns in Northern Ireland, we believe that the process of business consultation and the potential to enhance existing town-centre services should be given consideration. We must consider how that might be applied in Northern Ireland.

661. At present, it is clear that council leaders in England and Wales are calling for powers that would allow them to use vacant premises to provide services such as training centres, libraries and youth clubs. They see that as a temporary measure that would allow councils to get hold of properties, keep them from falling into dereliction and allow services to be provided from them.

662. We understand that a proposal to cut VAT on the refurbishment of empty shops from 15% to 5% is also being considered to encourage new businesses. I assume that if that were applied across the UK, it would, obviously, apply in Northern Ireland as well. We would welcome that.

663. We believe that it is not possible to look at the future of town-centre regeneration without taking into account the review of public administration (RPA) and considering matters in that context. The Minister of the Environment, Sammy Wilson, has established a group of elected representatives known as policy development panel A, which was set up to consider the development of policy and implementation proposals for governance arrangements for new councils.

664. From the point of view of town-centre regeneration, we are particularly interested in the fact that one of the recommendations is that there needs to be greater cohesion between local government and central Government in the development of policy. Again, that is linked to the broader issue of community planning. We believe that the implementation of community planning and the community-planning approach will allow for more effective delivery of programmes at local level to address matters such as town-centre regeneration.

665. Local government in Northern Ireland shares the view of Sir Michael Lyons. When he carried out his review of local government in England and Wales, he basically defined its as “place shapers", that is, its role is to shape place. Clearly, town-centre regeneration falls into that remit. We believe that community-planning powers will allow all the agents who are responsible to work together to develop a plan that is coherent, integrated and resourced in order to deal with issues that must be addressed.

666. There is also a specific issue about the role of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in town-centre regeneration. It is pretty impossible for local communities to comprehend why DSD can engage in town-centre regeneration activities in some town centres, but not in others. That comes down to the definition of what falls into DSD’s remit, and what falls into DARD’s remit. Responsibility for a town that has a population of fewer than 4,500 people actually lies with another Department.

667. From a council’s perspective, therefore, we find it difficult to explain to ratepayers why we can regenerate Ballynahinch, for example, but not Saintfield or Killyleagh. Therefore, we believe that, in considering the matter in the round and in the broader RPA context, there needs to be further engagement with DARD to determine how that particular issue is addressed, because it has resulted in inconsistencies in the way that town-centre regeneration matters are tackled.

668. Previously, I referred to the policy development panel that has been set up by Minister Wilson to consider community planning and interrelationships between central Government and local government. Another group is considering what functions should transfer from the centre to local government. It is examining particular areas, which may not have been identified at first, but may more sensibly belong with either the centre or with local government.

669. An area that has been identified is the Living over the Shops scheme, the responsibility for which, at present, lies with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. NILGA regards that as an integral part of town centre regeneration, and would like those powers to be transferred to local government alongside regeneration powers. That was not identified at the outset, but the association believes that doing so would result in greater integration and effectiveness in delivery.

670. From the RPA perspective, the association recognises significant challenges in how the DSD budget is transferred, because, somehow, that must be disaggregated across 11 new councils. The policy that dictates the distribution of money when powers are transferred must be thought out. There are also issues about schemes that are currently being delivered by DSD and which, at the point of transfer, will, theoretically, become the responsibility of councils. A map of how best to manage such transfers must be drawn up. NILGA’s view is that early engagement on certain projects would be helpful.

671. In summing up, NILGA believes that DSD has taken a stand on tackling town centre dereliction, and that has been welcomed by local government. However, to some extent, the Department is fighting with one hand tied behind its back, because it does not have the commitment that is required from other Departments. Therefore, NILGA believes that a joined-up approach is the only way forward in tackling the issues. A discussion must take place at Executive level about how to deliver that approach more effectively.

672. As I said, NILGA would like the transfer to local government of initiatives such as the Living of the Shop scheme to be considered, because such schemes may become more effective. We want much greater engagement from the Planning Service in order to ensure that master plans are in place and that an environment and a land-use plan are created that will allow effective change to occur in our town centres.

673. Roads Service has a significant role to play in that. Some of the restrictions in town centre regeneration are a consequence of a lack parking facilities in town centres. A big frustration for councils in delivering the Living over the Shops scheme has been that it is promoted by the Housing Executive, but Roads Service tells the Planning Service that planning permission should not be granted because there is inadequate parking for people who will end up using the scheme.

674. NILGA would welcome a much more medium- to long-term approach, because that is what is required in order to make these programmes sustainable and to deliver their declared objectives. Furthermore, more discussions about the transfer of the functions are required.

675. That sums up our submission to the Committee. Thanks again for the opportunity to present the association’s views.

676. The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you, Mr McGrillen. Mrs Smyth, do have you anything to add at this stage?

677. Mrs Karen Smyth (Northern Ireland Local Government Association): I apologise to the Committee for the fact that we have no councillors with us. We were hoping to field an elected member, but the Committee is aware of the sheer workload of councillors at present and their involvement in various policy development panels, and so forth. Therefore, unfortunately, none of them were available to attend.

678. Mr Craig: That is because we are all here. [Laughter.]

679. Ms Ní Chuilín: I am not a councillor. I do not believe in “double jobbing".

680. The Deputy Chairperson: The Committee is coming to the conclusion of its inquiry, and the briefing has been beneficial.

681. In 2008, the Department advised the Committee that it was to undertake a stocktake of its town centre regeneration policies. Did that stocktake take place, and did the Department seek NILGA’s views on it?

682. Mrs Smyth: I am not aware of that.

683. The Deputy Chairperson: Will you check whether that happened?

684. Mrs Smyth: Yes.

685. The Deputy Chairperson: A few master plans have been rolled out in Northern Ireland in recent months. Do you think that it would be better to do a total roll out across the Province or to set up a few pilot schemes?

686. Mr McGrillen: Our view is that the master-planning process should be part of the planning process. The Down/Ards area plan — which is the most recent area plan to be released — identified the need for more detailed plans of town centres to be developed in order for those towns to become effective and vibrant and to deliver on behalf of their communities.

687. The Planning Service does not see that as part of its responsibility. That responsibility lies either with the local authority or with DSD, which in many instances has ensured that any work that it does is done in the context of a master plan being effective in the longer term. Our contention is that the Planning Service should have done that.

688. I suppose that that responsibility will transfer to local government in the not-too-distant future. Our expectation is that local government will engage in providing the master plans for all the key towns for which they are responsible. My experience is that the master-planning approach is the right one. Any master plan that either the council or DSD has taken forward has certainly provided a long-term framework for redevelopment and allowed for an integrated approach to be taken.

689. The Deputy Chairperson: Is NILGA suggesting that the Department should take a more active role by investing in empty sites in order to promote regeneration issues?

690. Mr McGrillen: Yes. That is one way of tackling the dereliction problem and bringing about a more comprehensive redevelopment of town centres. Victoria Square is a good example of what has been done in Belfast. However, outside of Belfast and Derry, limited examples exist of similar schemes being rolled out in other towns, which is what we have been asked to look at specifically.

691. The Deputy Chairperson: You spoke about partnerships and the benefit of those, does NILGA have any other suggestions to try to get those partnerships up and running? In Carrickfergus, where I live, the locally elected representatives and business people got together to form Carrickfergus Development Company. The company sought the Department’s help, and it has now got a master plan that will be rolled out in August.

692. Will NIGLA suggest any other way forward for partnerships, besides local people having to take the bull by the horns?

693. Mr McGrillen: Typically, it has been either local people or the local authority that has taken the bull by the horns and engaged with the various Departments. As I said previously, the implementation of community planning should allow that to happen. Effectively, the community plan will require a local authority to take the lead in ensuring that all the relevant statutory bodies and other stakeholders, including the community, come up with a community plan for their local area. I see town centre regeneration as being an integral part of that community planning process. If we are looking at pilot schemes or community planning projects, that is one area that we could look at as part of that suite of work.

694. Mrs Smyth: Certainly, NILGA and local government are very excited at the prospect of community planning coming in as part of the RPA. One of our key concerns is our experience of the relationship between local and central government. It will be important to have that strategic partnership between the Departments and local government at a high level and to have local government treated as a partner rather than as a stakeholder. That will reflect downwards in the community planning process. We have been effective, on the ground, with local communities in building upwards; however, we also need to have a top-down approach in order to give local government its proper place. It has to be said that some Departments are better than others in engaging with local government.

695. Miss McIlveen: Thank you for your presentation. I have to declare an interest at the outset in that I am a member of Ards Borough Council, of NILGA, and NILGA’s policy development panel B (PDPB). Therefore, I am the elected member who is here for those groups.

696. The Deputy Chairperson: Do you want to go down to sit at the other end of the table? [Laughter.]

697. Miss McIlveen: Perhaps not. You talked at length about the transfer of powers and about partnerships and stakeholders. I am concerned about how those transferred powers are monitored, how the key performance indicators are set, and who controls those and ensures that they are met in the long term. You spoke about local councils taking a lead on that, but does that mean that you are letting Departments off the hook? What will be the nature of the relationship in that area?

698. Mr McGrillen: That all comes back to the community plan, which will have local area agreements attached to it. Specific requirements will, therefore, be placed on all stakeholders whereby outcomes will be expected. People will, I understand, be held to account for the outcomes that are agreed as part of that process. For example, councils that are tasked to carry out a particular piece of work or project that impacts on a town centre or on DSD, Roads Service or whatever, will be publicly held to account for its delivery.

699. Miss McIlveen: Should the outcomes be based, for example, on economic activity or the alleviation of poverty?

700. Mr McGrillen: They should be multifaceted. Projects are carried out for a range of reasons in order to improve the well-being of people in an area. Well-being could be identified by a range of measures, so levels of poverty, employment, educational attainment, longevity and antisocial behaviour could be among the performance indicators introduced in order to address such issues. It depends on the nature of the project and what outcomes are expected from it.

701. I have no doubt that there is significant experience in other jurisdictions where such performance indicators and frameworks for performance management have been drawn up. I have no doubt, from your role in PDPB, that that is something in which you would have a significant interest.

702. Miss McIlveen: Neighbourhood renewal would, obviously, tie into that. How do you feel about the process that is used for neighbourhood renewal and how it should be improved?

703. Mr McGrillen: We have given evidence to that effect here before, and it was not necessarily well taken either.

704. Miss McIlveen: Please explain just for the record again.

705. Mr McGrillen: A lot of the problems that local neighbourhoods face are multifaceted. The programme, the way in which the moneys are spent and what it is spent on recognise that. A partnership approach is needed in order for that to be effective.

706. Our issues with effectiveness are a result of there being a lack of commitment on certain occasions, or a lack of resources being made available by other Government Departments that have a role to play. In some instances, they would see the neighbourhood renewal money as replacing expenditure that they would otherwise provide, as opposed to seeing it as additional, and allowing them to spend money and to be more effective in spending their own budgets. Our big issue, therefore, has been about other Departments regarding neighbourhood renewal as a process into which they buy and to which they should be committed. I believe that the community planning model will address that.

707. Another issue has been about how areas have been defined. The policy of defining areas on a geographical basis has been seen as not necessarily making sense to local communities. In Downpatrick, for example, the way in which the map was originally drawn excluded an already disenfranchised unionist/loyalist community, which saw that as further excluding them, when what we really wanted to be doing was trying to ensure greater integration. Local need must be reflected in policies that are driven from the centre. When one gets into the detail of delivery, not every policy suits every instance.

708. Ms Ní Chuilín: Thank you. Of course, district, town and local councils would never use neighbourhood renewal money in place of their own money. That has been a concern.

709. Mr McGrillen: That is probably a legitimate point, and I would not disagree with it.

710. Ms Ní Chuilín: It is a legitimate point, because during our inquiry into neighbourhood renewal, and even anecdotally, evidence has come to light of people’s concerns that efforts to target money to its best effect waned as the programmes were rolled out. You said that neighbourhood renewal programmes have been only partially successful in attracting the buy-in of other Departments, so what difference will community planning make? How will local councils and local government bodies make Departments accountable? Although DSD has the main role in neighbourhood renewal, it has not led by example in making other Departments more accountable. How will local government do that?

711. Mr McGrillen: That is one of the fundamental questions the local government bodies are asking, and development panel A is looking into the whole subject —

712. Mrs Smyth: There needs to be a statutory framework.

713. Mr McGrillen: Indeed, there needs to be a statutory framework that ensures that people buy in, and commit, resources. I accept your point, because, otherwise, we will end up facing the same issues that the neighbourhood renewal programmes have faced up to now.

714. Ms Ní Chuilín: If economic and urban regeneration is to address poverty and deprivation, there will always be tensions. Michelle McIlveen asked about determining baselines for funding poverty- or economic-based activities, and you said that there should be a mixture of activities. Who will dictate the areas of need to enable you to target resources? That is a concern for local communities.

715. Another concern is about whether the relationships that have been built up over years through neighbourhood renewal partnerships will be respected, valued and maintained during the process.

716. Mr McGrillen: I will answer you question in two parts. First, there are always tensions in life and in trying to determine benchmarks to address such problems. One could argue, for example, about what Invest NI giving money to a business has to do with tackling poverty. On the other hand, one could say that it creates employment, which, ultimately, takes people out of the poverty trap. It is a difficult conundrum, to which I do not have the answer. However, it is a matter for all the stakeholders — not least the community — to help decide what is best for a community. It is not for us to tell communities what is best for them; it is for us to listen to communities and for them to establish what is required in order to address the issues that they face. It is Government’s role to reflect on that and to try to address people’s issues, rather then telling people what they need and what is best for them.

717. The Deputy Chairperson: No other members have indicated that they wish to speak, so, John and Karen, thank you very much for attending; it was very beneficial.

30 April 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr David Simpson (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong
Mr Mickey Brady
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Jonathan Craig
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Fra McCann
Miss Michelle McIlveen

Witnesses:

Mr Robert Kidd } Department for Social Development
Mr Ian Snowden

718. The Chairperson (Mr Simpson): The Committee will now receive a departmental briefing on its inquiry into town-centre regeneration. This was intended to be the final departmental evidence session on this matter, but the Department wrote to the Committee in February 2008 indicating that it was reviewing its policies and practices on that issue in the context of the recommendations in the EDAW report.

719. One month ago, the Committee Clerk requested an update from the Department on its stocktake of its policies. The Committee agreed that the outworking of the stocktake would be crucial in its consideration of its recommendations for town-centre regeneration. The Committee could simply choose to endorse the Department’s findings from the stocktake. However, that is possible only if the Committee knows what those findings are. The Department, as of this morning, has failed to submit a paper for this briefing. As a result, it may be that the Department has missed a golden opportunity to secure the Committee’s support for its policies.

720. Include in members’ packs are copies of the Clerk’s cover note, copies of the departmental letter dated 10 December 2007, which advised the Committee of the stocktake, and a copy of the letter dated 4 February 2008, which provided an update on the EDAW recommendations that were to be reviewed in the stocktake.

721. The officials in attendance are Ian Snowdon, who is the acting director of the regional-development office in the Department for Social Development (DSD), and Robert Kidd, who is from the same office. You are very welcome, gentlemen. As a gambit, before you provide the briefing, why have we not received that document?

722. Mr Ian Snowden (Department for Social Development): I must apologise; I found that out only this morning. We put the paper to the Minister, because she must have sight of all papers before they are passed to the Committee. We assumed that that paper would have been passed on in due course as normal. I can only assume that the Minister’s dairy has been hectic this week and that she may not have had an opportunity to see all the papers.

723. The Chairperson: Do you accept that it is important for the Committee to see that document in order for it to agree with the policies that are outlined in it? We have not seen any document with which to handle the briefing that you are now going to provide. We have no information on the background of it, which is unacceptable. I will be straight about it: in my opinion, that is dysfunctional.

724. If the Minister was supposed to sign off on a document, it should have been done before you and your colleague came to face the Committee. We have not received anything. That is a bad way to start a briefing. I am sorry, but that is the way it is. However, if you would like to begin the briefing, members will no doubt have questions. Make sure that you have your bulletproof vests on.

725. Mr Snowden: Thank you. I will make a quick statement about what the Department has been doing since we last provided the Committee with a briefing in November 2007. To clarify, Mr Kidd is in fact the head of the urban-regeneration policy unit. He previously worked in the regional-development office, but moved to his new post approximately one year ago.

726. As you are aware, on 15 November 2007, at the outset of your inquiry, officials from the Department made a presentation to the Committee. I was one of the officials who attended that meeting. As you said, we provided further written submissions on 10 December 2007, and on 4 February 2008. I welcome the opportunity to further update you on what we have been doing in the interim period and to answer any questions that the Committee may have. If you are agreeable, I will give a quick summary of the progress that has been made on urban-regeneration activities in town centres since our last meeting.

727. The Department is progressing a programme of work to produce town-centre master plans and strategies for all the main towns in Northern Ireland. Up to this point, we have completed master plans for Ballymena, Omagh and Portrush. This afternoon, the Minister is launching a development plan for Ballycastle. Master plans are underway for another eight towns, and we anticipate that those will all be completed before the end of the year. The towns involved are: Antrim; Armagh; Carrickfergus; Downpatrick; Dungannon; Larne; Lisburn; and Strabane. As you will be aware, we are also producing an integrated-development framework for the Craigavon urban area. Furthermore, we intend to start work on final master plans for Bangor, Coleraine, Enniskillen, Limavady, Newry, Newtownabbey and Newtownards during 2009. That will cover all the main towns in Northern Ireland.

728. In recent years, the Department has built up a significant programme of public realm improvements for towns across Northern Ireland. In this financial year, the budget for that is £8·4 million. Members may be aware of some of the individual schemes that we have delivered in the past 12 to 18 months. For example, we have completed major schemes in Newcastle, Newry and Coleraine. Important projects are to be completed within the next two to three months in Armagh, Warrenpoint and Ballyclare. Within the next 12 months, we are aiming to start work on schemes in Carrickfergus, Cookstown, Lurgan, Portadown, Dungannon, Kilkeel and Downpatrick. Another form of public realm work is taking place in Strabane, where we are working closely with the council on a footbridge over the River Mourne, which will aid connections in the town centre.

729. The third major area of work is in comprehensive development schemes. Despite the economic downturn, we are continuing to work on major schemes in a number of towns. We are quite close to signing development agreements for two sites in Coleraine and one site in Holywood. We are also making good progress on the derelict Queen’s Parade site in Bangor, where we hope to be in a position to appoint the preferred developer within the next two months. During 2008, the Department acquired a site at Curran Street in Portadown, which has lain derelict for approximately 25 years. We are drawing up plans for a mixed-use scheme on that site, which will include housing, retail premises, office units and a community facility. Also during 2008, we acquired the site of the former North Street flats in Newry. We have just completed a contamination study on that site, and a development brief will be prepared and issued when, we hope, the market conditions are favourable for its development.

730. We have been following the Committee’s inquiry with some interest and have noted the comments and views that have been expressed by those who have given evidence. Many of those views and comments will resonate with the conclusions and recommendations of the internal stocktake of the Department’s regeneration policies, which was undertaken at official level last year. That is the stocktake to which you referred in your opening remarks.

731. I will clarify the purpose of that stocktake. An initial scoping exercise was undertaken to provide us with information to lead to a much more in-depth review of policies. That is work that we are now starting. The stocktake document is still in draft form, and it is fair to say that it is still relatively rough. A submission that we prepared for the Committee summarised the recommendations and conclusions of the stocktake paper. However, presentationally, we do not feel that that is in a format that we would be comfortable providing the Committee with. Unfortunately, that is all by the by, because the paper never made it to the Committee, and I apologise again for that.

732. The aim of the stocktake was to provide us with scoping information for a more in-depth review. The aim of that review is to help us to develop an urban-regeneration policy framework, which will determine how the Department operates in the future. We aim to have that framework in place in time for the transfer of urban-regeneration delivery functions to the new local authorities in May 2011 under the review of public administration (RPA).

733. In summary, the stocktake exercise reached three main conclusions. The first was that urban-regeneration policymaking is not always evidence based. The second was that there is no strong monitoring and evaluation structure for policy development on urban regeneration. The third was that the Department does not have a strategic framework in place to determine the direction of groups’ programmes and policies on town-centre regeneration.

734. It was recommended that an urban-regeneration policy framework should be established; that a more thoroughly researched and evidence-based approach to policies should be adopted in the establishment of that framework; and that all urban-regeneration and community-development policies and programmes should undergo an evaluation as part of the process. The correspondence that the Committee received from the Department highlighted a number of issues to be considered as part of the stocktake. The stocktake found that those issues needed to be considered in a holistic context rather than reviewed individually at the time. We need to give serious consideration to where those issues will fit into policy framework.

735. The review of public administration makes all that extremely important for the Department. The RPA’s impact on urban regeneration can be summarised by saying that, from May 2011, responsibility for the delivery of all urban-regeneration activities will transfer to new local authorities. That will include all the work on town-centre and city-centre regeneration as well as neighbourhood renewal and other programmes that are aimed at tackling disadvantage and furthering community development.

736. The Department will retain responsibility for urban-regeneration policy after the RPA. It is also proposed that the Department could have powers to call in regeneration schemes that the Minister considers as regionally significant, or that a local authority is not capable of delivering on its own. However, we do not envisage that that power will be used frequently, if at all. The Department will move from being focused on both delivery and policy — and it is fair to say that the majority of our resources are currently dedicated towards delivery — to a new role in which it is almost entirely focused on policy and has only a small delivery remit.

737. The establishment of a strong policy framework that is suitable for the post-RPA environment is a high priority. The RPA makes taking forward the stocktake’s recommendations even more important. To address that issue, we identified three work streams: creating strong, cohesive communities; tackling spatial deprivation, which is essentially the neighbourhood renewal strategy; and town-centre and city-centre regeneration. The Committee is obviously most interested in the last of those in the context of this inquiry.

738. Under that third work stream, we are critically reviewing all the Department’s policies and programmes to try to definitively establish whether they contain any weaknesses, gaps or inconsistencies; whether there are any contradictions or tensions between existing policies and programmes; whether there are any potentially defunct policies or programmes that we no longer require; whether there is any scope for merging, or linking, policies and programmes to make them more coherent and easily understood for citizens and private developers; and whether there are any new delivery mechanisms that could be considered in the context of the RPA. The review of the Department’s policies and programmes will have to address all those questions in the context of the post-RPA environment, as the Department will not be directly responsible for delivery.

739. We will have to consider two key questions at every step of the process. The first is about whether our policies and programmes are adequate for the post-RPA environment. The second is about what changes will be required to ensure successful delivery under the new structures after the RPA. Our target for the completion of that work is October 2009. By that time, we hope to be in a position to put options and recommendations to the Minister for her consideration. Any changes to urban-regeneration policy and programmes will have to be considered, and decided on, in the light of that in-depth review. The Department will, of course, consult the Committee at all appropriate stages of the development process.

740. I hope that that presentation was clear. We are happy to take any questions that you may have about the Department’s activities.

741. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation. The Committee has conducted a great deal of research into the Department’s town-centre regeneration policy, and we have received a great deal of feedback about the lack of continuity and linkages. Is the Department surprised by those reports about the failure of the policy? Has your evaluation confirmed that a review is required?

742. Mr Snowden: The absence of connections and the occurrence of hiccups do not come as a surprise to the Department. With devolution, when the functions of the Department of the Environment were split between it, the Department for Regional Development (DRD) and the Department for Social Development, the work of town-centre regeneration became disjointed to some extent. That has made it more difficult to work through some of the issues that we want to tackle.

743. We have known for some time that although we have certain legislative powers, for example, to work on comprehensive development schemes, the legislation gives us no clear direction as to how those powers should be applied or where the priorities should sit. As a consequence, every time we begin a major scheme, we have to build up from first principles the case for use of the powers in that particular location. Victoria Square is a good case in point.

744. In 2001, on the back of the EDAW recommendations, we attempted to bring forward a town-centre regeneration policy. Unfortunately, every time that we have tried to address the difficulties that I outlined, some issue has arisen that has made the whole context more difficult. At our last attempt, in 2005, the review of public administration made the context more difficult. We had formulated a policy that was predicated on the Department maintaining its current policy and delivery functions, but that was not really fit for an environment in which we would be responsible for policy and someone else would be responsible for delivery. It has been a difficult process to get that brought forward.

745. The second issue that you asked about was the evaluation of our stocktake and our assessment scoping exercise. It identifies the need to have an evaluation of the effectiveness of certain aspects of our policy and how they work in practice. A precursor to that would be the establishment of some key performance indicators, or indicators of how effective the policy is. That would be the starting point to the process. It is hoped that having that framework in place would allow us to assess the effectiveness of the current policies and the effectiveness of any policies that we introduce thereafter.

746. The Chairperson: What is the Department’s timescale for getting its policies right?

747. Mr Snowden: We have to have that done by the deadline that has been set by the RPA. We will be in a difficult position if we do not have an effective framework in place and councils are responsible for delivery thereafter.

748. The Chairperson: That gives a reasonable timescale of two years.

749. Mr Snowden: Yes. However, if legislation is required for that process, we will be bound by the legislative timetable too. At this point, we do not think that legislation will be required, but we cannot rule out that possibility. Also, we have to go through whatever processes are necessary for an equality impact assessment, consultation, and so on. Therefore, a deadline of two years will require us to work intensively if we are to have that in place and set up properly before the review of public administration takes effect.

750. The Chairperson: How will the Department improve its co-ordination with other stakeholders?

751. Mr Snowden: Do you mean other stakeholders in Government or other stakeholders per se?

752. The Chairperson: I mean other stakeholders per se.

753. Mr Snowden: That is where the review of public administration could be useful. Not only is the urban regeneration function transferring to local authorities, but planning functions are also transferring. The ability to link together planning control, planning development and urban regeneration will be a positive development.

754. We work through a process of producing master plans, but because of the legislative framework in Northern Ireland, they have no statutory basis and they cannot be taken into account as a material factor by the Planning Service in determining any planning applications. If planning and urban regeneration functions are brought together into a single organisation in the context of planning reform, those master plans will have some statutory basis and will be more effective in controlling and directing how development operates in town centres. That is one example of how co-ordination will be improved as the framework progresses.

755. We will continue to have to work with any Government Departments that are responsible for factors that impinge on town-centre regeneration. The process is something that we will have to examine, but the Department has other policies in place. For example, we have tried to establish ministerial groups to improve co-ordination in the neighbourhood renewal strategy, and we have forums —

756. The Chairperson: You said that the Department has tried to established ministerial groupings. Has that been successful?

757. Mr Snowden: A ministerial group for neighbourhood renewal exists and it will meet again on 13 May 2009. The question is about how many of those groups should be established across Government. There are quite a number of them. It is important to ensure that that mechanism is used in appropriate cases, and that we are not overloading and overlapping on a range of responsibilities with different groups.

758. Mr Craig: One issue that has always puzzled me is about how the Department prioritises any town-centre regeneration and the projects to be undertaken. Is the most important consideration the physical regeneration or does it include proper businesses and economic development? As you know, I have huge concerns about that matter. You had to answer a number of questions, and the situation does not look very good at all with regard to Lisburn — £500,000 has been spent there over the past 10 years, which is not a good figure.

759. Mr Snowden: The prioritisation of resources for physical regeneration projects such as public realm schemes and environmental improvement schemes has, essentially, been driven by requests from district councils. Outside Belfast and the centre of Derry, projects are delivered by local authorities. Therefore, we consider a request when it is made by a local authority. In the case of Lisburn and a number of other towns, we have simply not had the requests. We are working on that in Lisburn, and we are considering a couple of active requests.

760. The Department wants to have a network of master plans for the main towns across Northern Ireland to help to guide us on what regeneration activity should be to enable a town centre to move forward. The aim is that the decisions on what sites to develop in a town centre, and what form of development should go into those sites, should be covered by the master plans. That is one aspect of prioritisation in a town centre.

761. As regard to which town gets attention first, it would be fair to admit that, up to this point, we have been following what is largely an opportunity-led process whereby when there is an opportunity to take a scheme forward, and something is deliverable, we will attempt to pursue it. Within that, of course, the Department has to be cognisant of the fact that certain towns need more assistance than others. Therefore, although there has been an opportunity to take forward schemes in places such as Ballymena for example, those have not really proceeded as quickly as in some other towns because Ballymena might not be considered to be the town most in need even in that part of Northern Ireland, rather than in Northern Ireland as a whole. We try to take account of where the needs are, but at the same time we have to be driven by the opportunity.

762. The Chairperson: I liked the way that Mr Craig dropped in Lisburn to try to ensnare him; it nearly worked.

763. Mr F McCann: It is my understanding that the next meeting of the ministerial group for neighbourhood renewal will be only its third in just over two years. That shows the emphasis that has been placed on neighbourhood renewal and other aspects of development.

764. When a master plan is completed, how is it taken to the next stage of becoming a full-blown development plan? Many master plans that I have seen, whether local master plans or for town centres, do not form the basis of an actual plan. They are often drawn up in a mishmash manner rather than as a structured plan.

765. Mr Snowden: In doing this sort of work, one quickly comes to realise that it is quite easy to draw pretty pictures on a page of what one would like to achieve in a town centre. The real skill is in producing a plan that is deliverable and achievable.

766. The Department is aiming to have a framework or timescale for all the master plans on which it is working at present that shows when certain projects will be delivered. An example of that is the Ballymena master plan, which was announced by the Minister last week. That master plan lists 46 separate initiatives. It contains a chart that shows how those initiatives are linked together, because certain measures have to be taken before others can move forward. Each of those initiatives outlines the steps that have to be taken by the Department and by others to ensure that those activities can progress.

767. Under the RPA, local authorities will take responsibility for the delivery of programmes. In every one of those cases, we are trying to ensure that the master plan is delivered jointly and in partnership with the relevant local authority, so that there is continuity after the implementation of the RPA and that nothing will not fall by the wayside after two years because of a gap between delivery by the Department and the local authority.

768. In trying to ensure that those master plans are delivered, we have to have proper plans in place — even if only at an outline level — as part of the master plan to show who is responsible for doing what and how it will be taken forward. On the other hand, we must consider the resources that will be attached. Quite often, money will be required to deliver some of those programmes. The Department currently has no budgetary cover for anything beyond March 2011, because that date marks the end of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) period. Until the next CSR period is completed, we will not know what our budgets are for any programmes. Therefore, it is very difficult for us to commit resources to anything beyond the current two-year period. We must ensure that work is taken forward on individual projects so that they are brought up to a standard at which the budget can be bid for and secured for those projects.

769. Mr F McCann: Every time that a council or a Committee discusses those issues, someone says that the RPA will deal with the matter. Is there a danger that much of what is going on or what may be done about town-centre regeneration will be left to the RPA?

770. Mr Snowden: That is a danger that we have identified. The RPA will consume a lot of the time and energy of the Department and local authorities. There is a distinct risk that we would not initiate certain activities or take measures because of the effect that the RPA will have on how things are done. After the RPA takes effect, the local authorities will take time to bed in and there is a risk that four or five years will pass in which nothing gets done. We are deliberately working on a strategy to ensure that that does not happen. We are working with local authorities so that there is continuity, projects are given momentum that will allow them to be delivered thereafter and that individual projects do not fall through gaps and go into abeyance as a result.

771. Mr F McCann: Consideration for the public realm is one of the main thrusts of town-centre regeneration. A lot of money is spent on regeneration; indeed, recent articles in the press have suggested that millions of pounds have been spent. There are streets in the centre of Belfast that have been relaid with expensive brickwork and which have been dug up again by utilities without restoring the work to its original state. How can those utilities be controlled? It seems that they have a licence to do anything. Within days and weeks of the paths in Cornmarket being laid, all the good work that had been done was destroyed by the utilities.

772. The Chairperson: On top of that, it is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

773. Mr F McCann: I would have thought that the utilities should be contacted before any such projects are carried out so that their work can be tied into the development.

774. The Chairperson: Do you wish to comment on that? Robert, you are to blame. [Laughter.]

775. Mr Robert Kidd (Department for Social Development): I am aware that the Minister has written to her colleagues in DRD and DOE about the issue. Before any paving is laid, for example, there is a statutory process in which all the utilities are asked to declare whether they have any works planned in the next 24 months, which is the standard bedding-in period in which the utilities are not allowed to touch areas in the public realm. In the case of the Cornmarket example, all the utilities wrote back to say that they had no initial plans to do any work there within the 24-month period. Unfortunately there was an oversight by one of the utility companies, and they went back within a matter of weeks. That company will be expected to pick up the tab itself.

776. The Chairperson: It may be able to pick up the tab, but you can rest assured that it will be passed on to somebody. There are no free meals.

777. Mr Kidd: Ultimately, somebody will pay for it.

778. Mr Hilditch: Will you outline the effectiveness or otherwise of the Department’s use of powers under the planning order to vest properties to promote town-centre regeneration?

779. Mr Snowden: In general terms I cannot outline that at this point in time. Individual evaluations of individual projects and schemes where those powers have been used have been undertaken, but no comprehensive evaluation of that particular use has been undertaken.

780. The Chairperson: Was that issue not supposed to be considered under the stocktake?

781. Mr Snowden: The stocktake did not actually consider that issue in any depth. It did identify that there was no basis on which an analysis could be made of the exact impact of the use of that power, except by considering the individual schemes. More work and in-depth analysis will be done on that as part of the plan to be taken forward. If one were to consider individual schemes, for example, in the maritime area in Carrickfergus, or the scheme at Duncairn Gardens in Belfast, or even Victoria Square, when the time comes for that evaluation to be undertaken, one could identify the benefits of the process in each of those individual locations, but it is more difficult to consider the effect of the policy for the whole of Northern Ireland.

782. Mr Hilditch: Has the Town Centre Living Initiative — which used to be called the Living over the Shop scheme — been positive in encouraging the development of accommodation in town centres?

783. Mr Snowden: Generally speaking, in those locations where it has been tried, it has been successful. The two pilot projects that operated in Lisburn and Londonderry proved to be very positive. The effect on Bridge Street in Lisburn in particular has been positive, as I know from direct experience of working alongside that scheme.

784. The Chairperson: Was there not an issue with that scheme about allowing people to park, which involved DRD. That scheme fell flat because of that issue.

785. Mr Snowden: No. There was a question about whether dedicated off-street parking spaces would need to be provided for properties in certain places. It depends on the nature of the road or street on to which the property fronts as to whether the individual who resides there would be able to park on the street, because some of them might be urban clearways, for example, or controlled zones. For some properties, it depends what space is available, but that is a process that is undertaken by the Planning Service. I do not think that as general issue it prevents the development of any scheme, but it would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis as part of the application for planning permission for the development.

786. Mr Hilditch: That leads us to the issue of pedestrianisation. I do not know whether you agree with recommendation 13 of the EDAW report, which states that it would be initiated only as part of a comprehensive town-centre regeneration scheme. Pedestrianisation has obviously proven difficult, not only for people who live in the town centre, but also for visitors. Another Department has introduced pay-and-display parking meters in all car parks. That has put people off going into town centres, and they are going to out-of-town areas as an alternative. Does the Department concur with recommendation 13?

787. Mr Snowden: The use of pedestrianisation must be considered on a town-by-town basis. The responsibility for making pedestrianisation orders rests with DRD. It would be done only after extensive consultation in the local area. It is not something that DSD would advocate on a blanket basis, because it would not be right for every town. There are one or two examples where it has not worked effectively.

788. It must be understood that pedestrianisation does not completely exclude vehicular traffic from a town centre; it gives priority to pedestrians. In almost any pedestrianised zone in any town where that is in place in Northern Ireland, there are still lots of cars. In Coleraine, which probably has one of the largest pedestrianised zones in Northern Ireland, the town centre is quite busy with traffic.

789. Mr Hilditch: You would not get away with that in Carrickfergus with the “red coats." [Laughter.]

790. Mr Snowden: No, you might get chased. You may not be able to park there, but there would still be a lot of traffic going through, because people need to get access to properties.

791. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation. There are quite a number of other questions that members have that we did not have time to go through today. The Committee Clerk will put those questions to the Department in writing, and the Committee would appreciate answers and not being fobbed off, which is what has happened recently with some of our questions. The Committee has received some lovely letters from the Department, but it has not actually received any facts or details.

792. Is it possible for the Committee to receive a copy of the stocktake document?

793. Mr Snowden: Whatever goes to the Committee must first be approved by the Minister. The Minister has not seen the stocktake document herself, as it is still in quite a rough draft.

794. The Chairperson: How soon do you think that the Minister would be able to take time out of her busy schedule to look at the document?

795. Mr Snowden: I am not sure, but we will put it to her after this meeting.

796. The Chairperson: You will mention it to her?

797. Mr Snowden: Yes.

798. The Chairperson: You can also mention to her that you came to the Committee today without sending a written submission. That did not make things look very good.

799. However, thank you very much; the Committee appreciates you taking the time to attend. We may require the Department to visit the Committee again once we receive a copy of the stocktake document to discuss any other issues that we may wish to raise before we finish with this issue.

800. The issue is of great interest to the Committee, and it has taken some time for it to be brought to a conclusion. The Committee has been very busy with other aspects of briefings and forward work programmes, but we do want it brought to a conclusion, we want to bring it to the Floor of the House and we need the Department to get the information to us as quickly as possible.

7 May 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Billy Armstrong
Mr Mickey Brady
Ms Anna Lo
Miss Michelle McIlveen

Witnesses:

Mr Kevin Armstrong } Department of the Environment
Mr Peter Mullaney

801. The Deputy Chairperson (Mr Hilditch): Welcome, Peter and Kevin; you must be very special because we got a very special lunch today. If that is the case next week, you are welcome to come back. [Laughter.]

802. Mr Peter Mullaney (Department for Social Development): Is this not your normal fare?

803. The Deputy Chairperson: No, unfortunately. The meeting is being recorded, so please switch off all mobile phones. Even in silent mode they can cause serious interference to the recording equipment. I remind members not to question the officials on anything that relates directly to the judicial review. It is now over to you gentlemen for a brief presentation, which will be followed by questions and answers.

804. Mr Mullaney: Thank you. I have a short presentation to make and then we are happy to take questions. Before I start, I will explain our roles and responsibilities.

805. Planning policy statements are produced in the Department by the planning and environmental policy group (PEPG). Kevin and I are representatives of the Planning Service, which is an executive agency in the Department. As draft PPS 5 will be operational policy, Planning Service has been doing some work on that. However, ultimately, it is PEPG’s responsibility to take the final document forward for approval. I head up the section that is leading that effort. Kevin’s role, together with his colleague Damien Mulligan, who had originally intended to appear before the Committee and sends his apologies, is to lead the strategic projects division. That division deals with the major retail applications, and hence, Kevin will have operational experience of the policy in practice. With that in mind, I will make a few comments on the policy. The current PPS 5 is entitled ‘Retailing and Town Centres’, and was initially published in June 1996. [Interruption.]

806. The Deputy Chairperson: There is a mobile phone on. Sorry Peter, please continue.

807. Mr Mullaney: It is the intention to replace the existing PPS 5, and draft PPS 5, which was published for public consultation in July 2006 and is entitled, ‘Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments’. That was published by the Department for Regional Development.

808. The existing PPS 5 has stated policy objectives for town centres and retail developments. Briefly, those are:

“to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres; to focus development, especially retail development, in locations where the proximity of businesses facilitates competition from which all consumers are able to benefit and maximises the opportunity to use means of transport other than the car; to maintain an efficient, competitive and innovative retail sector; and to ensure the availability of a wide range of shops, employment services and facilities to which people have easy access by a choice of means of transport."

809. The current PPS 5 advises that:

“town centres should normally be the first choice for major new retail developments."

810. However, it notes that the availability of suitable sites within town centres will be a factor in how new retail proposals are determined.

811. The current PPS 5 has been criticised for lacking clarity. There is a perception that it has favoured developers and has led to too much retail development outside town centres. Thus, draft PPS 5, which is the subject of a judicial review, was published in July 2006 by DRD. There was a four-month consultation exercise on it, which elicited 77 responses, including responses from Government Departments and statutory agencies, district councils, non-governmental organisations, consultancies and individuals. At the end of that consultation period, work on finalising the draft PPS was carried on by DRD. However, in January 2008, a notice was issued stating that the DOE would be assuming responsibilities for a number of planning policy statements, of which draft PPS 5 was one. In April 2008, Central Craigavon Ltd sought, and was granted, leave for a judicial review, the outcome of which we still await.

812. The first issue to address is whether growth in out-of-town centres has an adverse impact on existing town centres. As I said, one of the key objectives of PPS 5 is to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres. PPS 5 makes it clear that town centres should normally be the first choice for new major retail developments. However, out-of-town retail proposals may be permitted where a suitable town centre site is not available. That can only happen where the site has been shown to satisfy a number of stringent tests within the PPS. IKEA at the Holywood Exchange is an example of that.

813. Further tests for assessing out-of-town shopping proposals include: the likely impact of a proposal on the vitality and viability of a centre; the potential for a significant loss of investment in a town centre and whether the proposal addresses existing deficiencies in the overall shopping provision.

814. Applications for town centres have been refused in the past two years, and Kevin will elaborate on more cases should the Committee wish him to do so. An application was refused for a food store in Ballycastle. A notice of opinion to refuse has also been issued in relation to the Bridgewater Park in Banbridge. The obverse of that is that applications for major developments, including Victoria Square in Belfast, the extension to Bow Street Mall in Lisburn and the Erneside shopping centre in Enniskillen, have been approved.

815. That was a brief overview of the policy objectives. The two documents clearly state that there is a commonality of purpose in those objectives. We are happy to take questions.

816. The Deputy Chairperson: What will be the next step for draft PPS 5 following the judicial review?

817. Mr Mullaney: That will depend on the outcome. It would be unwise to pre-empt the decision, because the Department will wish to read and assess carefully the content of the judgement before coming to any conclusion.

818. The Deputy Chairperson: Will the Department outline its view on recent major retail developments and advise on how those may have turned out had the new PPS 5 been in place? Perhaps you would also elaborate on why some applications were refused.

819. Mr Kevin Armstrong (Department of the Environment): It is difficult to answer that. Any applications received by the strategic projects team are assessed on the basis of their potential impact on town centres. If we assess the potential impact as negative, we recommend that planning be refused. The objectives of the new draft PPS 5 are similar; the focus is on the protection of town centres and in sustaining and enhancing their vitality and viability. The new PPS 5 would not, therefore, make a substantial difference to our conclusions on the applications that we refused. The same criteria would probably be applied.

820. The problem with the current PPS 5 is that it places a major emphasis on assessing the retail impact of proposals, and that can be difficult. I use various types of data, and there are differences in opinion about the potential impact of particular stores.

821. The Deputy Chairperson: In the case of a major retail development, how does the draft PPS 5 compare with similar regulations in other jurisdictions?

822. Mr K Armstrong: It is similar.

823. The Deputy Chairperson: Is it more stringent?

824. Mr K Armstrong: It is difficult to say how stringent other regulations are. On the mainland, the focus is on the protection of town centres. Similarly, the Republic of Ireland’s retail strategy is based on the protection of designated town centres. That does not preclude development outside town centres, but the thrust of the policy is the protection of established designated town centres.

825. The Deputy Chairperson: Perhaps the Committee may wish to give that issue further consideration, because the new PPS 5 may lead to retailers locating to other jurisdictions that are more favourable to them.

826. Mr K Armstrong: Do you mean that if a stringent policy were in place here, retailers may locate elsewhere?

827. The Deputy Chairperson: Yes; that is why I am trying to compare draft PPS 5 with policies in other jurisdictions.

828. Mr K Armstrong: The policies are not always the same, and different jurisdictions have different ways of protecting town centres. In the South, for example, for a while, the size of a store allowed on the outskirts of a town was capped. Although that policy did not exist here, it did not seem to affect the number of applications or proposals that we received.

829. The Deputy Chairperson: The policy in the South made no difference to the number of expressions of interest here?

830. Mr K Armstrong: That is correct.

831. The Deputy Chairperson: Will you summarise the responses to the consultation on draft PPS 5 from July 2006?

832. Mr Mullaney: Those responses are not publicly available.

833. The Deputy Chairperson: Will the Department advise the Committee on the progress of development restrictions and pricing mechanisms to limit all-day parking in town centres?

834. Mr Mullaney: You would need to address that question to the Department for Regional Development (DRD) because it is responsible for parking arrangements.

835. The Deputy Chairperson: Draft PPS 5 refers to parking in town centres.

836. Mr Mullaney: Parking is a factor, but the implementation of any arrangements is, as far as I am aware, a matter for DRD.

837. Mr K Armstrong: As far as the existing and, as far as I know, the proposed PPS 5, are concerned, the policy is to promote the use of various means of transport and to avoid the unnecessary creation of more car trips. Parking is relevant to that, but we take advice from Roads Service.

838. The Deputy Chairperson: Paragraph 34 states that the Department will consider:

“ — a more restrictive development control policy for sites to be used for non-operational all-day parking;

— widening the scope for using pricing mechanisms in appropriate circumstances to discourage long-stay parking; and

— the control of parking in residential areas."

839. The Committee is aware that DRD is responsible on the ground, but draft PPS 5 is in your hands at the moment.

840. Mr K Armstrong: PPS 5 was produced when DOE was responsible for roads and parking. Now, the departmental responsibilities are divided, and DRD has responsibility for roads.

841. The Deputy Chairperson: Does the document, therefore, need to be reviewed and those parts for which you are not responsible removed or passed to the relevant Department?

842. Mr Mullaney: That is a good point, because the document was produced in June 1996. Devolution disaggregated some of the former responsibilities of DOE to different Departments. However, any future revised document must recognise those changes in responsibilities.

843. Mr K Armstrong: PPS 3 is the planning policy statement that deals with transport, parking and access.

844. Mr Mullaney: As the planning authority, DOE clearly has the responsibility to assess applications and determine whether they should be approved. However, as Kevin said, on certain aspects of planning, such as roads and transportation, we take account of any additional input.

845. The Deputy Chairperson: Planners definitely have views on parking in town centres. It used to be the case that people who used to build housing developments in town centres had to provide 1·5 parking spaces per unit. That requirement has been set aside in my constituency and public car parking has been taken into consideration. Although we may say that parking is an issue for DRD, planners also consider certain aspects of it.

846. Mr K Armstrong: Ultimately, in a planning application, the decision on parking is made by planners. However, that decision is taken based on the advice of the Roads Service, which is part of DRD. However, PPS 3 sets out parking standards. The pricing mechanism for parking in town centres is outside Planning Service’s control. The policy on parking standards for particular types of development is contained in PPS 3 and is usually elaborated on in area development plans.

847. I am not sure about the BMAP, but certainly, the previous plan for Belfast, the BUAP, had a parking policy that designated different zones within the town centre and the levels of parking permitted.

848. Mr Mullaney: It is not a question of absolving ourselves. PPS 3, which Kevin referred to, is, in conjunction with DRD, the Department’s policy. The point is that, ultimately, DOE’s Planning Service is the decision maker. Although decisions are normally made by Planning Service, they can, on occasion, be made by the Minister. However, it is wise and prudent to have regard to the expertise that can be provided by another agency; in this case, DRD.

849. The Deputy Chairperson: Perhaps I am touching on the same subject; however, given the difficult experiences that some towns have had with pedestrianisation, why does draft PPS 5 indicate that DOE is continuing to promote further pedestrianisation?

850. Mr K Armstrong: I know that parking is a factor when it comes to access to shops. However, pedestrianisation provides an attractive environment for shoppers. Therefore, there are pluses and minuses when it comes to parking provision and creating a more comfortable shopping environment.

851. The Deputy Chairperson: Given the experiences in some provincial towns, and I refer to my own experiences in towns in East Antrim, it is important that the document gets it right at this stage. We cannot find out a couple of years down the road that we have got it wrong.

852. Mr Brady: Thank you for your presentation. The main street in Newry, Hill Street, was pedestrianised, and one is more likely to get knocked down there than on any other street in the town. There is more traffic going down that street now than there was before it was pedestrianised. Pedestrianisation does not seem to work. Pedestrianisation and parking are, to use an oft-quoted phrase, inextricably linked; one cannot pedestrianise somewhere without people parking elsewhere. You may or may not be aware that quite recently, parking bays were introduced in Newry. However, talking to the shopkeepers and to people in general, that does not seem to have worked. People are parking in the middle of town and going off to work in Belfast. People can no longer get parked to go in and out of the shops. Pedestrianisation does not seem to have worked.

853. The Deputy Chairperson said that the DOE continues to promote pedestrianisation. How do you qualify or quantify the places that should be pedestrianised and those that should not? In Newry, for instance, there is now only one designated main street, Monaghan Street. That street, which was a main shopping centre, is no longer such, because of centres such as The Quays and Buttercrane, which are not out-of-town shopping centres. I am sure that you are aware of the huge problems.

854. Mr Mullaney: I am quite conversant with Newry.

855. Mr Brady: Come down the Dublin Road on a Saturday morning around 8.30, and I am sure you will become even more conversant with the problems.

856. Those centres are in-town major retail developments, and there is talk of other out-of-town developments. In Dundalk, for instance, there are loading and unloading bays. Lorries have to unload at certain times, before the shops open and after they close. That seems to be a sensible idea. In Newry, there are lorries that deliver to off-licenses, and which can close off three streets just by where they are parked. PPS 5 has abdicated your responsibility for the parking aspect of the problem. However, I presume that there is still networking between DSD and DRD to try to resolve the joint problems around those issues.

857. Mr Mullaney: It works on a number of levels. As I have explained, the Planning Service is responsible for determining planning applications in conjunction with Roads Service. I am not sure about the actual legislative powers, but I would have thought that the operational implementation of the pedestrianisation of streets in town centres is a matter for DRD. I have not been involved in the process, so I cannot speak from first-hand experience, but I would have thought that some form of liaison takes place.

858. Mr Brady: Planning Policy Statement 5 includes health checks for town centres, but areas of deprivation, for example under the Noble indices, do not seem to be included. Perhaps consideration should be given to including those areas in the context of PPS 5?

859. Mr Mullaney: Kevin has experience of health checks from an operational point of view.

860. Mr K Armstrong: The health checks assess the retail core of the town centre, including the number of vacant buildings and the state of the buildings.

861. Mr Brady: Do they assess the structure of the town centres?

862. Mr K Armstrong: They assess the structure of buildings as well as the level of vacant buildings. They assess the commercial life of the city rather than any other type of health in the city. They are more to do with the commercial vitality of the town centres.

863. Mr Brady: A health check is more about the health of the buildings than about the health of the people.

864. Mr K Armstrong: A health check is carried out to assess whether there are a lot of vacant buildings, whether the place is run down, whether there has been investment, lack of investment, or an outflow of investment.

865. The Deputy Chairperson: I will return to the car parking issue. We are hearing today of the split in responsibilities, but any forward-looking document, which is looking to try to put life back into our town centres should have something that both Departments could contribute to. For instance, two hours of free parking could be provided before all-day parking kicks in, because car parks in out-of-town shopping centres are always free, and they drain business away from town centres. Therefore, it would have been good if options had been available in the document. I appreciate that it is not your responsibility, but it would have been useful if there had been some guidance, which would have been worth discussing in relation to PPS 5.

866. Mr B Armstrong: We all seem to be thinking along the same lines about town-centre shopping. I concur with David about two hours of free parking, which would give people an opportunity to get their shopping done and would discourage other people from parking for the whole day. We want the centres of our towns and villages to be used more. We want to encourage family grocers and family-run shops. We need major retailers to come into our towns and make them viable for the shops that are already there. Without those major retailers, family-run shops sometimes cannot survive. Parking is of the essence to get the flow of people coming into towns and villages. That is where the whole emphasis should be, because people now want to park outside the doors of shops. What plans do you have to encourage free two-hour parking? I know that parking is in your remit.

867. Mr Mullaney: Again, the operational implementation of parking is really an issue for Roads Service. I am not sure whether the Committee will be making a report —

868. Mr B Armstrong: That is not 100% true. I have some dealings with the Planning Service in my area, and parking is one of the issues that I am looking at.

869. Mr Mullaney: It is clearly the responsibility of the Department of the Environment to assess planning applications, and parking is normally a factor in those matters. However, the existing on-street parking regime and public car parks are a matter for DRD if there is no planning proposal. It is about being mindful of the relative roles and responsibilities. We certainly have a responsibility, and we have to exercise an ultimate judgement on a planning-application situation, but existing parking — whether it be loading bays or restricted parking in relation to time or charging — is not our responsibility.

870. The Deputy Chairperson: That is something for the Committee to address with other agencies during the course of our inquiry.

871. Mr Brady: I have a question about planning for large retail outlets. Some places have unique experiences, and Newry has one of them as regards cross-border trade. I live on the Armagh Road in Newry. People from that end of the town go to Tesco in Banbridge — they do not go to the Buttercrane centre or The Quays because they cannot get there. Even at 8.30 am at the weekends, car parks are full. Is that factored into planning applications? I know that the Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade and the Newry Town Centre Management Partnership have their own views and agenda about all of that. Are the people who have to move from their own location to shop elsewhere factored in when planning is being considered?

872. Mr K Armstrong: When we assess applications for major retail — whether it is inside or outside a town centre — the level of parking that is provided is an issue that we consider. We assess the turnover of the proposal and where it is likely to draw that from in a catchment. However, it is very difficult for us to plan for something related to a change in the exchange rate or taxes.

873. Mr Brady: I understand that you cannot legislate for that.

874. Mr K Armstrong: We would allow for it, but it could change the other way.

875. Mr Brady: I accept that entirely. You cannot legislate for exchange rates. However, even before the current influx, it was still quite difficult for locals to park at The Quays in Newry. I accept that there is no way that you could factor in what will happen. You could not have factored in the economic downturn. There are all sorts of other things that are outside of your control.

876. In general terms, however, I just wonder whether local population spread is something that is taken into account. The core of Newry is relatively small, and there has been a huge movement outwards: the residential dwellings almost join up with Warrenpoint, and they also head out the Belfast Road. There has been a huge property boom.

877. Mr K Armstrong: When we consider applications, we take cognisance of the population and the expenditure therein. We try to assess the traffic that the store will generate, and we try to ensure that there is adequate provision for that. We require most major applications to contain a traffic plan that includes access for buses and other means of transport. Apart from that, however, it is very difficult to allow for something that may perform better than what we have planned for.

878. The Deputy Chairperson: To finish off, does the Department think that PPS 5 should be extended to include guidance on city centre housing and the impact of town centre development on the evening economy?

879. Mr Mullaney: City centre housing is a different proposition. Initially, the document referred to retailing in town centres in the existing PPS. That was then changed to retailing in town centres and commercial leisure developments. Quite clearly, town centres are not just about retailing: they are about offices, institutional uses, educational uses, housing in some cases, and leisure developments. I am sure that I have overlooked a range of other things.

880. Therefore, there is a question about what the scope of the document should be. Without being specific about any element, the issue is that town centres are not just about retailing.

881. The Deputy Chairperson: In closing, is it fair to say that draft PPS 5 will make no difference to retail planning decisions?

882. Mr K Armstrong: I hope that it does and that it gives Planning Service a more precise tool for managing the development of retailing and commercial leisure applications, because, although useful, the current PPS 5 is dated.

883. The Deputy Chairperson: I thank the witnesses for their attendance; if we can provide another lunch like that, the Committee will have you back next week.

24 September 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Simon Hamilton (Chairperson)
David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mickey Brady
Alex Easton
Jonathan Craig
Mary Bradley
Anna Lo
Caral Ní Chuilín

884. The Chairperson (Mr Hamilton): The next item on the agenda is the Committee’s inquiry into town centre regeneration. Members will recall that last week we agreed to seek some further written evidence, and in your packs you will find something to that effect with respect to the Scottish Government’s town centre regeneration fund, which is worth some consideration. Members also have a copy of the Committee Clerk’s information and guidance on that fund, a list of frequently asked questions about it, and a summary of the first tranche of funding, including a list of locations where the fund was used.

885. The Scottish Government made £60 million available in 2009-2010 through that fund. The fund will support local community and business leaders to make lasting improvements to town centres across Scotland through capital investment programmes. The types of capital activity that were supported included improving pedestrian vehicle access or parking provision; attracting increased footfall; diversification of the mix of services and amenities; acquisition of gap sites and vacant properties, streetscape improvements and remodelling of existing premises. The fund accepts applications from cities, towns and district centres irrespective of size, and only one applicant from a given town centre will be successful. All applications are subject to a four-stage appraisal process.

886. The first stage is the initial sift to ensure eligibility of applicants. The second stage is the scoring against criteria undertaken by the Scottish equivalents of DSD and NILGA, interestingly. Stage three is consideration by an independent panel, on which representatives from local government are included, to ensure that small and medium-sized towns also benefit fairly. Stage four is the consideration of the decision by the Scottish Government and their Ministers. The guidance indicates that the timescale for applications is short, and that applications are sought from district councils, voluntary organisations, town centre partnerships and so on. The guidance also indicates that the Scottish Government has launched a learning network that is to play a key role in evaluating the impact of the town centre regeneration fund. It also aims to better connect key stakeholders and help them to learn from one another.

887. I think it is an interesting concept, the merits and benefits of which are fairly obvious. It does not contradict what the Committee has been discussing as regards town centre regeneration, but I think it adds some benefit in that it ring-fences funding for that purpose. It is therefore worth consideration by the Department. Given what the Department has done on other issues, I am worried about the ring-fencing of funding for this type of activity, wherever the money goes to. The Scottish model also has the potential to ensure some geographical spread of funding. It may be worthwhile for the Committee to consider recommending that the Department, at the very least, considers a replica of the scheme, or a scheme on a smaller scale, perhaps involving a couple of the criteria and ring-fencing a smaller amount of money for a few of those activities; for example, remodelling of existing premises or a public realm, which would be specifically up for grabs in a competitive fund. I am happy for members to discuss the issue to see whether it is something that we could take forward as a recommendation.

888. Mr Craig: I am fairly sympathetic to that viewpoint. We have discussed it in relation to other issues, and it is clear that if funds are not ring-fenced for any such scheme then money will be re-routed somewhere else at the whim of someone else. It is abundantly clear that that is going to happen in the future. That said; another aspect of the visit intrigued me greatly. It is probably outside the remit of the Committee’s report, but it has repercussions on what happens with regard to local government and how such schemes are implemented. The liaison officers from the Scottish Parliament actually sat on the boards that implemented the scheme, which enabled them to give direct feedback to the Scottish Parliament. I thought that that was an intriguing idea.

889. If we are going to follow up with the reform of local government and outsource some of the responsibility for town centre regeneration to local government, we need to somehow feedback the idea to the Executive that that is a good idea about how to keep communications open between the new local councils and the Assembly with regard to that. The Executive or Minister should be told that we noted that extremely good and effective way of keeping communications open between the two and feeding back any issues and problems that there were. There was more or less an instantaneous response.

890. Ms Lo: I did not visit Glasgow, but when the Committee went to Boston we saw how small projects in different districts could trigger others to do the same, such as removing those horrible grilles, for example, and having something more attractive. When one or two shops started doing it, that triggered others to replicate it. I am quite happy to support the idea of spreading it out to other districts.

891. Ms Ní Chuilín: Jonathan Craig raised the question that I was going to ask under “Any Other Business", but it is pertinent to the issue. I think that the Committee should consider — on geographical spread or according to issues — having meetings with some local councils. My particular interest is in neighbourhood renewal. The Department will give us a run down on the report, but how do we link in to that, because, whether we like it or not, members are seen to be responsible for that transition, good, bad or indifferent. It is worth the Committee trying to develop relationships, perhaps under different themes. Town centre regeneration could be one of them.

892. I do not know if it is in our remit, but we have an ability to call for people and papers; perhaps we could try to do something under that. I do not want to add to our very busy workload, but I think that, in preparation for the RPA, it would be worthwhile to hold a couple of one-off meetings. I am concerned that, unless there is ring-fencing and budgets are agreed as part of the RPA, projects such as this, and all the work that we have done, which I feel is good work, will be totally lost. I do not think that we will have any stamp on schemes aimed at improving the lives of people. Maybe it is something to be considered.

893. The Chairperson: I think it is a good idea to ask the Committee Clerk to explore how we could do that. You are right that, particularly with new councils, it might prove difficult, in that there is nobody there to talk to at the minute. It is not as though the new councils are sitting in shadow mode at the moment.

894. The Committee could also explore the possibility of talking to the town centre regeneration groups, because they will still remain in the areas post-RPA. If there were some ring-fencing of funds for town centre regeneration, the argument could be made that that would remain at a central level. That would be the case post-RPA, and it would ensure that that money is there.

895. Ms Ní Chuilín: Almost at an arm’s length basis?

896. The Chairperson: Yes, and the Department will want to stay involved. It will still set the policy in that area, and it will be involved in ensuring that the policy is implemented in the correct manner. It will then be up to local councils or districts to bid for funds.

897. Mr Brady: I agree with Jonathan. It was very clear from the Committee’s visit that there was a direct link with the Scottish Parliament, and everyone was aware of what was happening, from the groups on the ground, right back to the legislators. That seems like a common-sense approach.

898. Ms Ní Chuilín: I have not been involved with councils for quite some time, and I am not really au fait with what transitional committees are in place. I know that Belfast is not changing much under the RPA, but one of its committees is a transitional committee.

899. Mr Craig: Yes that is the committee that deals with policies and resources. I have met with that committee, because I chair the same committee in Lisburn and Castlereagh. That committee is transitional, because it is dealing with a unique problem.

900. Ms Ní Chuilín: Would you be opposed to meeting under an umbrella of neighbourhood renewal? Unless we can pick themes, and begin to do some of the work —

901. The Chairperson: We are moving towards a different issue. The Committee will direct the Committee Clerk to take that idea away and see how practical it is. I do not think that it is a bad idea. It is worth exploring how possible and effective it is under the current arrangements.

902. I detect a note of positivity in the Committee about the idea of a town centre fund. Perhaps when the Clerk has drafted something, the Department could then consider a similar fund for Northern Ireland. We will also include feedback that will be garnered post-RPA. The Committee should consider that as soon as possible.

903. The Committee has also talked about doing something in the local area, rather than just on the Floor of the House when we launch the report. Therefore, we will consider engaging with the people at the local level when the report is finalised, which will hopefully be before the RPA is implemented.

904. Mrs M Bradley: Is the Committee sure that all of the transitional committees are working in all of the RPA areas.

905. The Chairperson: That is not an issue for the Committee. However, I believe that that is the case, but we can find that out.

906. Are members agreed that the Committee should amend the report and make a draft recommendation along the lines that we have discussed?

Members indicated assent.

Appendix 3

Department for Social Development Submissions

Correspondence from DSD – 12 November 2007

Correspondence from DSD – 10 December 2007

Correspondence from DSD – 4 February 2008

Correspondence from DSD – 6 February 2008

Correspondence from DSD – 2 June 2009

Correspondence from DSD
12 November 2007

Written Evidence to the Social Development Committee Inquiry
into Town Centre Regeneration

Background

The role of the Department for Social Development (DSD) is to lead, co ordinate and drive forward work on addressing poverty, social exclusion, community development and urban regeneration in Northern Ireland.

The Department’s statutory regeneration authority derives mainly from:

The Department undertakes urban regeneration work in settlements with more than 4,500 residents. This is the cut-off between large villages and small towns established by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

In its work in the regeneration of cities and towns, the Department uses a mix of public and private sector investment and contributions from the European Union’s Structural Funds and the International Fund for Ireland. All of DSD’s urban regeneration activity is directed at supporting both people and the places where they live, work and socialise. It includes, therefore, a wide range of physical, community, social and economic initiatives.

The regeneration of Northern Ireland’s town and city centres outside Belfast and Derry is taken forward by the Regional Development Office (RDO) and the North West Development Office (NWDO). These are divisions of the Department’s Urban Regeneration and Community Development Group (URCDG).

Addressing Disadvantage through Regeneration

The main objective of Town Centre Regeneration is to maximise investment potential and encourage greater use of town centres by attracting more people back to work, shop and socialise in them. In doing so, the Department addresses dereliction and uses its statutory powers where necessary to vest and gather land and seek private sector investment to regenerate an area.

Neighbourhood Renewal (NR) is Government’s main vehicle for tackling social need within disadvantaged areas. NR is a long term strategy which aims to help the most disadvantaged areas and communities tackle deprivation in an integrated way. It plays an important part in the successful regeneration of towns and cities. A key objective for NR is to develop economic activity in the most deprived neighbourhoods and connect them to the wider urban economy. Links between the key objectives of NR and city and town centre regeneration are now being made.

For example, in recent city and town centre regeneration schemes, the Department is encouraging developers to employ people from disadvantaged areas that are in close proximity to town centres. These types of projects provide training and assistance to improve employment prospects for those living in our most deprived communities.

In both its town centre and Neighbourhood Renewal Strategies, the Department has recognised that town centres have a critical two-way relationship with their outlying residential areas. Improving the vibrancy of our town centres will help to renew the most deprived neighbourhoods.

A practical example of how the Department has worked this into its town centre regeneration activity is in Coleraine, where the Department published a set of regeneration objectives for the town centre in 2005. One of the seven objectives is “To reinforce communities and encourage integration". Under the objective, the Department requires any scheme which it supports to “deliver benefits to the wider population of Coleraine by being accessible to and inclusive for the deprived neighbourhoods around the town centre".

The Wider Policy Context for Urban Regeneration

In delivering regeneration schemes, DSD is fully committed to complying with the requirements of the New Targeting Social Need (New TSN) policy and its successor Lifetime Opportunities, which aims to tackle social need and social exclusion by requiring all Government Departments to use their resources and to target programmes and services better to benefit the most disadvantaged people, groups and areas.

In terms of its primary objective, the physical improvements brought by town centre regeneration are enhanced by this additional emphasis on tackling disadvantage and the significant input to the local economy that this creates.

There are a number of other key cross-cutting Government policies and strategies that impact on how DSD delivers urban regeneration:

(a) To support the network of service centres based on main towns, small towns and villages in Rural NI (SPG RNI 3); and

(b) To promote a balanced spread of economic development opportunity across the Region focused on the Belfast Metropolitan Area, Derry, Craigavon and the urban hubs/clusters as the main centres for employment and services (SPG ECON 1).

Scope and Effectiveness of DSD Town Centre Regeneration Policies

All of the policies and strategies listed above provide the strategic context within which projects are currently assessed for suitability and the Department will only support projects which are compatible with them. In addition, the recently published good practice guide, Vital & Viable, also sets out the Department’s suggested approach to the regeneration of cities and towns using an overarching framework.

The programmes and tools used by the Department for its urban regeneration work are:

A good quality public realm scheme can have a significant impact on a town centre. For example, the scheme undertaken in Banbridge between 2002 and 2005 has reduced vacancy rates for commercial property in the improved area to zero.

It should be noted that due to a lack of resources, DSD cannot maximise the potential of private sector investment in Northern Ireland’s town and city centres. The likely budget settlement for 2007 – 2010 will impede this work further.

Stakeholder Engagement

It is standard practice within the Department to carry out consultation on all schemes as it is important to establish the actual issues/needs faced by a town at the outset. It is vital to the success of any scheme that all interested parties have a shared understanding of the problems and issues to be addressed. This involves engagement with public and private sector as well as local authority and community interests. This is one reason why regeneration schemes tend to have a long lead in time, particularly the larger ones. Stakeholder engagement is an ongoing process throughout scheme development and is seen as key to the success of any project.

The role of councils in providing local vision and leadership is important, and there are now partnership arrangements being put in place with some councils to take forward projects, for example, in Lisburn and Portrush.

Drawing on Experiences Elsewhere

The Department also recognises the need to take cognisance of, and learn from, work carried out elsewhere to help establish best practice. In this regard study visits have been undertaken to a variety of locations in Wales, Scotland, England and the Republic of Ireland. The value of this can particularly be seen in work carried out in Omagh where work carried out draws directly on a similar scheme in Stirling.

As part of the scheme development process, professional advisors are engaged to advise on planning and design elements along with finance and potential legal implications. These advisors tend to be recognised experts with wide ranging knowledge of schemes who bring further experience from across Britain and Ireland.

The Urban Regeneration & Community Development Group also meets with its equivalent regeneration bodies in England, Scotland and Wales to exchange information and share good practice on regeneration matters. The Group is also a member of a number of professional regeneration bodies through which best practice is shared.

Way forward

The Urban Regeneration & Community Development Group has recently commenced a review of all its urban regeneration and community development policies and programmes to evaluate the extent to which these have met their strategic and operational objectives. This will inform the direction that future polices and programmes will take. This is expected to conclude in Spring 2008.

Correspondence from DSD
10 December 2007

DSD logo

Urban Regeneration Strategy Directorate
3rd floor Lighthouse Building
1 Cromac Place
Gasworks Business Park
Ormeau Road
Belfast BT7 2JB
Telephone: (028) 90 829018
Network: 38018
Facsimile: (028) 90 829389
Email: linda.machugh@dsdni.gov.uk
Your reference: CSD/ ITCR/SM
Our reference: DSI-07-13194

10 December 2007

Ms Marie Austin
Committee for Social Development
Room 412
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Marie

Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

Your letter of 30 November 2007 to John Ball refers.

In September 1999 EDAW consultants were commissioned by the then Department of the Environment to report and make recommendations on town centre reinvigoration.

Following an extensive process of consultation, the “Reinvigoration of Town Centres" report was produced by EDAW in January 2000. The report contained 27 recommendations in all.

The Department for Social Development, which assumed responsibility for urban regeneration from 1 December 1999, undertook an extensive consultation process on the EDAW report during 2000, including a major conference on the issue in October 2000.

The EDAW report formed the basis of a draft Town Centre Reinvigoration Policy which was developed by the Department. This was agreed by DSD’s Departmental Management Board in May 2001.

Following on from Departmental Management Board’s acceptance of the draft policy, the Department attempted to secure agreement to it at the appropriate levels and from the appropriate institutions, but this was beset by some significant difficulties.

Principal among the difficulties was the additional complexity created by the post-devolution institutional context. The functions of the former DOE which were relevant to the Town Centre Reinvigoration Policy had been divided between three Departments – DSD, DRD and DOE – and the policy also had relevance to the roles of DARD, DETI and DFP. Given the wide ranging and cross-departmental nature of the content, agreement was required from the then DSD Minister, the Assembly Social Development Committee and the Executive. There were considerable delays in approval at each stage and before it was possible to complete this work, the institutions were suspended in October 2002.

At the time of suspension, the Department had started work on an Equality Impact Assessment of the draft policy and this continued into 2003 with a consultation exercise. At this stage, hopes remained of an early return of the Executive and there was reluctance on the part of Direct Rule Ministers to pre-empt the decisions of a local Minister by actioning the draft policy.

In late 2003, the Department made an effort to re-draft the policy document. However, there had been significant developments in regeneration policy and practice in Belfast and Derry and the Department took the view that a single city and town centre regeneration policy for Northern Ireland was required.

Work on the wider policy continued until early 2005. As the document was finalised internally, the then Secretary of State made an announcement on the Review of Public Administration which indicated the intention that responsibility for town centre regeneration would transfer to councils in April 2009. In light of this, the Department considered that further development of the strategy should not be taken forward.

Despite being frustrated in producing a policy document, over time and in the course of its work, the Department has used the EDAW report extensively to inform thinking and policy on issues relating to the regeneration of town and city centres. This is best reflected by the recently published “Vital and Viable" good practice guide, of which the Committee has copies.

Furthermore, to date, through its work the Department has implemented 14 of the recommendations. (specifically, numbers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 26 and 27 – see Annex A).

In terms of the remaining recommendations, a number of these were not issues for which the Department has lead responsibility. The most significant of these was recommendation 1, which called for a review of PPS5. At present, this review is ongoing and we have been liaising with the Department for Regional Development (DRD) to input to this review.

The EDAW report will also be used to assist in the stocktake review of the Department’s urban regeneration policies and programmes which is expected to be completed mid 2008. It is the Department’s intention to ensure that, during this review, any outstanding recommendations are considered to establish their current relevance and actioned as appropriate in conjunction with other relevant Departments.

I trust this clarifies the position but if you require further information please let me know.

Yours sincerely

Linda MacHugh sig

Linda MacHugh

Annex A

Recommendation
Comment
Recommendation 4: Town centre management should be considered as an element of town centre reinvigoration in Northern Ireland Town centre management is now well established in Northern Ireland with structures in place in most major towns.
Recommendation 5: Town centres are of significance across the communities they serve and urban regeneration strategy should address their reinvigoration as a corollary to targeted strategies for neighbourhood regeneration. This has been reflected in the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy and in drafts of the Town and City Centre Reinvigoration Policy.
Recommendation 6: In developing any town centre project involving public sector funding the needs of the socially excluded must be recognised and the impact on those groups must be stated. Wherever possible projects should positively:
  • Reinforce the neutrality of town centres in terms of divisions based on religious or political beliefs;
  • Provide for the access needs of people without access to a car;
  • Promote events/activities which cross religious/political divisions;
  • Provide for the needs of people with mobility problems (including the provision of shopmobility services
  • where appropriate, dropped kerbs, tactile surfaces next to crossings etc)
The needs of the socially excluded and the need to promote good relations are reflected in all major town centre schemes. New TSN requirements are written into Development Briefs and Development Agreements and high standards of accessibility are required in all town centre developments and public realm schemes.
Recommendation 7: Consider identification of a Town Centre Regeneration Sub-programme within the second Peace and Reconciliation Programme. This was done as part of Measure 2.11. 7 town centres received up to £250,000 each for town centre projects.
Recommendation 8: Housing can make a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres but will require the establishment of public subsidy systems able to overcome market failure. The Town Centre Living Initiative is now well established as part of the policy framework for town centres.
Recommendation 13: Pedestrianisation in some of the case study towns would seem not to have worked in terms of the viability and vitality of the town centre. There is a need to review the bases upon which pedestrianisation is carried out and to initiate schemes only as part of a comprehensive town centre strategy. The pedestrianisation scheme in Antrim has been reviewed and part of the area will be re-opened to vehicular traffic as part of a planned public realm scheme in the town centre.
Recommendation 14: Town centre strategies should be prepared to guide future public and private sector investment in town centres. The preparation of a Strategy should be a pre-requisite to significant investment and should be led by District Councils in consultation with key stakeholders (including Government Departments and private sector organisations). Strategies must comply with existing up-to-date development plans and mesh with the Regional Strategic Framework and Policy Planning Statements. Strategies and masterplans have been prepared, are in the process of being prepared or are planned in a substantial proportion of Northern Irelands towns. The Department recognises the value of these strategies/masterplans and encourages their development and use. We seek to work with local authorities to bring these forward.
Recommendation 16: Whilst physical regeneration is important in town centres it should be part of a more holistic approach that looks at the town centre as a multi-purpose location. There should be a wider recognition of the importance of business development, Welcome Host training and marketing and of ensuring that the product mix is optimised. Physical regeneration remains the most important aspect of the Department’s town centre work. However, we have also supported ‘softer’ initiatives including the Town Centre Promotions and Marketing Programme and we require strategies and masterplans to address management and leadership issues in town centres.
Recommendation 17: Positive encouragement should be given to town centre housing development where this contributes to strategic land use objectives and in support of town centre reinvigoration. Consideration should be given to providing subsidy and technical support for schemes to promote living over the shop (LOTS). Town centre housing is recognised as an important element of regenerating our town centres. It is particularly important in providing a base for evening economy activities which can diversify the town centre’s economic base. LOTS (now TCLIA) projects have demonstrated important results in a number of towns.
Recommendation 20: Towns should be encouraged to position themselves to target particular tourism market needs – families, activities, art etc. Leisure, entertainment and other development which encourages vitality in town centres should be promoted within the parameters set by normal development control procedures to minimise nuisance and loss of amenity for residents. Non-retail activities, including leisure, are promoted as part of the process of regenerating town centres. Tourism is more important in some towns than in others – for example, Newcastle, Portrush, Coleraine, Ballycastle, Carrickfergus, Bangor. Where tourism offers opportunities for development, the Department seeks to take advantage of this.
Recommendation 23: Town Centre Management as an approach should be promoted as an essential prerequisite to funding being provided for town centre schemes. This need not involve the appointment of a Town Centre Manager but this should be considered for larger town centres or groups of smaller town centres. Vital and Viable indicates that good town centre management and leadership structures are a requirement for DSD support for town centre projects.
Recommendation 24: Town Centre Partnerships should be established for all major town centres or where the local authority proposes to prepare a Town Centre Strategy. This Partnership should guide the preparation of a town centre strategy and should be wound – up only if and when a Town Centre Management Partnership is established to progress the Strategy or a decision has been made not to progress a scheme. Town Centre Partnerships have been established in all major towns with the exception of Enniskillen. No town centre strategy has been prepared for any town without a Town Centre Partnership or management structure in place.
Recommendation 26: Department for Social Development has a lead role to play in relation to reinvigoration of town centres in conjunction with the Department of Regional Development. DSD is the lead Department for urban regeneration in Northern Ireland. We work closely with out colleagues in DRD and DOE.
Recommendation 27: An illustrated Executive Summary setting out best practice and key conclusions should be produced and consideration be given to an associated Conference in the summer of 2000. The Case Studies should be circulated and supported by facilitated workshops involving key players. This was implemented in 2000.

Correspondence from DSD
4 February 2008

DSD logo

Urban Regeneration Strategy Directorate

3rd floor Lighthouse Building
1 Cromac Place
Gasworks Business Park
Ormeau Road
Belfast BT7 2JB

Telephone: (028) 90 829018 Network: 38018
Facsimile: (028) 90 829389
Email: linda.machugh@dsdni.gov.uk

4 February 2008
Your reference: CSD/ITCR/MA
Our reference: SUB 67/2008

Ms Marie Austin
Committee for Social Development
Room 412
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Marie

Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

Thank you for your letter of 14 December 2007 about the recommendations made in the EDAW report on town centre reinvigoration.

The attached table sets out the current progress/status on all 27 recommendations contained in the EDAW Report. For completeness the table restates the Department’s earlier comments on the 14 recommendations which have been implemented. Of the remaining 13, we have indicated which of these will be considered as part of our ‘stocktake’ of urban regeneration policies and programmes.

We have also included supplementary comments in relation to the specific points raised by the Committee in respect of recommendations 4, 5, 6 and 13 of the report.

I trust this will be useful but if you have any further questions, please contact me.

Yours sincerely

Linda MacHugh sig

Linda MacHugh

TABLE

Recommendation / Committee Comments
DSD Comments
Recommendation 1: P19 There is a strong case for PPS5 to be reviewed as a priority

Also there is a strong case for the commissioning of a Retail Capacity Assessment for Northern Ireland to provide an objective and independent base upon which to assess further applications for major retail developments.

Also PPS5 should include a more explicit sequential test requirement to place the onus of responsibility on applicants for planning permission to prove that an out-of-centre location is both unavoidable and has only a limited and definable impact on existing town centres.

Also PPS5 would be improved by offering more explicit guidance to applicants for different types of potential town centre development.
For DOE to lead on – with input from DSD on request.

Not for stocktake
RURAL POLICY
 
Recommendation 2: P21 That a review of policy on rural shop support and market town development be undertaken as part of a wider study of Rural Social Exclusion For DARD to lead on in the context of its rural development policy.

Not for stocktake
TOWN CENTRE DEVELOPMENT
 
Recommendation 3: P26 A common monitoring and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland town centres. Important in terms of identifying the health of towns and need for intervention by DSD.

To be Included in stocktake

However, DRD will also be looking at this in the context of its work on the Regional Development Strategy.
TOWN CENTRE MANAGEMENT
 
Recommendation 4: Town centre management should be considered as an element of town centre reinvigoration in Northern Ireland.

In response to the Department’s original comments the Committee asked whether there were plans to extend this to all towns.
Town centre management is now well established in Northern Ireland with structures in place in most major towns.

The value of town centre management has been recognised by the Department and is included in Vital and Viable (the DSD good practice guide for breathing new life into cities and towns). Town Centre Partnerships (TCPs) with councils as a lead stakeholder are seen as a particularly useful vehicle. The Department considers the presence of a TCP as one of the tests when assessing projects for support. However, DSD has no powers to impose or require such a structure to be set up in any town.

Town centre management structures are in place in Armagh, Ballymena, Banbridge and Dromore (shared). Bangor and Holywood (shared), Coleraine, Cookstown, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and Newcastle (shared), Dungannon and Coalisland (shared), Larne, Lisburn, Lurgan, Newry and Portadown.

District councils carry out the town centre management role in Antrim, Randalstown and Crumlin (shared arrangement), Ballycastle, Ballymoney, Carrickfergus, Limavady and Omagh.

Among the larger towns, there are no town centre management structures at present in Enniskillen or Newtownards. The possibility of including Newtownards under the North Down arrangement is being discussed. DSD is not aware of any plans to introduce town centre management in Enniskillen.

We will be looking more closely at this issue in the context of the stocktake.
URBAN REGENERATION STRATEGIES
 
Recommendation 5: Town centres are of significance across the communities they serve and urban regeneration strategy should address their reinvigoration as a corollary to targeted strategies for neighbourhood regeneration.

In response to the Department’s original comments the Committee asked how the Department assesses the impact of regeneration in terms of tackling disadvantage and what performance indicators are used.
This has been reflected in the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy acknowledged that “because physical development and community and social regeneration schemes have not been integrated, a lot of urban regeneration activity has not always had the desired ‘knock-on’ impact on addressing social exclusion". Consequently, one of the Strategy’s strategic objectives - Economic Renewal – was “[to] develop economic activity in the most deprived neighbourhoods and connect them to the wider urban economy". The strategy stated:

“Neighbourhood Renewal is part of a comprehensive and proactive approach to urban regeneration. It will be linked to other work that will be undertaken to reinvigorate our town and city centres, regenerate brownfield sites and develop social cohesion …. The aim is to create balanced urban areas that drive the economic regeneration of Northern Ireland as a whole, while placing a greater emphasis on the sustainable development of communities and ensuring that people from disadvantaged communities can share in all of the benefits provided by our towns and cities. To achieve this, it will be essential to build upon the policies that have been effective in the past and ensure that all of the DSD’s urban regeneration policies work in ways that reinforce each other. Neighbourhoods will benefit from being able to seize the economic opportunities which town and city centre reinvigoration open up; town and city centres will benefit greatly from not being islands of regeneration surrounded and undermined by stark deprivation."

The Neighbourhood Renewal Implementation Plan for the Regional Towns and Cities picked up this theme, stating “As well as developing the ‘internal’ economies of Neighbourhood Renewal Areas, resources may be used to help the people who live in them to take advantage of the job, training and business opportunities that are available in other parts of their towns".

Vital and Viable also acknowledges the importance of this issue, noting that the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy is vital to the successful reinvigoration of city and town centres, particularly in their role as the hub of their communities. Urban regeneration plays a key role in helping to build more socially economically sustainable neighbourhoods particularly when such neighbourhoods straddle the town centre.

As indicated by the Department in its evidence, the evaluation of the overall impact of urban regeneration policy is difficult. The requirements for regeneration vary between towns so measuring outputs from regeneration is preferable to an overall evaluation of policy impact. Problems are different, development opportunities are different, and there are a number of external factors; therefore interventions differ and outcomes could well differ.

We will examine the issue of key performance indicators and systematic evaluation in the course of the stocktake.
SOCIAL INCLUSION
 
Recommendation 6: In developing any town centre project involving public sector funding the needs of the socially excluded must be recognised and the impact on those groups must be stated. Wherever possible projects should positively:
  • Reinforce the neutrality of town centres in terms of divisions based on religious or political beliefs;
  • Provide for the access needs of people without access to a car;
  • Promote events/activities which cross religious/political divisions;
  • Provide for the needs of people with mobility problems (including the provision of shopmobility services
  • where appropriate, dropped kerbs, tactile surfaces next to crossings etc)
In response to the Department’s original comments the Committee asked how:

(a) neutrality is enforced; and

(b) the promotion of events /activities which cross religious/political divides.
The needs of the socially excluded and the need to promote good relations are reflected in all major town centre schemes. New TSN requirements are written into Development Briefs and Development Agreements and high standards of accessibility are required in all town centre developments and public realm schemes.

(a) DSD cannot ‘enforce’ neutrality as we have no statutory authority to do so. However, the Department is fully committed to driving forward the Shared Future agenda in its regeneration activities. In particular, priority 2.1 of PEACE 3 ‘Creating Shared Public Space’ aims to regenerate urban areas that appear derelict, segregated, underused, threatening and / or unwelcoming and transform them into useful shared spaces.

Vital and Viable also states “In moving forward action to free the public realm from displays of sectarian, racist or any other form of aggression, Government is firmly of the view that city and town centres in Northern Ireland should be safe and welcoming places for all. As more and more centres are striving to promote day and night economies we need to ensure that they are safe and attractive to those who seek to access services."

Vital and Viable also states that to present a convincing case for public support, a town centre must, among other things:

“Be accessible – Successful city and town centres must be truly inclusive and accessible in social as well as physical and transport terms. Their position as neutral locations can be enhanced by the creation of safe shared spaces for enjoyment by all."

“Provide for a peaceful future – Regeneration provides an opportunity to deal with physical scars of violence and all can address attitudes and social issues in line with Government’s Good Relations Strategy."

Some good examples of projects supported or being worked up by DSD which put this into practice are:

Coleraine’s public realm improvements in the Diamond, which included the creation of an events space which now hosts an average of 20 cross-community events per year;

Cookstown’s proposed Public Realm scheme will try to create a neutral town centre civic space in which similar events can be located;

Lurgan’s planned public realm scheme, which aims, among other things, to create a shared space respectful of Lurgan’s traditions and symbols by making the town less threatening and more welcoming to all and neutralise the demarcation line within the Town Centre.

Recently, the Department has begun discussions with Newtownabbey Borough Council on how to create neutral spaces at locations in Whiteabbey and Glengormley where there has been increasing incidence of sectarian confrontation. The Department has also started working with Newry and Mourne District Council on schemes to create neutral shared spaces in Newry and Kilkeel.

(b) The responsibility within Government for supporting festivals lies with DCAL. Therefore, the amount of funding provided by DSD for town centre events is limited to those which fall under the ambit of the Town Centre Promotions and Marketing scheme. Some examples of cross-community events include:
  • Dungannon’s town centre events, including the Return of the Earls events, the Halloween Spooktacular and other themed town centre events;
  • Newry holds significant events at Halloween and is planning a major programme of cross-community events to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its city status.
  • Kilkeel’s Dickens Day, which is run by the Chamber of Commerce, and Kingdom of Mourne festival, which is organised by the Council.
  • Warrenpoint’s Blues on the Bay festival
  • Farmers markets and continental style markets in a number of towns including Ballynahinch, Coleraine, Downpatrick and Newry.
  • Not for stocktake.
PEACE AND RECONCILIATION
 
Recommendation 7: Consider identification of a Town Centre Regeneration Sub-programme within the second Peace and Reconciliation Programme. This was done as part of Measure 2.11. 7 town centres received up to £250,000 each for town centre projects.

Not for stocktake.
HOUSING IN TOWN CENTRES
 
Recommendation 8: Housing can make a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres but will require the establishment of public subsidy systems able to overcome market failure. The Town Centre Living Initiative is now well established as part of the policy framework for town centres.

There is currently no market failure in terms of housing.

However, given the changes in the housing market, the appropriateness of our schemes will be considered in the stocktake.
ACCESSIBILITY
 
Recommendation 9: P48 Within the context of any review of PPS5 transport issues should be reviewed and greater emphasis placed on the specific needs of town centres. For DOE to lead on in context of review of PPS 5.

Not for stocktake
Recommendation 10: P48 The Regional Transport Plan should include specific policies in respect to town centres. For DRD/DOE to lead in context of SPG (Strategic Planning Guidance) 12, 13 and 14.

Not for stocktake
Recommendation 11: P48 Parking controls are considered to be the key area for short-term action (as detailed in the Report) and attention should be given to developing a consistent approach but one which recognises the specific circumstances of each town centre. For DRD/DOE to lead in context of SPG 12, 13 and 14.

Not for stocktake
Recommendation 12: P48 Public transport should be promoted as an alternative to the car and as part of social inclusion strategy. For DRD/DOE to lead in context of SPG 12, 13 and 14.

Not for stocktake
Recommendation 13: Pedestrianisation in some of the case study towns would seem not to have worked in terms of the viability and vitality of the town centre. There is a need to review the bases upon which pedestrianisation is carried out and to initiate schemes only as part of a comprehensive town centre strategy.

In response to the Department’s original comments the Committee asked for information on concerns that have been raised in other areas regarding pedestrianisation and how DSD intends to address those concerns
The pedestrianisation scheme in Antrim has been reviewed and part of the area will be re-opened to vehicular traffic as part of a planned public realm scheme in the town centre.

Hill Street in Newry was pedestrianised in the late 1970s. The pedestrianisation scheme never worked effectively and the area continued to be used by vehicles and there was no enforcement of the Pedestrianisation order. In 2001, the street was officially re-opened to traffic.

In addition to Antrim, there are pedestrianised areas in Coleraine, Lisburn, Limavady and Strabane. In most towns with a pedestrianised area, there are a proportion of traders and other town centre users who would wish to see it reversed. However, with the exception of Antrim, it is generally agreed that the pedestrianisation measures have been successful.

We will look at this in the stocktake.

However, DRD Roads Service will have significant input to this issue.
JOINED UP POLICY
 
Recommendation 14: Town centre strategies should be prepared to guide future public and private sector investment in town centres. The preparation of a Strategy should be a pre-requisite to significant investment and should be led by District Councils in consultation with key stakeholders (including Government Departments and private sector organisations). Strategies must comply with existing up-to-date development plans and mesh with the Regional Strategic Framework and Policy Planning Statements. Strategies and masterplans have been prepared, are in the process of being prepared or are planned in a substantial proportion of Northern Irelands towns. The Department recognises the value of these strategies/masterplans and encourages their development and use. We seek to work with local authorities to bring these forward.

This will be included in the stocktake with a view to developing a programme to ensure all appropriate towns have a suitable strategy.
Recommendation 15: P67 Government should prepare and issue guidance on the preparation of Town Centre Strategies. Guidance on preparing town centre strategies was included in Vital and Viable.

Not for stocktake.
PHYSICAL AND BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
 
Recommendation 16: Whilst physical regeneration is important in town centres it should be part of a more holistic approach that looks at the town centre as a multi-purpose location. There should be a wider recognition of the importance of business development, Welcome Host training and marketing and of ensuring that the product mix is optimised. Physical regeneration remains the most important aspect of the Department’s town centre work. However, we have also supported ‘softer’ initiatives including the Town Centre Promotions and Marketing Programme and we require strategies and masterplans to address management and leadership issues in town centres. These issues are addressed within Vital and Viable.

Not for stocktake.
URBAN HOUSING
 
Recommendation 17: Positive encouragement should be given to town centre housing development where this contributes to strategic land use objectives and in support of town centre reinvigoration. Consideration should be given to providing subsidy and technical support for schemes to promote living over the shop (LOTS). Town centre housing is recognised as an important element of regenerating our town centres. It is particularly important in providing a base for evening economy activities which can diversify the town centre’s economic base. LOTS (now TCLIA) projects have demonstrated important results in a number of towns.

Given the changes in the housing market, the appropriateness of our schemes will be considered in the stocktake.
SOCIAL COHESION
 
Recommendation 18: P67 Town Centre Strategies should be required to explicitly state the implications of proposals on social inclusion. This will be included in the stocktake.
Recommendation 19: P67 Any revision of PPS5 should require social inclusion impacts to be relevant criteria in assessing the impacts of large scale retail developments in accordance with the policy of mainstreaming social inclusion. DOE to lead on in context of review of PPS 5.

Not for stocktake.
TOURISM AND LEISURE
 
Recommendation 20: Towns should be encouraged to position themselves to target particular tourism market needs – families, activities, art etc. Leisure, entertainment and other development which encourages vitality in town centres should be promoted within the parameters set by normal development control procedures to minimise nuisance and loss of amenity for residents. Non-retail activities, including leisure, are promoted as part of the process of regenerating town centres. Tourism is more important in some towns than in others – for example, Newcastle, Portrush, Coleraine, Ballycastle, Carrickfergus, Bangor. Where tourism offers opportunities for development, the Department seeks to take advantage of this.

The requirement to do this is included in Vital and Viable.

Not for stocktake.
Recommendation 21: P67 Tourism and leisure issues should be addressed as part of any review of PPS5. DOE to lead on in context of review of PPS 5.

Not for stocktake
FUNDING
 
Recommendation 22: P67 Funding of town centre projects could be limited to those Town Centres where there is an agreed Town Centre Strategy. In accordance with its good practice guide, Vital and Viable, DSD will aid only those projects identified in locally-planned and supported city and town centre strategies, subject to tests and the availability of resources.

Not for stocktake
TOWN CENTRE MANAGEMENT
 
Recommendation 23: Town Centre Management as an approach should be promoted as an essential prerequisite to funding being provided for town centre schemes. This need not involve the appointment of a Town Centre Manager but this should be considered for larger town centres or groups of smaller town centres. Vital and Viable indicates that good town centre management and leadership structures are a requirement for DSD support for town centre projects.

We are currently looking at our policy on Town Centre Management. This will include such initiatives as BIDs.

To be included in the stocktake.
STRUCTURES
 
Recommendation 24: Town Centre Partnerships should be established for all major town centres or where the local authority proposes to prepare a Town Centre Strategy. This Partnership should guide the preparation of a town centre strategy and should be wound – up only if and when a Town Centre Management Partnership is established to progress the Strategy or a decision has been made not to progress a scheme. Town Centre Partnerships have been established in all major towns with the exception of Enniskillen. No town centre strategy has been prepared for any town without a Town Centre Partnership or management structure in place.

Not for stocktake.
Recommendation 25: P 68 The government should consider the establishment of a Town Centre Regeneration Agency to act as the supervisory mechanism to manage funding and to ensure that monitoring and evaluation information is collected as a condition of funding. The Agency would be required to ensure absolute transparency in its decision making and should not become involved in the preparation of individual strategies - only in the dissemination of information and in the co-ordination of funding. Will be included in the stocktake.
Recommendation 26: Department for Social Development has a lead role to play in relation to reinvigoration of town centres in conjunction with the Department of Regional Development. DSD is the lead Department for urban regeneration in Northern Ireland. We work closely with our colleagues in DRD and DOE.
DISSEMINATION
 
Recommendation 27: An illustrated Executive Summary setting out best practice and key conclusions should be produced and consideration be given to an associated Conference in the summer of 2000. The Case Studies should be circulated and supported by facilitated workshops involving key players. This was implemented in 2000.

Correspondence from DSD
6 February 2008

DSD logo

Urban Regeneration Strategy Directorate

3rd floor Lighthouse Building
1 Cromac Place
Gasworks Business Park
Ormeau Road
Belfast BT7 2JB

Telephone: (028) 90 829381
Network: 38381
Facsimile: (028) 90 829389
Email: Beverley.Cowan@dsdni.gov.uk

6 February 2008
Your reference: CSD/ ITCR/JH
Our reference: DSI-07-13194

Ms Marie Austin
Committee for Social Development
Room 412
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Marie

Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

I apologise for the delay in replying to your letter of 20 November 2007 about public / private sector leverage in relation to urban regeneration schemes.

The information in the enclosed tables relates to Comprehensive Development, Urban Development Grant and Town Centre Promotions / Marketing schemes by city / town. Table A is a list of schemes completed within the past 5 years. Table B contains details of schemes currently underway and those at the planning stage are listed in Table C.

It should be noted that the public funding and private sector leverage figures for current and projected schemes are best estimates by officials. It should also be noted that the ratios vary significantly depending on the nature of the scheme with Comprehensive Development Schemes (CDs) attracting the highest ratio and promotions/marketing the least.

In relation to CDs we aim for these schemes to be cost neutral to DSD where the Department owns the site and the only outlay is consultancy or legal costs which the Department aims to recoup from the developer. However, if DSD has to assemble a site and clear or decontaminate it, the ratio will be much less because there will be significant costs before the private sector will show an interest. It should be noted that land acquisition and site assembly costs must be budgeted for when they are incurred and it can be a number of years before there is a return on the Department’s investment. This adds further complexity to the calculation of leverage figures.

Generally speaking, investment in public realm and environmental improvements is borne by the public sector. These schemes create a more attractive environment for shoppers, increase footfall to boost trade in the town centre and consequently stimulate further investment by the private sector. However, in certain schemes the developer may be required to fund public realm works as a condition of the development agreement or as a requirement of the planning consent. The table does not therefore include public money invested in Public Realm and Environmental Improvement schemes. However, relevant Peace 2.11 projects are included as these were dependent upon private sector investment.

If you require further information please let me know.

Yours sincerely

Beverley Cowan

Table A
Completed Schemes

Name of Town /
City / NDPB
Details Public Sector
Investment by DSD
Private Sector Levered Ratio
Armagh Lonsdale Road CD scheme – Site assembly and legal costs
£1,331,500
£2,106,000
1 : 2
Belfast Urban Development Grant

CD Schemes Belfast
£6,200,000

£6,500,000
£25,000,000

£33,900,000
1 : 4

1 :5
Laganside Non Departmental Public Body established 1989 and dissolved 2007
£32,976,000
£191,260,000
1 :
Carrickfergus Maritime Area CD Scheme – Site Assembly and Clearance
£4,000,000
£21,000,000
1 : 5
Derry Urban Development Grant

(PEACE 11)

CD Scheme
£2,415,981

£86,989

£1,000,000
£9,916,633

£86,989

£6,000,000
1 : 5

1 : 1

1 : 6
Dungannon Peace II business grants
£247,314
£182,064
Less than one
Lisburn Historic Quarter Grants to businesses
£38,000
£42,000
1 : 1
Lurgan CD Scheme – Site assembly and Road costs
£5,500,000
£8,360,000
1 : 2
Omagh Riverside CD scheme, site assembly and development
£3,300,000
£0
Portrush Shop Fronts Scheme
£20,000
£45,000
1 : 2
Strabane CD Scheme –ASDA

PEACE II
£500,000

£66,264
£15,000,000

£131,808
1 : 30

1 : 2

Table B
Current Schemes

Name Of Town /
City / NDPB
Details Public Sector Investment By DSD Private Sector Levered (Projected) Ratio
Ballymoney Urban Development Grant (UDG) projects
£467,800
£4,153,500
1 : 8
BallynaHinch Promotions and Marketing – Part Funding
£22,500
£15,000
Less than one
Banbridge Promotions and Marketing – Part Funding
£39,000
£20,000
Less than one
Belfast Victoria Square Urban Development Grant

CD Schemes

Belfast

Arthur Square Public Realm

CD scheme
£1,300,000

£5,800,000

£11,309,000

NIL * (see footnote)1
£5,200,000

£30,300,000

£268,000

£320,000,000


1 : 4

1 :5

Less than 1
Coleraine Abbey Street and Mall CD schemes – Consultancy and legal costs

Promotions & marketing
£300,000


£75,000
£115,000,000


£75,000
1 : 383


1 : 1
Derry Urban Development Grant
£1,232,738
£8,801,031
1 :7
Dungannon UDG projects
£81,000
£630,000
1 : 8
Enniskillen Eden Street CD Scheme – Consultancy, legal and site costs
£250,000
£15,000,000
1 : 60
Holywood Hibernia Street CD Scheme - Consultancy, legal and site holding costs
£150,000
£20,000,000
1 : 133
Kilkeel Promotions & marketing
£30,000
£10,000
Less than one
Larne UDG
£1,126,233
£4,079,700
1 : 3
Lurgan Urban Development Grant
£756,388
£4,693,637
1 : 6
Strabane Urban Development Grant
£30,400
£219,191
1 : 7

1 No cost for site assembly as Government will recover the costs of assembling the site and, in addition, will have a share of additional profit over and above a reasonable level of profit for the developer.

Table C
Projected Schemes

Name Of Town /
City / NDPB
Details Public Sector Investment By DSD Private Sector Levered (Projected) Ratio
Antrim CD schemes, Consultancy, Legal and holding costs
£500,000
£60,000.000
1 : 120
Armagh CD schemes on key sites – Consultancy Costs
£100,000
£7,000,000
1 : 70
Ballymena CDs, Alexander Street, Springwell Street and Bridge Street – Consultancy, legal and site holding costs
£550,000
£70,000,000
1 : 127
Bangor CD scheme – Queens Parade Consultancy, legal and site holding costs
£600,000
£120,000,000
1 : 200
Belfast Urban Development Grant

Belfast City Centre Projected Schemes

CD Schemes

Belfast
£3,500,000

NIL

£13,200,000
£10,500,000

£360,000,000

£69,000,000
1 : 4

-

1 : 6
Derry City Hotel – CD Scheme
£200,000
£26,500,000
1 : 133
Dungannon CD schemes – Consultancy, legal and site holding costs
£300,000
£20,000,000
1 : 67
Larne CD Schemes – Consultancy, Legal and site holding costs
£500,000
£40,000,000
1 : 80
Lisburn Laganbank Quarter CD Scheme – Consultancy, roads and site assembly
£15,000,000
£200,000,000
1 : 13
Lurgan CD Scheme – Consultancy, Legal and site assembly
£500,000
£105,000,000
1 : 210
Newry Albert Basin CD Scheme – Consultancy, work on weir and Public Realm
£4,500,000
£100,000,000
1 : 22
Omagh CD Schemes on key sites, Consultancy and legal costs
£300,000
£20,000,000
1 :67
Portadown Curran Street – CD scheme, Vesting of site

Town Centre car parks CD scheme
£2,000,000

£500,000
£12,000,000

£40,000,000
1 : 6

1 : 80
Portrush CD Scheme - Western Peninsula Strategy Consultancy and Public Realm
£5,000,000
£80,000,000
1 : 16

 

Correspondence from DSD
2 June 2009

DSD logo

Robert Kidd
Department for Social Development
Lighthouse Building
1 Cromac Place
Gasworks Business Park
Ormeau Road
Belfast BT7 2JB

2 June 2009

Assembly Ref: CSD/009/2008/JH
Peter McCallion
Committee Clerk
Committee for Social Development
Room 412
Parliament Buildings
BELFAST
BT4 3XX

Dear Peter,

Town Centre Regeneration Policy Stocktake

Thank you for your letter of the 6 May 2009. Please find attached at Appendix A the responses from the Department in respect of the questions posed by the Committee.

Also, please find attached at Appendix B an overview of the stocktake document.

Many Thanks,

Robert Kidd

Appendix A

Town Centre Regeneration Policy Stocktake

As officials indicated at the meeting, the Department acknowledges that a comprehensive policy framework for urban regeneration and community development does not currently exist. The internal stocktake process in the Department, last year, highlighted the need for this framework and also outlined some issues with existing policies. On foot of this the Department will be engaging in a public process to create a policy framework which is fit to serve the needs of the post 2011 world of partnership working between the Department and the 11 new Councils.

The EDAW report will feed into this work but it is a decade old, and was developed in a very different time. Consequently, the Department is not committed to necessarily implementing those recommendations which apply to our area of responsibility. In relation to the specific points raised in your letter:

Q. In respect of EDAW Recommendation #3, has the Department developed a common monitoring and evaluation system to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland town centres?

A. The Department has not developed a monitoring and evaluation system. We have started work on bringing together an evidence base for town centres which will allow us to develop the indicators which might be measured in a monitoring evaluation. In connection with this, DSD has subscribed to the Experian Goad data to provide some town centre information and work is nearing completion on a review of information required to support departmental business. Departmental statisticians are also working with policy officials to explore other options for capturing and analysing data.

Q. Does the Department believe that existing arrangements for town centre management meet EDAW Recommendation #4 which indicates that town centre management arrangements are essential for town centre reinvigoration?

A. Effective town centre management was highlighted as a critical success factor in the Department’s ‘Vital and Viable’ publication. The Department does not have a preferred form or structure for town centre management as there is no clear evidence that any one arrangement works better than others. There are examples of excellent practice both where the function is delivered by a district council and where it is delivered by a separate company. There are also examples of effective arrangements which focus on a single town centre and where a number of towns are served by the same organisation. In view of this, the Department would not seek to impose one type of arrangement for all towns and we believe that the form of management in each town centre is a matter best left for local decision.

Q. Is the Department to devise KPIs for town centre reinvigoration (as indicated in EDAW Recommendation #5) and are these to be linked to the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy?

A. KPIs will be developed as part of the new policy framework and associated monitoring and evaluation system. Some of the KPIs will link to Neighbourhood Renewal themes. As indicated in response to the first question, the Department has started work on bringing together an evidence base for town centres which will allow us to develop indicators and the Department’s statisticians are working with policy officials to explore the options for capturing and analysing data.

Q. Does the Department believe that the Town Centre Living Initiative has met EDAW Recommendations #8 and #17 and positively encouraged the development of accommodation in town centres?

A. Town Centre Living has helped to provide some additional accommodation in town centres. However, the nature of the initiative means that its success is dependent on take up by private sector property owners and the number of units which it is able to develop in any one town centre is modest.

It is important to note that this is not the only mechanism by which the Department has sought to encourage the development of residential accommodation in town centres. The development briefs for town centre sites which have been issued by the Department in recent years have required mixed use schemes incorporating significant residential elements. This approach has secured substantial residential components in a number of mixed-use comprehensive development schemes.

Q. Does the Department concur with EDAW Recommendation #13 and view pedestrianisation as an option that should only be initiated as part of a comprehensive town centre regeneration scheme?

A. Pedestrianisation is primarily a matter for DRD. Pedestrianisation can help to make town centres a more attractive place for visitors – subject to careful consideration being given to issues such as access and passive security. The Department would take the view that Pedestrianisation should only be implemented where the case for it is clearly proven and well worked through. We would normally expect to see it delivered in conjunction with some other initiative or scheme – for example, as part of public realm improvements or in association with a major development scheme.

Q. Does the Department believe that the most important part of its function in respect of town centre regeneration is physical regeneration and does it view business development within the masterplanning process as adequately guiding public and private sector investment as per EDAW Recommendation #14?

A. Economically sustainable development is our most important objective. Major physical regeneration schemes have generated substantial numbers of jobs through both construction and operation.

The purpose of producing masterplans is to provide a clear strategic framework which will guide public and private sector investment in town centres. To perform this function effectively, a masterplan must be based on solid evidence of the economic, social and environmental factors the town centre and draw on this evidence to provide robust strategies for the development of all relevant economic sectors.

Q. Is the Department to amend its policies to ensure that as EDAW Recommendation #18 suggests town centre strategies explicitly state the implications of their proposals for social inclusion?

A. All DSD policies already have a social inclusion dimension and strategies and schemes normally have a social inclusion or outreach element. For example, the masterplans being produced for towns and cities across Northern Ireland will consider, amongst other things, how town centres can be better linked to the communities which surround them and how they can be made more accessible and welcoming for all sections of the community. Social inclusion objectives have been included in all of the development briefs issued by the Department in recent years.

Q. How do the Department’s policies comply with EDAW Recommendation #23 in the active promotion of Town Centre Management and will the Department, in future, promote and support Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)?

A. DSD actively promotes effective Town Centre Management and, in this regard, has sponsored delivery of a local course by Associations of Town Centre Management. The Minister has written to her Ministerial colleagues in DFP and DoE regarding the proposal that legislation be introduced to allow the creation of statutory BIDs in Northern Ireland.

Q. Can the Department set out the progress in masterplanning for all cities and towns in Northern Ireland?

A. Masterplans or town centre strategies have been prepared for:

In addition, the Department has sponsored the following masterplans and strategies which are currently in the process of being produced:

The Department also plans to begin work on masterplans or strategies for the following towns within the coming year.

Q. Can the Department set out the effectiveness of its use of powers under the Planning Order to – vest properties and - promote Town Centre Regeneration?

A. Vesting powers have proved vital in assembling sites to allow regeneration. The Department views contested vesting as a very serious matter and very much a final recourse. Therefore, the powers would not be used unless the Department is fully satisfied that their use is necessary to allow a regeneration scheme to proceed. In that sense, the power to vest land is very effective and this can be demonstrated in each case where they have been used.

The wider question of whether the powers have been effective in promoting town centre regeneration in general is more difficult to determine as it is almost impossible to establish a counterfactual situation against which the impact can be tested. The Department is currently investigating some new approaches to the use of regeneration powers which have emerged in Great Britain in recent years to

Q. Can the Department provide an update on the effectiveness of Comprehensive Development Schemes?

A. There have been a range of very effective Comprehensive Development schemes and even in current market conditions a number are progressing. Good schemes, such as Foyleside, improve the wider urban offering, attract major private sector investment, redevelop derelict sites and create jobs.

Q. Can the Department provide an update on the operation and effectiveness of the Urban Development Grant?

A. Urban Development Grant is popular in current market conditions and is most effective in advancing projects which are on the margins of economic viability. However, fluctuations in market conditions mean that the Grant is difficult for both developers and the Department to administer.

Q. Can the Department provide an update on the operation and effectiveness of:

A. Public Realm Schemes have clearly contributed to increased vitality and foot fall in scheme areas.

Shop front schemes have also helped in improving business of shops involved which are fundamentally sound. A recent scheme in Coalisland has brought about a significant increase in turnover for the participating businesses.

Some Town Centre Promotion Schemes have proved very successful for resident and visitor alike – others have not delivered on initial promise.

When all 3 strands of work are taken forward in concert between the private and public sector a virtuous circle has been established with the various strands complementing the other e.g. Newcastle.

Appendix B

Stocktake of Urban Regeneration & Community Development Policies

In April 2008, the Urban Regeneration and Community Development Group in the Department for Social Development commissioned an internal stocktake of its urban regeneration and community development policies.

This stocktake was posited as the first stage in developing an urban regeneration framework which will determine how the Group will operate in the future. This framework will be particularly relevant in the context of the Review of Public Administration, which will see the operational aspects of many of the Group’s policies devolved to local councils.

The key components of the internal stocktake were:

These were supplemented by:

The proposed methodology was as follows:

Findings

Qualitative research and discussions with both policy and operational staff resulted in a greater awareness of the broad range of areas in which the Group operates. They also suggested several key areas in need of urgent attention as URCDG works towards establishing a policy framework and the transfer of selected functions to local councils.

The initial focus of the exercise was on the policies and programmes; however, it soon became apparent that, whilst it was fairly straightforward to compile an inventory, examining and valuing the Group’s policies and programmes was a task beyond the scope of the exercise. Evaluation at policy and programme level is an issue within URCDG. This inevitably made any comprehensive discussion and analysis unfeasible, as it would be limited, subjective and unsubstantiated. More time and additional resources would be required to facilitate this level of detailed investigation.

Conclusions

Three main conclusions can be drawn from the qualitative research and structured interviews with URCDG Directorates:

1. Policy making is not always evidence based

2. Strong monitoring and evaluation structures are absent from policy development

3. No strategic framework exists to determine the direction of the Group’s policies and programmes

Recommendations

The following recommendations were put forward:

Policy
Programmes
Legislation
Urban Regeneration
Urban Regeneration
Urban Regeneration
People and Place - A Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal 2003

The Heart of the City: Urban Design Strategy for Derry 2003

Belfast City Centre Regeneration Policy Statement 2004

People and Place: Reflections of a City – Public Realm Strategy for Belfast City Centre 2005
Environmental Improvement 1970s

Comprehensive Development 1973

Urban Development Grant 1982

Strategic Regeneration Frameworks 2008
Social Need (Northern Ireland) Order 1986

Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991

Miscellaneous Transferred Excise Duties Act (NI) 1972

Licensing (NI) Order 1996

Registration of Clubs (NI) Order 1996

Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985

Shops (Sunday Trading &c,) (NI) Order 1997

Street Trading Act (NI) 2001

Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005
Community Development
Community Development
Community Development
Compact between the Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector 1998

Opening Doors: The Strategy for the Delivery of Voluntary Advice Services to the Community 2007

Volunteering Strategy (Currently under development)

Support Services Strategy (Currently under development)
Community Support Programme 1975

Volunteer Bureau Initiative 1980s

Community Volunteering Scheme 1980s

Local Community Fund 2003

Modernisation Fund 2005 (revenue) & 2007 (capital)

Community Investment Fund 2006

Areas at Risk Pilot Programme 2006

Regional Infrastructure Programme 2006

Community Capacity Building Programme (Revised) 2007
Charities (Northern Ireland) Order 2007 (Draft Order)

Appendix 4

Other Written Submissions

Alliance Boots

Antrim Borough Council

Ards Borough Council

Armagh City and District Council

Association of Town Centre Management- Northern Ireland

Ballymena Borough Council

Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District

Banbridge District Council

Bangor & Holywood Town Centres Ltd

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce

Belfast City Council

Big Lottery Fund

Carrickfergus Borough Council

City Centre Initiative (CCI) Derry

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd

Colin Neighbourhood Partnership

Comber Regeneration

Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure

Committee for Finance and Personnel

Cookstown District Council and Cookstown Town Centre Forum

Craigavon Borough Council

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Department for Employment and Learning

Department of Finance and Personnel

Department for Regional Development

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

Department of the Environment

Department of the Environment

Department of the Environment

Disability Action

Disability Action

Down District Council

Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council

Federation of Small Businesses

Fermanagh District Council

Larne Borough Council

Leaside Development Ltd

Limavady Borough Council

Lisburn City Centre Management Ltd

Lisburn City Council

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce

Newcastle Chamber of Commerce

Newry and Mourne District Council

North Down Borough Council

Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations

Northern Ireland Local Government Association

Northern Ireland Local Government Association

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Portadown 2000

Portadown Chamber of Commerce

Sport Northern Ireland

Strabane 2000

Strabane Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Imtac and the Regional Access Committee

Alliance Boots

Submission to the NI Assembly Social Development Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Introduction

Alliance Boots has approximately 2,300 stores in the UK and Irish Republic where we serve around 8 million customers every week, following the merger of Boots the Chemist and Alliance Pharmacies in 2007. In Northern Ireland, we have 90 pharmacies and health & beauty outlets serving the community, both in large city centre stores and in smaller local premises. Alliance Boots employs over 1300 staff in Northern Ireland and we take seriously our roles both as leaders in retail and as a trusted name in community pharmacy.

At Alliance Boots we have long understood the need for a healthy external environment as a pre-cursor for the long-term commercial success of our business. This understanding lies right at the heart of a company founded on similar shared values to the philanthropic Quaker industrialists over a century ago. Our founders recognised that healthy communities led to successful business.

A century and a half later, these values live on, underpinning much of what we as a business do today. Indeed, it has been Boots, and now Alliance Boots’, historical recognition that effective management of the local environment surrounding our stores can deliver significant commercial value to the business that has shaped current policy making in this area. Influencing the external trading environment is therefore as much about driving profitability as it is about living our values as a responsible corporate citizen.

The retail sector is growing in Northern Ireland and in 2006/07 jobs in retail grew by 31,000[1]. Across the UK, retail employment has grown by more than twice the employment rate of any other sector over the last 20 years. In this context the potential of retail as a powerful tool in town and city centre regeneration becomes clear.

We also understand the importance that the town centre plays in the identities of local communities. It is a crucial element of the pride and belonging that people feel about the place where they live. For all these reasons, we welcome the Committee’s Inquiry and feel certain that it will contribute to the debate which aims to ensure that we have the policies in place to support and deliver the social and economic aspirations of our communities.

1. The scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

In Northern Ireland, Town Centre Partnerships are well established and in our experience there are some excellent models of practice here. We would single out Coleraine Town Centre Partnership Ltd, for instance, as a good example of such an organisation. The factors that make this particular partnership stand out in our view are:

Other notable examples include Ballymena, Lisburn and Derry/Londonderry.

While the achievements of these partnerships are to be commended, it is also important that we consider the challenges that partnerships elsewhere may be facing, perhaps because of their local circumstances, or because they are in the fledgling stages of development or for other reasons. It is our experience, as core funders of 100 such partnerships and participants in over 400 across the UK,

We have observed that often, robust and successful partnerships tend to grow and prosper as they are in a position to grasp opportunities and develop. Conversely, those weaker partnerships can often find that they are not in a position to respond to opportunity and can become increasingly disadvantaged. Policy mechanisms which promote best practice across partnerships, and which support weaker partnerships or help new ones to develop, would be to the advantage of the community as a whole.

We welcome the Department of Regional Development’s draft Planning Policy Statement 5 which sets out, amongst other matters, the role of the Department of Social Development in town centre regeneration. However, we believe that there could be an important central role for government in empowering and facilitating town centre regeneration initiatives across Northern Ireland, which the current draft PPS5 does not provide for. We would also stress the importance of meaningful engagement with the business community, which in our view is essential.

2. Areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

The key point we would like to make here is one of sustainability. Many Town Centre Partnerships in Northern Ireland have to date benefited from EU funding, much of which will shortly come to an end. This makes the search for alternative funding sources particularly pressing and for this reason we would urge the Committee to explore alternative mechanisms to create sustainable Town Centre Partnerships. One such mechanism could be Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) which is explored later in this document.

3. The nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

Alliance Boots has been a pro-active supporter of Town Centre Partnerships since they were first introduced in the late 1980s.

At the heart of these initiatives was the desire to forge relationships between the business community and the public sector through which traditional inner-city commercial centres could be regenerated and local retail activity revitalised. It was (then) Boots’ long-standing view that store performance could be significantly affected by the quality of the external trading environment around it. Alliance Boots has put much energy into securing its place at the forefront in the development of Town and City Centre Management initiatives across the UK.

Annually we currently contribute £150,000 to Town and City Centre partnerships and a further £250,000 to Business Improvement Districts. We have budgeted for the combined investment in these two areas to grow over the next five years. We also make available the knowledge and expertise of staff to local Partnerships built up over almost two decades.

Examples of this more practical support include the Programme for Newly Appointed Town Managers. This training course was designed and is facilitated by us, and we have made it available to all Association of Town Centre Management members. The course is offered free of charge although we view the programme not in terms of the cost but in terms of the long-term benefits to town centre regeneration and development. We also produce a series of best-practice briefs providing practical information on a range of aspects relevant to the development of successful Town Centre Partnerships. They are available to both Town Centre and Store Managers, and are distributed via a number of external bodies where they are available on their websites.

With the reinvigoration of town centres now at the forefront of the UK Government’s political, economic and social agenda it is clear that the importance and development of town centre management partnerships will increase. We have been, and continue to lobby for a greater focus on the mechanism to deliver Government policies at local level. Without an effective local partnership excellent centrally-driven policies and schemes could founder.

Likewise, we have already pointed out the urgent sustainability issues facing local Northern Ireland partnerships with the ending of key EU Funds. The consideration of Business Improvement Districts for Northern Ireland should be viewed in this context.

4. Relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

Alliance Boots is currently working on a number of key areas of public policy, in addition to Town Centre Partnerships, that we see as central to the growth and regeneration of town and city centres.

1. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs)

A Business Improvement District (BID) is ‘a partnership between a local authority and the local business community to develop projects and services that will benefit the trading environment within the boundary of a clearly defined commercial area’[2]. Over 55 BIDs have now been established across England and Wales and legislation has also been passed in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.

In the case of BIDs, it is our belief that they may be one way of providing the opportunity needed for Town Centre Management schemes to achieve the long-term sustainability required in Northern Ireland. By moving away from a voluntary contribution system toward an agreed levy driven by a majority membership vote, business-led local partnerships could generate the levels of funding needed for the establishment of truly successful community schemes. This system creates a guaranteed income stream which can then be used as leverage to attract other sources of funding. We have observed many BIDs schemes where up to 50% of turnover comes from non-BIDs income in the form of matched funding and through exploiting other commercial opportunities.

Alliance Boots’ approach has been to engage in and influence the BID debate in Britain so as to ensure BIDs only move forward where they are going to make a real difference. To assist this process we have led the sector in developing clear but challenging ‘key criteria’ which we believe are essential to a successful BID programme. These key criteria include, for example:

to name but a few.[3] We do not promote BIDs, but recognise that in certain circumstances they may contribute to establishing effective and sustainable local partnerships.

We also note the recent research carried out by the University of Ulster on behalf of Belfast City Council which consulted local businesses on the principles of BIDs. The findings were in the main supportive, with the following conditions viewed as crucial:

These principles to us would seem essential components of whichever mechanisms are chosen to regenerate town and city centres in Northern Ireland.

2. Town Centre Crime Partnerships

Robust and effective Town and City Centre Partnerships have, in many cases, also helped the evolution of Town Centre Crime Partnerships. These partnerships, now established across some 200 towns and cities in the UK, are made up of local stakeholders with the aim of developing a coordinated response to town centre crime. No two Crime Partnerships are the same as they are required to adapt and respond to local needs. However, they incorporate similar mechanisms. These often include measures such as: CCTV, radio links and initiatives to target known offenders. Others may include issues such as: liaising with other ‘warden services’ who deal with graffiti and vandalism; improving car parking and examining street-scaping; liasing with schools and tackling drug-related crime; working pro-actively with first time young offenders and so on.[5]

Alliance Boots has sought to ensure that the delivery of effective Retail Crime Partnerships forms an integral part of all BID Business Plans.

3. Transport & Access

At Alliance Boots we recognise the need to manage access to our urban centres, and we also recognise that without positive measures to reduce congestion the relative attractiveness of town centres as thriving and healthy communities will suffer. That is why we believe substantive engagement on all aspects of transport policy should be motivated by a need to strike a balance which can improve the health of the local community without threatening the ability of business to operate effectively.

Alliance Boots sit on the British Retail Consortium Transport Group and chairs research development of a ‘Transport Toolkit’ to assist local partnerships to engage constructively in debates on access and local transportation. The Group includes senior figures from the retail sector as well as representatives from the Department of Transport. The Toolkit sets out the principles involved to help local businesses inform local debate and will be available from February 2008.

Andy Godfrey

Public Policy Manager (Regional and Local Government), Alliance Boots
and
Visiting Researcher, School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster

Andy Godfrey

Andy Godfrey began his retail career in store operations, initially with Marks and Spencer and later for Boots the Chemists.

During the past decade, as Public Policy Manager for the Boots Group (now Alliance Boots) he has actively supported the development of effective Private/Public sector partnerships in towns and cities across the UK. Boots were founder members of the Association of Town Centre Management, and it remains the company’s ambition to contribute to effective public/private sector partnerships wherever they are making a genuine difference to the vitality and viability of trading centres. As Public Policy Manager within the Alliance/Boots Group current responsibilities include working with national, regional and local bodies throughout the UK to understand and influence the impact of public policy on retailing.

Andy has written a number of articles and publications on urban management policies and strategies including, ‘Establishing effective security partnerships’, ‘Access and Transport policy – a retail perspective’, ‘Creating sustainable partnerships`, ‘Business Plans that deliver`, `Local Taxation and local business engagement’ and `Business improvement Districts – criteria for private sector support`.

Andy is a Board member of a number of organisations including the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), Action Against Business Crime (AABC), and London’s New West End Company BID. Other responsibilities include Chairman of the Local Taxation and BID Policy Advisory Group’s at the British Retail Consortium.

He is also a Visiting Researcher at the School for the Built Environment at the University of Ulster.

[1] Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment NI Economic Bulletin 2007

[2] www.ukbids.org website of the National BIDs Advisory Service, November 2007

[3] Town and City Centre Partnerships, Andy Godfrey, Public Policy Manager, Alliance Boots, January 2007

[4] Business Improvement Districts, The Development Brief, Belfast City Council, February 2007

[5] Retail Crime Partnerships, Andy Godfrey, Public Policy Manager Alliance Boots, January 2007

Antrim Borough Council

Taking each of the four elements of the terms of reference in turn, Council offers its response as follows:

Assessing the scope and effectiveness of the policies and programmes adopted by the Department for Social Development (DSD) to regenerate town centres

DSD now has the specific remit for urban regeneration which suggests a clear focus to drive forward and implement government policy. However there are other government departments that also impact directly and indirectly on the regeneration of town centres including local authorities and, in particular the Department of the Environment through the Planning Service, the Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment through Invest Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Department of Regional Development through Roads Service. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has responsibility for the ‘Town Centre Living Initiative’[1] which can influence town centre regeneration strategies. There is evidence that government is not fully joined up in this respect which at best limits the effectiveness of DSD and at worst actually undermines its strategic role for urban regeneration.

Councils have taken various initiatives since 1995 to help regenerate their town centres including establishing town centre management partnerships using the EU Structural Funds towards staffing and running costs. Due to the limited funding available many of these partnerships have been unable to undertake physical projects and have largely been restricted to local marketing activities that have had relatively low impact. These partnerships may also not survive given that the latest round EU funding for local economic development cannot be used by councils for town centre regeneration (correct at the time of writing).

Identifying areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty

The department has been using criteria devised in 2005[2] to define towns and other settlements to determine eligibility for some programmes; in its application, this criteria has meant that some towns, although not officially recognised as such for example Crumlin, have been unable to benefit from DSD town centre regeneration initiatives. Disadvantage and poverty are also characteristics of rural areas throughout Northern Ireland where small towns that may be classified as ‘intermediate settlements’ perform a crucial function for rural dwellers in terms of retaining vital services and sustaining rural communities.

In recent years the large supermarkets have been expanding into new sites in and around the edges of town centres throughout Northern Ireland. For the most part, the opening of new supermarkets have been relatively unrestrained in the interests of wider economic development but the department could be doing more to influence the planning gain opportunities that should be part and parcel of these developments so that the community as a whole and town centre stakeholders in particular can see the mutual benefits for themselves.

Considering the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives

The department has been building relationships with local councils primarily through its regional offices. In a number of areas it have been the councils which have been proactive in this respect by commissioning town centre masterplans which have in turn been used to influence the department to prioritise regeneration projects. In Antrim and more recently in Crumlin and Randalstown, the council has ensured that the masterplans for each of the three towns have been prepared as a result of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders thereby ensuring that the department is fully aware of bottom-up needs and expectations.

There seems to be a genuine commitment by the department to engage with local communities in the interests of effective town centre regeneration strategies but more work needs to be done, through local councils, to sustain and develop relationships particularly with traders and residents to demonstrate real partnership on the ground. The DSD’s ‘Town Centre Marketing and Promotion Programme’ was launched in June 2005 without any consultation or prior warning, not least with the local councils that were the only bodies eligible to apply.

A community planning approach should assist town centre re-invigoration. The local authority should be the lead public service organisation to conceptualise and implement regeneration initiatives.

Identifying and considering relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions

There is undoubtedly good practice in effective town centre regeneration strategies throughout the EU, including the Republic of Ireland where, for example, parts of the public sector have been relocated from Dublin in favour of towns in rural areas which has made a significant contribution to sustaining smaller settlements. In Germany and in France the retail core of towns has been preserved and even enhanced by meaningful engagement and partnership with local communities and by positive and sympathetic planning policies. Towns have been ‘reinvented’ by integrating government policies so that, for example, in France the respective local tourism authorities work with central government to create tourist trails where a number of towns are linked up with themes such as breads, wines and other unique specialisms. In north America, very successful partnerships have been established between the public and private sectors to bring about regeneration in towns that have been in decline or suffering from the effects of out-of-town retail developments.

Antrim Borough Council
29 November 2007

[1] Also known as ‘Living Over The Shop (LOTS)’

[2] The Report of the Inter-Departmental Urban-Rural Definition Group on Statistical Classification and Delineation of Settlements published by NISRA (February 2005).

Antrim Borough Council

Our Ref: GG/BR ED/92

Ms Marie Austin
Committee Clerk
Room 410
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Ms Austin

Social Development Committee – Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Please find attached an Addendum to Antrim Borough Council’s submission to the Social Development Committee’s Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

As set out in the Addendum Council wishes to bring to the Committee’s attention its continuing commitment to the regeneration of Antrim town centre following comments made to the Inquiry by the Northern Ireland Independent Trade Association.

In addition, Council would be delighted to welcome the Social Development Committee to Antrim to discuss the town, the Master Plan and progress with DSD’s Regeneration Plan. I will be happy to make the necessary arrangements should the Committee be able to schedule a visit.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information.

Best regards.

Yours sincerely

Geraldine Girvan
Director of Development and Leisure

Antrim Borough Council

Addendum to submission by Antrim Borough Council

Antrim Borough Council is submitting this Addendum in direct response to comments made about Council by the current and previous Chief Executives of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) at two Social Development Committee meetings addressing the Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

Council is concerned that comments made on behalf of NIIRTA relating both to Antrim town and to Council’s actions are not factual and are misleading. Naturally, Council wishes the Social Development Committee to be aware of the facts before it concludes its current Inquiry.

The relevant minutes are:

Minutes of Evidence 22nd November 2007
19th June 2008

1.1 Antrim Town Centre’s vitality and viability have been a key priority for Antrim Borough Council for over a decade.

1.2 Council established Antrim Towns Development Company (ATDC) in the 1990s and then funded 2 full time members of staff (utilising EU grant aid provided through the Building Sustainable Prosperity Programme which matched Council’s investment pound for pound).

1.3 With the winding down of the EU programme from 2004, Council duly reviewed budgets, commitments and outputs achieved as a result of the funding programme and established that although it remained totally committed to the regeneration of Antrim town, it was no longer tenable to fund the ATDC’s 2 full time members of staff. As an alternative, existing Council officers were made available to (i) provide a full administrative service to Antrim Towns Development Company’s Board of Directors at no direct cost to the company – this arrangement is still in place today and (ii) to dedicate another existing post to the regeneration of Antrim town, Crumlin and Randalstown.

1.4 Since 2004 Council has fully supported ATDC’s voluntary board of directors in the delivery of a successful Community Property Development Scheme (including a financial contribution in the sum of £33,000 towards capital costs); the building is now occupied by business tenants and returning a rental to ATDC which will go towards further developments. Council has also provided ATDC full administrative and operational support for the delivery of a successful Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) in Antrim town which completed this year. The Council is currently preparing a second THI bid in partnership with ATDC for submission to HLF.

1.5 In addition, Council’s ongoing commitment to the development of Antrim town continues in a range of ways:

(i) Council, in 2005, commissioned a Master Plan for Antrim town and created a Master Plan Steering Group. The Committee may wish to note that the Antrim Master Plan was instrumental in persuading the Department for Social Development to commission a Regeneration Plan for the town and GVA Grimley have been appointed to undertake this major assignment. DSD’s Regeneration Plan will assemble and prioritise a range of sites in the town for development and investment.

(ii) The Master Plan Steering Group, led and supported by Council comprises a range of key stakeholders including Antrim Towns Development Company, management personnel from Castle Mall and Junction 1 and a range of key statutory agencies: the Department of Social Development, NIHE, Roads Service, Planning Service, NEELB, Translink and PSNI. The Group is actively working directly with DSD on the development of the Department’s Regeneration Plan and to date has successfully started a number of schemes to improve traffic, parking and access to the town centre with the support of local traders and businesses.

(iii) The access initiative will reduce the pedestrian zone around the courthouse allowing restricted parking, loading, disabled bays and putting in place a taxi rank. Further phases will reintroduce buses to the lower end of the town bringing, for example, additional footfall adjacent to the new Castle Mall extension and Courthouse.

(iv) Council has been successful in applying to the NI Housing Executive for the Town Centre Living Initiative (LOTS) scheme to help proactively promote town centre living and contribute to developing an evening economy; work is underway with a significant number of property owners in the town to secure grants.

(v) Council successfully applied to the Department for Social Development for grant aid for town centre marketing and promotion creating a fund of £150,000 including £75,000 directly from Council; this very successful project included landmark lighting schemes, improved signage and promotional shopping deal schemes benefiting retailers in the town as well as window display promotions and events.

(vi) In 2004 council acquired the former Antrim Courthouse with a view to developing it due to its strategic significance in the town centre. After a comprehensive consultation process contractors are about to be appointed and the refurbishment should be underway by the end of the calendar year (cost £2m approx).

(vii) For a number of years Council and more recently alongside the Master Plan Steering Group have worked closely with NEELB officials to secure a site for a new library in the town. Construction of a new state of the art flagship library is now underway on part of the ‘Ulster Bar Corner’ site.

(viii) In conjunction with the Department for Social Development Council submitted an Expression of Interest in the remainder of the ’ Ulster Bar Corner’ site in Antrim through the recent public sector trawl for land disposal; this represents another key site in the town centre. The joint approach was agreed in order to ensure that the site is appropriately developed.

(ix) Council has reached Stage 2 of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Urban Parks Programme with an application to reinstate Antrim Castle Gardens located in the town centre. If successful the investment by HLF and Council will be just under £6m

(x) Council has and continues to work very closely with Centenary Investments, owners of Castle Mall. The Mall has recently benefited from a significant investment and extension bringing new traders to the town.

(xi) Council has and continues to work with Junction 1 particularly in relation to joint marketing initiatives. A major promotional campaign at Junction 1 launched earlier in the year encourages the 2.5million annual visitors to Junction 1 to visit other parts of Antrim including Antrim town centre.

Antrim Borough Council
September 2008

Ards Borough Council

Appendix II

1. Introduction

Ards Borough Council is pleased to provide, as requested, written evidence in regard to the Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. The Council has developed extensive knowledge through experience of town centre regeneration, initially (since 1997) through economic development actions in partnership with bodies including Chambers of Trade, and in recent years as a strategic element of the Council’s 2005-2009 Corporate Plan and as a component part of the associated Development Strategy for the same period. Moreover, since May 2006, the Council has invested in a dedicated Regeneration Officer, whose brief is to develop practical actions in regard to town centre development, including the creation of Strategic Plans, implementing town centre marketing campaigns and events in partnership with other key stakeholders, realising where appropriate new structures such as constituted regeneration groups, managing rates monies (as part of the Council’s financial commitment to its town centres) and the associated investment from other bodies, including commercial sponsors and the Department for Social Development itself. In short, the Council considers regeneration within the Borough, and the development of its three town centres of Newtownards, Comber and Donaghadee, to be of major strategic and operational importance.

2. Specific Issues raised in the Terms of Reference

(a) Scope and Effectiveness

Ards Borough Council is corporately supportive of the scope and principles of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development. It is, however, acutely aware of the inadequacy of the execution of these programmes and policies. The Council recommends that the broad urban regeneration policy alone is set by the DSD, with associated programmes and actions being managed and delivered through Town Centre partnerships, managed by Councils but requiring an inclusive and action oriented town partnership body, properly constituted, with DSD present in an advisory capacity, with the DSD having no material involvement in setting terms of reference for Strategic Town Plans. Most if not all local authorities have the required partnership experience, local and regional knowledge, proper audit and governance structures to realise output driven, innovative and accountable delivery plans. The present process, which involves the DSD controlling for example the release of terms of reference for Master Plans, dependent upon exchequer / departmental budgets and associated criteria, is far removed from the reality of delivering actions on the ground, in the town centres, and in Newtownards as late as July 2007 the process entered a vacuum because of this present process. Having worked up the terms of reference, offered all or part of the finances (whichever the DSD preferred) and set a timeline for advertising and delivery of a Newtownards Master plan, the delivery was stalled, ostensibly until at the earliest April 2008, having previously been told in writing by DSD that the process could be completed – not started, but completed – by the end of March 2008. Budget issues within the Department and the policy of such plans being controlled by DSD have prevented the Master Plan from going out to advertisement. The associated demotivation of various partners was just one of the negative outturns. Furthermore, the Council believes that the delivery of the DSD’s policy on designating areas as Comprehensive Development Zones has been fraught with misinformation (what areas are eligible, how does designation come about), a lack of consistent, geographically spread outputs and recommends that this function is transferred to local government, again subject to a clear policy laid down by DSD.

The Council, also, believes based on knowledge through experience that undue weighting and advantage is given to Belfast, Londonderry and Newry, with few if any opportunities for environmental improvement schemes and comprehensive development zoning outside of these cities. This should be redressed and parity of opportunity across Northern Ireland should be a given.

(b) Disadvantage and Poverty

This question suggests a scope beyond town centre regeneration itself. Regeneration funding, per se, will not alleviate disadvantage or poverty but the existence and proper application of such funding, coupled with a practical strategy, as evidenced by the Council’s Community Development Plan 2007-9, which links the funding available to evidence based actions, is a prime example of funding and policy coming from the central authority and successful delivery coming from the local authority. This is NOT, however, apparent in regard to particular interventions concerning town centre regeneration.

(c) Engagement with Local Communities

The Council recommends to the DSD Committee that the local authority is charged with the statutory role of engaging with local communities in the area of DSD town centre regeneration, as in practice this is presently the case. Ards Borough Council’s 2007 – 2009 Community Development Plan provides a practical way to do this through town centre planning involving community groups in urban housing estates being materially involved in shaping retail and mixed capital developments, being involved in annual town centre festivals as participants not just attendees, and similar. Councils are, certainly, best placed and the policy scrutiny / observation role of DSD would be preferred, as opposed to being involved in process and delivery without any discernible local knowledge.

The Council would, however, acknowledge the flexibility, outputs (including targeting areas of greatest need) and decentralised approach prevalent in the existing DSD Community Development Grant and Support Plan processes, as acknowledged by practitioners such as advice centres, good relations and community development officers and other local stakeholders. This model is perhaps a good “in house" benchmark for the Committee in terms of the Town Centre Regeneration Inquiry.

Furthermore, in terms of engagement, the Council would point out that our work in areas such as Comber and Donaghadee has witnessed 3 different DSD officers as contacts in 3 years. Although willing, the DSD personnel have no working knowledge of the local area and the discontinuity has certainly hampered progress.

(d) Effectiveness elsewhere

By way of effectiveness in process terms, the Council recommends that DSD takes the same decentralising approach proposed for economic, rural and peace and reconciliation from April 2008, as proposed by DETI, DARD and SEUPB. Whilst it is accepted that the principles espoused in this decentralising approach to development planning still have a long way to go in practice, it is felt by Ards Borough Council that it is a move in the right direction, namely, that policy is provided by the central government department, with programme management and accountability being a function of the local authority and an inclusive local partnership, with monitoring of success realised in part by the central department itself and an independent audit team.

By way of effectiveness in practice, the Council would suggest that Falkirk represents town centre regeneration in its best light, with the Council acting as co-ordinator and catalyst for capital schemes including a new football stadium, translating policy derived from the Scottish Assembly into action for a town once perceived to be lost between Edinburgh and Glasgow, replete with out of date retailing and declining industries, now considered by media and economic analysts to have the best quality of life for residents anywhere in Scotland other than Stirling. This transformation has taken over ten years but was enabled by Assembly policy and implemented in full by Falkirk City Council.

(e) Conclusion

Ards Borough Council recommends that the Committee accepts the comments raised above based primarily on the local authority’s knowledge through experience of the issue at hand. It recommends that the DSD restricts its intervention to policy, funding and monitoring, creates greater flexibility without compromising accountability in terms of procurement of services, offers a three year funding programme as opposed to a year on year bidding process which restricts effective delivery because of short term reactive planning, carries through the transfer of function as espoused in the October 2007 Emerging Issues Paper and offers further opportunities to create Comprehensive Development Zones and planning incentives to regenerate specific areas of town centres based on evidence and sustainability, statutorily managed and co-ordinated by the Council in each urban area.

Ards Borough Council will, upon request, provide further information including copies of the strategies and plans referred to in the submission.

Derek McCallan

Director of Development
Ards Borough Council
6th November 2007

Armagh City and District Council

Northern Ireland Assembly
Committee for Social Development

Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration
Written Evidence from Armagh City and District Council

29 November 2007

About Armagh City and District

1. Armagh City and District area covers approximately 260 square miles and has a resident population of approximately 55,000. The District comprises the City of Armagh and the local towns of Keady, Markethill and Tandragee in addition to 14 villages and 22 hamlets.

Introduction to Armagh City and District Council

2. Armagh City and District Council (the Council) is proud of the services it provides and will continue to use its resources in a cost effective and efficient manner. The Council is committed to providing high quality services in an open, fair and accountable manner, for all people.

3. The Council’s four Corporate Goals are:

4. In addition, we continue to address local, regional and national issues through partnerships involving the community and business sectors, as well as government departments.

5. In 1999 we were instrumental in establishing Armagh City Centre Management which was set up to represent stakeholders in the city. It is a public private partnership set up to assist the planning, implementation and management of regeneration in the city centre. We continue to work in partnership with this group in the regeneration of Armagh City Centre. The Council’s Urban Regeneration Officer provides administrative support for this group.

6. We have been involved in the following projects, which have been funded by the Department of Social Development and other partners, and delivered by the Council:

7. The Council welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. We are proud of the work done to date in conjunction with the Department of Social Development and wish to express our gratitude for the financial support received and wish to highlight the good working relationships built up with Department staff.

8. It is an area in which we have gained substantial expertise in recent years on the above projects. Given this experience we are keen to highlight a number of lessons learned in the planning and implementation of the projects above in the hope that this will assist improved implementation of both capital and revenue projects in commercial centres. We feel this is an important opportunity in which to highlight some of the problems we have experienced, which, if resolved, would significantly improve delivery of Town Centre Regeneration both within our District and throughout Northern Ireland.

9. Armagh City and District Council is a member of the Northern Ireland Association of Town Centre Managers, who is also submitting evidence to the Inquiry.

Council Response to the Terms of Reference

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development (DSD) to regenerate town centres.

10. It is imperative that the role City and town centres play in the social, economic and cultural well-being of the settlement is recognised and that adequate resources are directed at co-ordinating initiatives aimed at regeneration. There should be recognition of the role urban centres play in the Northern Ireland economy, promoting and demonstrating civic pride and community safety and good relations, both in Urban and Rural settlements.

11. It is widely acknowledged that the regeneration of Town Centres requires a joined up approach by all sections of government – between Departments and between local and central government. This approach is widely endorsed in DSD’s own Good Practice Guide “Vital and Viable" (2007). The Council feels that to date a ‘joined up approach’ to regeneration does not happen in practice. It recommends that action is taken at a strategic level to ensure all central government departments (eg. Planning, Roads, Environment and Heritage, Culture, Housing and Community) with a role in town centre regeneration work together to develop and/or deliver the local town centre development strategy. In relation to Environmental Improvement Schemes, a principle of ‘joint responsibility’ should be adopted, to ensure individual departments work together to achieve the common goal.

12. Currently it would appear that there are inconsistencies across Northern Ireland in the use of the powers held by the Department and the funding directed for Town Centre Regeneration. For example, the frequency and speed of DSD interventions in terms of vesting and developing vacant sites and derelict properties varies between areas. In addition there appears to be inconsistencies in how DSD financial support is made available to Town Centre Partnerships and for development of strategic plans outside the cities of Belfast and Derry.

13. The Council is of the view that there is a lack of Policy, planning and long term budgets with regard to regeneration funding. There appears to be an absence of a clear rationale as to which Town Centres should receive funding, under what criteria and in what timeframe. The process by which funding becomes available at short notice at the end of financial years, does little to support a strategically planned and co-ordinated approach to regeneration.

14. The process for securing funding is also extremely time-consuming and involves significant duplication, especially in the context where Council’s, as the usual principle grant recipient operate within their own comprehensive financial regulations. Council’s, as elected local representative bodies, have great regard for ensuring proper use of financial resources. There is a need to review the financial management of capital projects in particular, so as to avoid unnecessary duplication of work and the extra costs associated with this for all parties.

15. Armagh City and District Council believes that in the fast moving times of Northern Ireland’s changing economic and political landscape the time has come for financial support for Town Centre Partnerships to be mainstreamed. The important role that these partnerships play in sustaining the health of our town centres and co-ordinating activity therein, must be recognised and adequate, sustainable funding allocated. Funding for strategies and masterplans is undermined by the lack of financial support for their implementation. Councils to date have borne the brunt of these support costs, however this is not sustainable in the long term. Engagement of the public and private sectors in achieving common regeneration goals will only be achieved when Town Centre Partnerships have a sustainable future, which relies on funding for town centre managers being made available.

16. Armagh City and District Council would support the introduction of legislation to permit Business Improvement Districts in Northern Ireland.

17. The Council is strongly of the view that where Community Planning responsibilities move to Council it is essential that urban regeneration and its associated budget must transfer also. In the context of the recent Emerging Findings Report (2007), the transfer of functions to Local Authorities for Planning, Urban Regeneration/Community Planning would require the appropriate structures and funding to be put in place to ensure effective delivery. The role of Central Government departments should continue by distributing funding as it would be unreasonable to expect Local Authorities to meet the cost of new regeneration responsibilities from the district rate. Town centre regeneration should be underpinned by wider Government strategies and local plans.

18. Any doubts as to the ability of Councils to deliver regeneration initiatives is unfounded. We have been delivering such initiatives for many years despite changing political developments and central government priorities. Local Councils have a substantial understanding of local social, economic and regeneration needs. We are in the prime position to develop and deliver projects in line with local need and regional policy. We can facilitate effective local communication and consultation which is the key to successful delivery of regeneration.

19. The Council has noted that a number of recent retail developments across Northern Ireland that have been given planning approval, despite their being located a substantial distance from the town/City centre. Whilst we are not opposed in principle to out-of-town development, it is important that local elected representatives and partnerships are involved at an early stage in the decision making processes of Planning Service.

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

20. Armagh City and District Council is involved in a supporting role in the delivery of neighbourhood renewal policy at a local level. Neighbourhood renewal policy is a challenging and long-term policy solution, the aim of which is to transform deprived communities in economic, social and community terms. There have been some difficulties experienced in the delivery of neighbourhood renewal policy and the Council would advocate that there is greater guidance and direction from DSD in delivering this long term policy at a local level and also in terms of consistency and uniformity of approach across Northern Ireland.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

21. There is a reliance on Councils to pull together central government partners on regeneration activity, without funding or recognition.

22. The most recent “Vital and Viable" guidance note from DSD was developed and distributed without adequate consultation with Council partners and Town Centre Partnerships.

23. To repeat the points made above, without adequate resourcing of Town Centre Partnerships, effective engagement will be difficult to achieve.

24. In delivery of Master plans, a local steering group should be set up to feed into this process at an early stage to avoid duplication of strategic work already delivered locally and to utilise the extensive local knowledge base that exists.

ATCM NI
(Association of Town Centre
Management - Northern Ireland)

ATCM logo


Submission to Committee for Social Development
On
Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Submitted by:
Association of Town Centre Management NI
C/o Ballymena Borough Council
Economic Development Unit
4 Wellington Court
Ballymena
BT43 6EQ
29th November 2007

ATCM NI
(Association of Town Centre Management - Northern Ireland)

Response to NI Assembly Inquiry into Town & City Centre Regeneration

Introduction

This response has been produced by the Northern Ireland Regional Branch of the Association of Town Centre Management which is based in Westminster and has over 550 members. There are 22 members in the Northern Ireland region, representing a significant number of Northern Ireland’s towns and cities. The Association of Town Centre Management is Europe’s largest membership organisation concerned with the creation, development and management of vital and viable town and city centres. The process of town and city centre management (TCM) operates by creating a partnership of shared resources, ideas and commitment that invite and benefit all stakeholders.

The ATCM (NI) understand the term ‘Town Centre’ within the context of the inquiry to cover both Town and City Centres within Northern Ireland and as such this response has been produced following a number of discussion meetings between members. Member towns and cities have been encouraged to produce individual responses which deal with local issues and recommendations.

Response to Terms of Reference

1) Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

It is the opinion of ATCM NI that the current approach by DSD regarding intervention to assist in the regeneration of Northern Ireland Town & City Centres has been driven by single issue initiatives and as such is not based on identification of need through recognised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), nor is the success of DSD intervention measured using these recognised indicators. It is therefore difficult to analyse the effectiveness of this intervention due to the fact that is not underpinned by an overarching strategic framework.

It is the opinion of ATCM NI that there is a clear need to address this lack of a strategic framework and as such ATCM NI would suggest that the following hierarchy for a framework should be adopted:

This framework should also be supported by long term budgeting to allow for the implementation of the plans over a the required period and not through fixed annual budgets that do no take account of the timeframes needed to deliver large schemes such as comprehensive public realm initiatives which can take 4/5 years to deliver. Indeed even a small environmental improvement scheme can take 18 months to deliver.

In addition:

2) Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

Despite the fact that in a number of its publications DSD recognise the value of town centres as a centre for wealth creation and community cohesion, there is no delivery mechanism for this aspiration due to the lack of a Northern Ireland urban regeneration policy. Therefore to date DSD’s regeneration funding has been carried out in an ad hoc approach, which has limited its impact. ATCM NI acknowledge the lack of clear policy and the resulting limitations on DSD but feel the effect of DSD intervention is somewhat minimised by the lack of an agreed Town Centre Strategy (see point 1 above). It also is difficult to quantify this failure due to the lack of identifying and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs).

3) Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

ATCM NI believes that at a strategic level there is a weakness in DSD’s engagement with local communities and key stakeholders and as DSD does not directly employ urban regeneration experts, ATCM NI has concerns that this limits the level of strategic thinking within the Department. For example, there are fears that a considerable amount of the Department’s intervention responds to opportunities brought forward by developers. As an approach, this seems to assume that economic growth will continue in line with the trend in recent years. It is, therefore, unclear whether DSD would be able to adjust its approach to effectively promote regeneration in the event of a recession in the retailing and property market. ATCM NI would therefore recommend that DSD establish a panel of advisors to discuss on a regular basis urban regeneration and the prospects for our Towns and Cities. This panel might include economists, property market specialists, retail specialists and Town Centre managers.

DSD consistently recognise, across a range of their publications, the important role that Town Centre Partnerships can play as the most effective method of engagement with local communities and key stakeholders. This was also identified in the EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, which has relevance to this Inquiry. The Report’s Key Recommendations are attached as Appendix 2.

ATCM NI recommends the creation of Town Partnerships. These Partnerships should be the main driver for the process of master-planning/strategy development and delivery of operational plans as stated in point 1. However, DSD and the relevant Local Authority must support the establishment of these partnerships and provide core funding, with a requirement that there is a funding contribution from the private sector.

Although the concept of Town Centre Management is now well-established in the UK, including Northern Ireland, it takes many different forms, not all of which have proved to be as effective as others. ATCM currently have a proposal with DSD, which identifies a route forward for DSD to support the establishment of an effective network of sustainable town centre partnerships across Northern Ireland, each of which is able to promote the vitality and viability of their respective centre.

Today, the most successful town centre management initiatives, whilst still delivering effective on the ground improvements, are also concerned with the strategic development of their centre, and are often focused on creating or maintaining a competitive advantage. With the scale of change in Northern Ireland, notably in terms of the new or planned retail development, this is a critical issue for traditional town centres. Across the world, some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives have become so because of the input from a wide ranging but well established partnership. The various stakeholders in these partnerships do, in many cases, provide essential funding for the initiative, but they also provide knowledge, insight, expertise, enthusiasm, motivation and an ability to deliver across a broad spectrum. These are stakeholders who want to be agents of change and who are willing to commit time and effort to make that come about. This is our understanding of an effective partnership.

However, ATCM NI recognise that Town Centre Partnerships must be able to demonstrate their value and would recommend that all such Partnerships be required to meet key tests to ensure that each partnership created has the buy-in of the key stakeholders and the capacity to deliver and that duplication does not occur.

In order for any policy intervention to be successful, it is essential that those responsible for its implementation have the right skills and knowledge. The ATCM has introduced a series of formal qualifications, endorsed by the Institute of Place Management and ATCM recommend that DSD consider making these available to their staff. The ATCM also runs a series of Partnership development programmes which support the development of effective local partnerships.

4) Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

ATCM (NI) has consulted with the National Association of Town Centre Management to address this question.

In England and Wales Planning Policy Statement 6 says,

“Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities respectively should implement the Government’s objectives for town centres, by planning positively for their growth and development. They should therefore:

The ATCM firmly supports these principles.

Evidence for the requirement to protect town centres is shown by the following statistics, supplied by Verdict, in the UK:

Retail Sales 1995 - 2000

Total retail spend increased 30.4%
Town centre sales increased 27.8%

Retail Sales 2000 - 2005

Total retail spend increased 19.6%
Town centre sales increased 11.8%

Retail Sales 2010 - 2015

Total retail spend forecast increase 15.9%
Town centre sales forecast increase 6.6%

A full report is enclosed as Appendix 1.

Planning Advice Note 59: Improving Town Centres (Scottish Executive) states,

“Town centres continue to play a very important role in our society. They must cater for a wide range of people and their needs: workers (for jobs, training and information), residents (for a choice of houses), business visitors (for access, information, communications and accommodation), shoppers (for access, comfort and choice), tourists (for attractions, information, access, hospitality and accommodation), and the leisure user (for facilities, comfort, service, information and access)."

There are a number of important policy areas, to which interventions have been shown to be successful including Transport, Housing, Community Safety, Marketing, Night-time & Evening Economy.

A more recent policy intervention has been:

Business Improvement Districts

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not enacted legislation to allow the concept to be delivered. Legislation has also been enacted in the Republic of Ireland.

A BID is an innovative concept that has already received substantial support from both the public and private sectors in England, Wales and Scotland. A BID can provide a funding base to improve the trading environment of a town by contributing towards the costs of initiatives to help reduce crime, improve cleansing, or promote and market the town.

A BID may not be the right model for every town and city - but the process of business consultation and the review of existing town centre services can give a focus to implement a similar model in a location to achieve desired objectives.

ATCM has led much of the work that has resulted in the introduction of BIDs into the UK. It published research on the applicability of BIDs in the UK almost a decade ago; it undertook further research on the need for sustainable funding for local area initiatives that could result through a BID model; worked extensively with Government and others to advocate legislation and then led the National BIDs Pilot Programme for a consortium of public and private organisations including the then ODPM. This work heavily influenced the BIDs legislation, produced the definitive Good Practice Guide. It is also part of the Scottish Executive’s BID Pilot Steering Group.

In many parts of the UK there is a need for investment in major infrastructure that would bring long term economic and social benefit. The success of BIDs in GB has demonstrated that businesses will agree to pay an additional levy associated with their business rate to fund shared projects. The greatest positive that has emerged from BIDs is the level of engagement with the business community in identifying what any levy would do and how it should be quantified. There is real business ownership and involvement and where this has not been done properly, the BID has been voted down. A successful ballot provides clear evidence that businesses want to invest in the BID and support what is being done.

A great deal of work has been done to introduce BIDs into GB. BIDs legislation has achieved a system that is truly local, additional, transparent and owned by businesses. ATCM NI would like to see it introduced in Northern Ireland.

Response To Issues On Town Centre Regeneration Not Covered by Terms of Reference

The EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, stated: “Town Centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, marketing and promotion."

This concept and indeed the recognition that Town Centres play a vital role in the economic activity of Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and wealth creation, not to mention community cohesion, has been overlooked by the lack of joined-up government. Historically, Northern Ireland has failed to recognise the value of the core town centres. On the ground, this has been seen by the lack of co-ordinated action by the statutory bodies such as DETI, DSD and the Planning Service, and as a result has not been recognised by European Programmes.

ATCM NI believes that Town Centre Regeneration falls to DSD as lead agency in consultation with other bodies, and, that DSD should be the main Government Department charged with driving forward urban regeneration until such times as the implications of the Review of Public Administration are known.

Furthermore if, as outlined in the Emerging Findings Report (2007), the transfer of functions to Local Authorities for Planning, Urban Regeneration, Community Planning occurs, ATCM NI believe that this would require the appropriate structures and funding to be put in place to ensure effective delivery, with Central Government continuing to play its role through funding as it would be unreasonable to expect Local Authorities to meet the cost of regeneration from the district rate. Urban regeneration must be underpinned by the wider Government strategies and local plans if it to be successful in the long term.

Appendix 1

Planning for town centres: performance

(a) Retail spending

Total retail spending vs Town Centre retail sales

 
Total spending
Town Centre sales
1995 - 2000
+30.4%
+27.8%
2001 - 2005
+19.6%
+11.8%
2006 - 2010
+15.9%
+6.6%

Annual growth forecasts for 2006 - 2010

Source: Verdict Research - Town Centre Retailing 2006 and UK Out-of-Town Retailing 2007

(b) Town Centre Pedestrian Flows

All High Streets:
Regional cities:
Year to end May 07: -12.7% Year to end May 07: -5.2%
Year to end Apr 07: -11.2% Year to end Apr 07: -6.7%
Year to end Mar 07: -7.0% Year to end Mar 07: -4.2%
Year to end Dec 06: -3.6%  

Source: ATCM Springboard High Street Index June 2007

(c) Town Centre Retail Development

England 1994
14%
England 1999 - 2005*
35% (50% with edge of town)
Scotland 1999 - 2005
22%
England 2006 - 2011
42% (50% within 110 metres of centre)
Scotland 2006 - 2011
10%

*Includes 80% of new shopping centre development but only 23% of supermarket development

Source: BCSC - In Town or Out of Town 2006

(d) Space growth requirements

Comparison space in convenience stores

1999
12%
2005
21% 25% (an extra 86,200 sq mtrs per annum for 10 years)

Projected need for additional comparison floorspace (sq metres gross)

2006 -2015
6,090,000
Replacement demand
2,234,000
Total
8,324,000

Projected development pipeline 2006 - 2015

In-town
4,190,000
Out-of-town
1,370,000
Retail warehouses
2,280,000
Total
7,840,000

Source: BCSC - How Much Space 2007

(e) Projected out of town space growth by category 2006 - 2011

Clothing & footwear
+20%
Food & grocery
+19.7%
General merchandise
+13.2%
Electricals
+8.4%
DIY
+4.7%
Furniture & floorcoverings
+ 4.6%

Source: Verdict Research - Out of Town Retailing 2007

(f) Food shopping

Supermarket sales 2000-06
+26%
Specialist grocery sales 2000-06
+1%
Specialist grocery stores closures 2000-06
7% (2500)
Supermarket non-grocery sales 2000-04 (est.)
+89%

Source: Competition Commission Inquiry - Emerging Thinking Report: 2007

Appendix 2

Key Recommendations

The EDAW team’s key recommendations which were discussed in the above Report are:

Recommendation 1: There is a strong case for PPS5 to be reviewed as a priority

Recommendation 2: That a review of policy on rural shop support and market town development be undertaken as part of a wider study of Rural Social Exclusion.

Recommendation 3: A common monitoring and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland town centres.

Recommendation 4: Town centre management should be considered as an element of town centre reinvigoration in Northern Ireland.

Recommendation 5: Town centres are of significance across the communities they serve and urban regeneration strategy should address their reinvigoration as a corollary to targeted strategies for neighbourhood regeneration.

Recommendation 6: In developing any town centre project involving public sector funding the needs of the socially excluded must be recognised and the impact on those groups must be stated. Wherever possible projects should positively:

Recommendation 7: Consider identification of a Town Centre Regeneration Sub-programme within the second Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

Recommendation 8: Housing can make a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres but will require the establishment of public subsidy systems able to overcome market failure.

Recommendation 9: Within the context of any review of PPS5 transport issues should be reviewed and greater emphasis placed on the specific needs of town centres.

Recommendation 10: The Regional Transport Plan should include specific policies in respect to town centres.

Recommendation 11: Parking controls are considered to be the key area for short-term action (as detailed in the Report) and attention should be given to developing a consistent approach but one which recognises the specific circumstances of each town centre.

Recommendation 12: Public transport should be promoted as an alternative to the car and as part of social inclusion strategy.

Recommendation 13: Pedestrianisation in some of the case study towns would seem not to have worked in terms of the viability and vitality of the town centre. There is a need to review the bases upon which pedestrianisation is carried out and to initiate schemes only as part of a comprehensive town centre strategy.

Integration Recommendations

The following recommendations are based on the findings of the study as whole and on developing a ‘joined-up’ policy approach.

Policy

PPS5 is and should remain the principal policy statement on Retailing and Town Centres in Northern Ireland. Similarly the development plan framework is the statutory basis for development and the Local/Area Plan is the appropriate vehicle for planning land use and associated communications. However there needs to be a recognition that the issues facing town centres in Northern Ireland also require a more holistic approach based on an integrated town centre strategy with business development, training, marketing and promotion, as well as property development and environmental improvement components.

Recommendation 14: Town centre strategies should be prepared to guide future public and private sector investment in town centres. The preparation of a Strategy should be a pre-requisite to significant investment and should be led by District Councils in consultation with key stakeholders (including Government Departments and private sector organisations). Strategies must comply with existing up-to-date development plans and mesh with the Regional Strategic Framework and Policy Planning Statements.

This kind of approach will require more ‘Joined-up’ policies from the various Government Departments and private sector agencies involved. It is important that given the restructuring of the Government Departments that a lead Department is identified. The most appropriate Department is this regard would seem to be Social Development.

Practice Integration

There is a need to co-ordinate public sector activity in town centres; this can be best achieved through an obligation to commit in principle to an agreed Town Centre Strategy. Such a strategy is however not an alternative to a current and active development plan - indeed it should be seen as an extension to the development plan in that it would add an economic and social development role to the primary land use orientation of the development plan. This will require a partnership between Government, local authorities and the private sector that will ensure a more integrated approach town centre management and development. However it will also require the preparation of guidance.

Recommendation 15: Government should prepare and issue guidance on the preparation of Town Centre Strategies.

Responsibility for co-ordination of government involvement in individual town centres should be agreed for all larger towns. In most cases this role would probably fall to the Planning Service in order that there is continuity between the development plan and the Town Centre Strategy.

Physical and Business Environment

Recommendation 16: Whilst physical regeneration is important in town centres it should be part of a more holistic approach that looks at the town centre as a multipurpose location. There should be a wider recognition of the importance of business development, Welcome Host training and marketing and of ensuring that the product mix is optimised.

Urban housing

Recommendation 17: Positive encouragement should be given to town centre housing development where this contributes to strategic land use objectives and in support of town centre reinvigoration. Consideration should be given to providing subsidy and technical support for schemes to promote living over the shop (LOTS).

Social inclusion/cohesion

Recommendation 18: Town Centre Strategies should be required to explicitly state the implications of proposals on social inclusion.

Recommendation 19: Any revision of PPS5 should require social inclusion impacts to be relevant criteria in assessing the impacts of large scale retail developments in accordance with the policy of mainstreaming social inclusion.

Tourism and Leisure

Recommendation 20: Towns should be encouraged to position themselves to target particular tourism market needs - families, activities, art etc. Leisure, entertainment and other development which encourages vitality in town centres should be promoted within the parameters set by normal development control procedures to minimise nuisance and loss of amenity for residents.

Recommendation 21: Tourism and leisure issues should be addressed as part of any review of PPS5.

Funding

Recommendation 22: Funding of town centre projects could be limited to those Town Centres where there is an agreed Town Centre Strategy.

Public sector funding for town centre initiatives (whether physical development and/or business development training/marketing) should be routed through the same channels. The mechanism for this will require to be agreed by the Government and attention paid particularly to ensuring transparency given the likely level of demand for limited resources.

There should also be a presumption that private sector funding will be a part of any town centre improvement scheme - either directly or as part of an integrated package of projects. European support for town centre strategies and projects should be sought as part of the Second Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

Public funding for town centres should be conditional upon meeting a given set of requirements and also be subject to competition. The criteria should include physical, economic and social considerations - in particular making a positive contribution to social inclusion policy. Given anticipated funding constraints it should be the responsibility of applicants to prove need and also the ability to deliver holistic programmes of action.

Town centre management

Recommendation 23: Town Centre Management as an approach should be promoted as an essential prerequisite to funding being provided for town centre schemes. This need not involve the appointment of a Town Centre Manager but this should be considered for larger town centres or groups of smaller town centres.

Structures

Recommendation 24: Town Centre Partnerships should be established for all major town centres or where the local authority proposes to prepare a Town Centre Strategy. This Partnership should be guide the preparation of a town centre strategy and should be wound –up only if and when a Town Centre Management Partnership is established to progress the Strategy or a decision has been made not to progress a scheme.

Recommendation 25: The government should consider the establishment of a Town Centre Regeneration Agency to act as the supervisory mechanism to manage funding and to ensure that monitoring and evaluation information is collected as a condition of funding. The Agency would be required to ensure absolute transparency in its decision making and should not become involved in the preparation of individual strategies - only in the dissemination of information and in the co-ordination of funding.

Recommendation 26: Department of Social Development has a lead role to play in relation to reinvigoration of town centres in conjunction with the Department of Regional Development.

Dissemination

Recommendation 27: An illustrated Executive Summary setting out best practice and key conclusions should be produced and consideration is given to an associated Conference in the summer of 2000. The Case Studies should be circulated and supported by facilitated workshops involving key players.

Source: Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000).

Ballymena Borough Council

Development, Leisure & Cultural Services Department

Economic Development Unit

Foreword

Ballymena Borough Council (BBC) recognise the importance of Ballymena Town Centre as a location for jobs and wealth creation which supports the wider region. However, BBC also recognise its role as the heart of the community and therefore its importance as a location for commerce, leisure, living and above all, for people. Therefore BBC recognises the importance of this inquiry and welcomes the opportunity to submit the following evidence.

Evidence

Specific items identified by the Committee:

1) Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

It is the opinion of BBC that the current approach by DSD regarding intervention to assist in the regeneration of Northern Ireland Town & City Centres has been driven by single issue initiatives and as such is not based on identification of need through recognised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), nor is the success of DSD intervention measured using these recognised indicators. It is therefore difficult to analyse the effectiveness of this intervention, due to the fact that it is not underpinned by an overarching strategic framework.

Ballymena Town Centre has suffered directly due to lack of a clear DSD policy resulting in a situation where considerable uncertainty around future development has been created. Furthermore despite the fact that Ballymena is identified as a Regional Hub in the Northern Ireland Regional Development Strategy and is recognised as the Number One shopping town in the Province, DSD have delivered little to no programmes to support its Town Centre and its role as a location for wealth creation to address disadvantage and poverty.

It is the opinion of BBC that there is a clear need to address this lack of a strategic framework and as such BBC would suggest that the following hierarchy for a framework should be adopted:

This framework should also be supported by long term budgeting to allow for the implementation of the plans over a the required period and not through fixed annual budgets that do no take account of the timeframes needed to deliver large schemes such as comprehensive public realm initiatives which can take 4/5 years to deliver. Indeed even a small environmental improvement scheme can take 18 months to deliver.

In addition:

2) Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

Current DSD policy fails to recognise the value of town centres as a centre for wealth creation and community cohesion. To date DSD regeneration funding has been carried out in a piecemeal approach primarily aimed at under-performing towns, resulting in minimum impact. BBC acknowledge the rationale behind this piecemeal approach, but feel the effect is somewhat minimised by the lack of an agreed Town Centre Strategy (see point 1 above). It also is difficult to quantify this failure due to the lack of identifying and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs).

3) Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

DSD consistently recognise, across a range of their publications, the important role that Town Centre Partnerships can play as the most effective method of engagement with local communities and key stakeholders. This was also identified in the EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, which has relevance to this Inquiry.

BBC recommends the creation of Town Partnerships and that these Partnerships are the main driver for the process of master-planning/strategy development and delivery of operational plans as stated in point 1. However, DSD and the relevant Local Authority must support the establishment of these partnerships and provide core funding, with a requirement that there is a funding contribution from the private sector.

Today, the most successful town centre management initiatives, whilst still delivering effective on the ground improvements, are also concerned with the strategic development of their centre, and are often focused on creating or maintaining a competitive advantage. With the scale of change in Northern Ireland, notably in terms of the new retail development now underway or planned, this is a critical issue for traditional town centres. Across the world, some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives have become so because of the input from a wide ranging but well established partnership. The various stakeholders in these partnerships do, in many cases, provide essential funding for the initiative, but they also provide knowledge, insight, expertise, enthusiasm, motivation and an ability to deliver across a broad spectrum. These are stakeholders who want to be agents of change and who are willing to commit time and effort to make that come about. This is our understanding of an effective partnership.

However, BBC recognise that Town Centre Partnerships must be able to demonstrate their value and would recommend that all such Partnerships be required to meet key tests to ensure that each partnership created has the buy-in of the key stakeholders and the capacity to deliver and that duplication does not occur.

4) Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

In England and Wales Planning Policy Statement 6 says,

“Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities respectively should implement the Government’s objectives for town centres, by planning positively for their growth and development. They should therefore:

Evidence for the requirement to protect town centres is shown by the following statistics, supplied by Verdict, in the UK:

Retail Sales 1995 - 2000

Total retail spend increased 30.4%
Town centre sales increased 27.8%

Retail Sales 2000 - 2005

Total retail spend increased 19.6%
Town centre sales increased 11.8%

Retail Sales 2010 - 2015

Total retail spend forecast increase 15.9%
Town centre sales forecast increase 6.6%

Planning Advice Note 59: Improving Town Centres (Scottish Executive) states,

Town centres continue to play a very important role in our society. They must cater for a wide range of people and their needs: workers (for jobs, training and information), residents (for a choice of houses), business visitors (for access, information, communications and accommodation), shoppers (for access, comfort and choice), tourists (for attractions, information, access, hospitality and accommodation), and the leisure user (for facilities, comfort, service, information and access).

There are a number of important policy areas, to which interventions have been shown to be successful including Transport, Housing, Community Safety, Marketing, Night-time & Evening Economy.

A more recent policy intervention has been:

Business Improvement Districts

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not enacted legislation to allow the concept to be delivered. Legislation has also been enacted in the Republic of Ireland.

A BID is an innovative concept that has already received substantial support from both the public and private sectors in England, Wales and Scotland. A BID can provide a funding base to improve the trading environment of a town by contributing towards the costs of initiatives to help reduce crime, improve cleansing, or promote and market the town.

A BID may not be the right model for every town and city - but the process of business consultation and the review of existing town centre services can give a focus to implement a similar model in a location to achieve desired objectives.

In many parts of the UK there is a need for investment in major infrastructure that would bring long term economic and social benefit. The success of BIDs in GB has demonstrated that businesses will agree to pay an additional levy associated with their business rate to fund shared projects. The greatest positive that has emerged from BIDs is the level of engagement with the business community in identifying what any levy would do and how it should be quantified. There is real business ownership and involvement and where this has not been done properly, the BID has been voted down. A successful ballot provides clear evidence that businesses want to invest in the BID and support what is being done.

A great deal of work has been done to introduce BIDs into GB. BIDs legislation has achieved a system that is truly local, additional, transparent and owned by businesses. BBC would like to see it introduced in Northern Ireland.

The TOR for the Inquiry fails to address the issue of:

Why Have Town Centre Regeneration?

The EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, stated: “Town Centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, marketing and promotion."

This concept, and indeed the recognition that Town Centres play a vital role in the economic activity of Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and wealth creation not to mention community cohesion, has been overlooked by the lack of joined-up government. Historically Northern Ireland has failed to recognise the value of the core town centres. On the ground, this has been seen by the lack of co-ordinated action by the statutory bodies such as DETI, DSD and the Planning Service, and as a result has not been recognised by European Programmes.

BBC believes that Town Centre regeneration falls to DSD as lead agency in consultation with other bodies and that DSD should be the main Government Department charged with driving forward urban regeneration until such times as the implications of the Review of Public Administration are known.

Furthermore if, as outlined in the Emerging Findings Report (2007), the transfer of functions to Local Authorities for Planning, Urban Regeneration, Community Planning occurs, BBC believe that this would require the appropriate structures and funding to be put in place to ensure effective delivery, with Central Government continuing to play its role through funding as it would be unreasonable to expect Local Authorities to meet the cost of regeneration from the district rate, with urban regeneration underpinned by the wider Government strategies and local plans.

Appendix 1

Planning for town centres: performance

(a) Retail spending

Total retail spending vs Town Centre retail sales

 
Total spending
Town Centre sales
1995 - 2000
+30.4%
+27.8%
2001 - 2005
+19.6%
+11.8%
2006 - 2010
+15.9%
+6.6%

Annual growth forecasts for 2006 - 2010

Source: Verdict Research - Town Centre Retailing 2006 and UK Out-of-Town Retailing 2007

(b) Town Centre Pedestrian Flows

All High Streets:
Regional cities:
Year to end May 07: -12.7% Year to end May 07: -5.2%
Year to end Apr 07: -11.2% Year to end Apr 07: -6.7%
Year to end Mar 07: -7.0% Year to end Mar 07: -4.2%
Year to end Dec 06: -3.6%  

Source: ATCM Springboard High Street Index June 2007

(c) Town Centre Retail Development

England 1994
14%
England 1999 - 2005*
35% (50% with edge of town)
Scotland 1999 - 2005
22%
England 2006 - 2011
42% (50% within 110 metres of centre)
Scotland 2006 - 2011
10%

*Includes 80% of new shopping centre development but only 23% of supermarket development

Source: BCSC - In Town or Out of Town 2006

(d) Space growth requirements

Comparison space in convenience stores

1999
12%
2005
21% 25% (an extra 86,200 sq mtrs per annum for 10 years)

Projected need for additional comparison floorspace (sq metres gross)

2006 -2015
6,090,000
Replacement demand
2,234,000
Total
8,324,000

Projected development pipeline 2006 - 2015

In-town
4,190,000
Out-of-town
1,370,000
Retail warehouses
2,280,000
Total
7,840,000

Source: BCSC - How Much Space 2007

(e) Projected out of town space growth by category 2006 - 2011

Clothing & footwear
+20%
Food & grocery
+19.7%
General merchandise
+13.2%
Electricals
+8.4%
DIY
+4.7%
Furniture & floorcoverings
+ 4.6%

Source: Verdict Research - Out of Town Retailing 2007

(f) Food shopping

Supermarket sales 2000-06
+26%
Specialist grocery sales 2000-06
+1%
Specialist grocery stores closures 2000-06
7% (2500)
Supermarket non-grocery sales 2000-04 (est.)
+89%

Source: Competition Commission Inquiry - Emerging Thinking Report: 2007

Ballymena Town Centre Partnership
Business Improvement District

Response to the NI Assembly Inquiry into Town & City Centre Regeneration

Foreword

Ballymena Town Centre Partnership Business Improvement District (Ballymena BID) is a not for profit membership organisation comprising key stakeholders drawn from both the public and private sector with the aim of sustaining and developing the vitality and viability of Ballymena Town Centre. Ballymena BID recognise the importance of the Inquiry and welcome the opportunity to present the following response.

Evidence

Specific items identified by the Committee:

1) Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

It is the opinion of Ballymena BID that the current approach by DSD regarding intervention to assist in the regeneration of Northern Ireland Town & City Centres has been driven by single issue initiatives and as such is not based on identification of need through recognised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), nor is the success of DSD intervention measured using these recognised indicators. It is therefore difficult to analyse the effectiveness of this intervention, due to the fact that it is not underpinned by an overarching strategic framework.

Ballymena Town Centre has suffered directly due to lack of a clear DSD policy resulting in a situation where considerable uncertainty around future development has been created. Furthermore despite the fact that Ballymena is identified as a Regional Hub in the Northern Ireland Regional Development Strategy and is recognised as the Number One shopping town in the Province, DSD have delivered little to no programmes to support Ballymena Town Centre and its role as a location for wealth creation to address disadvantage and poverty. Despite the fact that the wards of Ballykeel and Ballee which are ranked 55th and 64th most deprived wards in Northern Ireland are adjacent to the Town Centre.

It is the opinion of Ballymena BID that there is a clear need to address this lack of a strategic framework and as such Ballymena BID would suggest that the following hierarchy for a framework should be adopted:

This framework should also be supported by long term budgeting to allow for the implementation of the plans over a the required period and not through fixed annual budgets that do no take account of the timeframes needed to deliver large schemes such as comprehensive public realm initiatives which can take 4/5 years to deliver. Indeed even a small environmental improvement scheme can take 18 months to deliver.

In addition:

2) Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

Current DSD policy fails to recognise the value of town centres as a centre for wealth creation and community cohesion. To date DSD regeneration funding has been carried out in a piecemeal approach primarily aimed at under-performing towns, resulting in minimum impact. Ballymena BID acknowledge the rationale behind this piecemeal approach, but feel the effect is somewhat minimised by the lack of an agreed Town Centre Strategy (see point 1 above). It also is difficult to quantify this failure due to the lack of identifying and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs).

3) Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

DSD consistently recognise, across a range of their publications, the important role that Town Centre Partnerships can play as the most effective method of engagement with local communities and key stakeholders. This was also identified in the EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, which has relevance to this Inquiry.

Ballymena BID recommends the creation of Town Partnerships and that these Partnerships are the main driver for the process of master-planning/strategy development and delivery of operational plans as stated in point 1. However, DSD and the relevant Local Authority must support the establishment of these partnerships and provide core funding, with a requirement that there is a funding contribution from the private sector.

Today, the most successful town centre management initiatives, whilst still delivering effective on the ground improvements, are also concerned with the strategic development of their centre, and are often focused on creating or maintaining a competitive advantage. With the scale of change in Northern Ireland, notably in terms of the new retail development now underway or planned, this is a critical issue for traditional town centres. Across the world, some of the most dynamic and successful initiatives have become so because of the input from a wide ranging but well established partnership. The various stakeholders in these partnerships do, in many cases, provide essential funding for the initiative, but they also provide knowledge, insight, expertise, enthusiasm, motivation and an ability to deliver across a broad spectrum. These are stakeholders who want to be agents of change and who are willing to commit time and effort to make that come about. This is our understanding of an effective partnership.

However, Ballymena BID recognise that Town Centre Partnerships must be able to demonstrate their value and would recommend that all such Partnerships be required to meet key tests to ensure that each partnership created has the buy-in of the key stakeholders and the capacity to deliver and that duplication does not occur.

4) Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

In England and Wales Planning Policy Statement 6 says,

“Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities respectively should implement the Government’s objectives for town centres, by planning positively for their growth and development. They should therefore:

Evidence for the requirement to protect town centres is shown by the following statistics, supplied by Verdict, in the UK:

Retail Sales 1995 - 2000

Total retail spend increased 30.4%
Town centre sales increased 27.8%

Retail Sales 2000 - 2005

Total retail spend increased 19.6%
Town centre sales increased 11.8%

Retail Sales 2010 - 2015

Total retail spend forecast increase 15.9%
Town centre sales forecast increase 6.6%

Planning Advice Note 59: Improving Town Centres (Scottish Executive) states,

Town centres continue to play a very important role in our society. They must cater for a wide range of people and their needs: workers (for jobs, training and information), residents (for a choice of houses), business visitors (for access, information, communications and accommodation), shoppers (for access, comfort and choice), tourists (for attractions, information, access, hospitality and accommodation), and the leisure user (for facilities, comfort, service, information and access).

There are a number of important policy areas, to which interventions have been shown to be successful including Transport, Housing, Community Safety, Marketing, Night-time & Evening Economy.

A more recent policy intervention has been:

Business Improvement Districts

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not enacted legislation to allow the concept to be delivered. Legislation has also been enacted in the Republic of Ireland.

A BID is an innovative concept that has already received substantial support from both the public and private sectors in England, Wales and Scotland. A BID can provide a funding base to improve the trading environment of a town by contributing towards the costs of initiatives to help reduce crime, improve cleansing, or promote and market the town.

A BID may not be the right model for every town and city - but the process of business consultation and the review of existing town centre services can give a focus to implement a similar model in a location to achieve desired objectives.

In many parts of the UK there is a need for investment in major infrastructure that would bring long term economic and social benefit. The success of BIDs in GB has demonstrated that businesses will agree to pay an additional levy associated with their business rate to fund shared projects. The greatest positive that has emerged from BIDs is the level of engagement with the business community in identifying what any levy would do and how it should be quantified. There is real business ownership and involvement and where this has not been done properly, the BID has been voted down. A successful ballot provides clear evidence that businesses want to invest in the BID and support what is being done.

A great deal of work has been done to introduce BIDs into GB. BIDs legislation has achieved a system that is truly local, additional, transparent and owned by businesses. Ballymena BID would like to see it introduced in Northern Ireland.

The TOR for the Inquiry fails to address the issue of:

Why Have Town Centre Regeneration?

The EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, stated: “Town Centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, marketing and promotion."

This concept, and indeed the recognition that Town Centres play a vital role in the economic activity of Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and wealth creation not to mention community cohesion, has been overlooked by the lack of joined-up government. Historically Northern Ireland has failed to recognise the value of the core town centres. On the ground, this has been seen by the lack of co-ordinated action by the statutory bodies such as DETI, DSD and the Planning Service, and as a result has not been recognised by European Programmes.

Ballymena BID believes that Town Centre regeneration falls to DSD as lead agency in consultation with other bodies and that DSD should be the main Government Department charged with driving forward urban regeneration until such times as the implications of the Review of Public Administration are known.

Furthermore if, as outlined in the Emerging Findings Report (2007), the transfer of functions to Local Authorities for Planning, Urban Regeneration, Community Planning occurs, Ballymena BID believe that this would require the appropriate structures and funding to be put in place to ensure effective delivery, with Central Government continuing to play its role through funding as it would be unreasonable to expect Local Authorities to meet the cost of regeneration from the district rate, with urban regeneration underpinned by the wider Government strategies and local plans.

Banbridge District Council

07 November 2007

Ms Marie Austin
Committee Clerk
Committee for Social Development
Room 410
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Mrs Austin

Committee Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

In response to your letter dated 17th October 2007, Banbridge District Council would like to make the following comments:

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

Banbridge District Council has worked together with the Department for Social Development on a number of funded projects since 2000. These have included environmental improvement schemes for Banbridge, Gilford and Dromore town centres; a Town Centre Living Initiative in Dromore and marketing / promotional programmes in Banbridge and Dromore.

To date three phases of environmental improvements have been completed in Banbridge and a scheme in Gilford Town Centre is almost complete. A further scheme for Dromore Town Centre is planned to commence in January 2008.

The regeneration and vitality which is currently apparent in Banbridge Town Centre was driven by the environmental improvement scheme which was completed in 2004. Jointly funded by DSD, Council and, DRD Roads Service, the scheme has resulted in a much improved and more accessible town centre.

The success and effectiveness of the environmental improvement scheme has been closely monitored and following completion of the works, significant private investment has taken place.

Prior to commencement of the works in 2000 there were twenty seven derelict or undeveloped sites within the town centre boundary, following 2004 this number has been significantly reduced to two, due to increased confidence of developers and the business community in the town. Traders have reported that this confidence has allowed them in a number of cases to expand their businesses and the following points have been reported since completion of the scheme:

It can be concluded that without the ‘kick-start’ provided by the environmental improvement works this development would have been much lesser and slower to progress.

To maximise the potential of the improved town centre, additional funding provided by DSD, Council and business sponsorship was attained to develop a three year programme of promotion for Banbridge and Dromore Town Centres.

The holistic approach to town centre development has proven to be very successful for the towns in Banbridge District. The issues surrounding poor quality environment have been creatively addressed, and once the improvements have been made a better product has been developed for promotion to a wider audience. The funding for the environmental improvement scheme, subsequent private investment combined with the marketing programme has created a strong and sustainable town centre economy which has remained very stable despite the threats created by a major retail development, within 1 mile of the town centre. The Outlet Shopping Centre which opened in April 2007 has had no negative effect on the economy of the town and in the initial days of opening attracted large numbers of visitors to the town centre in particular greater numbers from south of the border. The marketing campaign specifically targeted cross border areas and traders in Banbridge have noted an increase in numbers of southern visitors following this project.

Like many small market towns in Northern Ireland, Dromore has lost direction over recent years and is currently struggling with high levels of dereliction, run down streetscape and a poor business environment despite the relatively affluent housing development encircling the town.

The Dromore Town Centre Living Initiative which has recently commenced, will greatly improve Dromore town centre when combined with the other projects planned for the town i.e. environmental improvements, rebranding, promotion and private housing development.

It is hoped that these projects will encourage the private sector to invest in the town as has been seen in Banbridge.

However the businesses currently operating within the town often provide a poor quality and unstable business base. Assistance to the business and retail community is required to develop business competitiveness, enhance the retail offer and improve service; this includes financial assistance for improvements to commercial premises, improvements in technological advances and the development of a safe and structured evening economy.

The initiatives which have been undertaken by Banbridge District Council in conjunction with the Department for Social Development have been successful in attracting the support of private investment and other stakeholders and to date have created improved town centres. There are areas where greater interagency working and interlinking policies could greater maximise opportunity and improve the conditions for development of the towns within Banbridge District making them more competitive for the future.

The Council has acted as an agent for the Department for Social Development in delivering regeneration projects in all three towns. As a deliverer of the scheme, Councils are continually frustrated at delivering a scheme which meets the aspirations of the community and fits within the rules and regulations of DRD Roads Service who invariably own the majority of the Public Realm to be improved. Materials, street furniture, foot paths and car park layout are all controlled by the Roads Service who tends to veto materials etc which are not standard issue. Where the Council has obtained agreement on deviation the Council must purchase materials, hold surplus supplies and sign a management agreement with Roads Service on maintenance and replacement of the same. This is costly and difficult to implement and reflects badly on a joined-up public service by the citizens.

The viability of towns such as Banbridge in the future could depend to a large extent on the ease with which visitors can arrive and park as well as enjoying the quality environment. Car parking, public transport services, bus station, traffic congestion, access for the disabled, cycling and recreational facilities are key priorities for the future. Accessibility issues in the town centre remain untackled and infrastructural projects would greatly strengthen the work which has been completed to date.

It is important that special consideration regarding town centre protection should be given to those rural towns which provide a niche service to larger rural communities and to towns such as Banbridge and Dromore which are under threat of major out of town retailing development. Assistance to safeguard the uniqueness of local towns should be developed to provide distinctive, regional characteristics which provide the smaller towns with an opportunity to promote their strengths.

A largely mobile population has led to many towns including Banbridge and Dromore developing as commuter settlements and new ways of creating links with local populations should be explored through infrastructural and social programmes such as the development of a safe and welcoming early evening economy which would work to further extend the potential of Banbridge. Early evening retailing and ‘café culture’, would provide further opportunities for strengthening the economy of the town centre.

Although the towns within Banbridge District have received significant funding to assist in their development the changing environment and constant threats from out of town developments mean that the town centres must constantly evolve to meet the challenges. Funding opportunities must be local government led, flexible and long term to ensure that future developments meet new demands.

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty:

Regeneration of town centres requiring more flexibility from all Government Departments. Whilst the regeneration project in Gilford was successful in improving the traffic flow, opportunities to address public lands which were causing anti-social behaviour were missed due to the lack of integration between various public sector bodies. In Gilford the community and the Council would like to have taken a piece of NIHE green space which was causing complaints from shop keepers and residents and use it as a car park close to the town centre. This would have enabled the Council to reduce on-street parking helping traffic flow. However, as the lands were owned by the NIHE and may have had development potential, DRD Roads Service did not have the funds to purchase these and the timescale for transfer would have meant that the funding for the scheme would have been lost; the Council had to drop this proposal from the scheme.

If all town centre Public Realm lands were in Council ownership it would be much easier to tackle issues of disadvantage and poverty. Councils could design schemes which would ease accessibility for citizens who had no access to transport and provide play space for young people in town centres. You would have one public organisation with a range of powers and control which would allow mixed use in town centres. Currently you have several public sector bodies holding public realm with many time constricting objectives, for example, Councils promoting public use of town centres and Roads Service seeking to ensure traffic management, pedestrian safety, car parking spaces modelled on outdated survey information.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives:

Engagement on regeneration schemes is undertaken by Councils. This has been effective in the Banbridge District with the Council engaging a local Regeneration group, with representation from all sectors in the town, as part of the process in developing the scheme. This began with developing a vision for the town right through to completion of the scheme.

Engagement by the Council from day one ensures a successful delivery of the scheme.

Yours sincerely

Therese Rafferty

Team Leader Regeneration and Enterprise

Bangor & Holywood Town Centres Ltd.

Submission to Committee for Social Development

On the issue of:
Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

From:
Bangor & Holywood Town Centres Ltd.
65B Main Street, Bangor. BT20 5AF
028 9147 9651
tcm@bangorholywoodtcm.co.uk
www.bangorholywoodtcm.co.uk

Dated: 1st November 2007.

Introduction to responder:

Bangor & Holywood Town Centres Ltd (BHTM) was established in 1997. It was created as a partnership between the public and private sectors following a report prepared by DTZ Debenham Thorpe in October 1996 and commissioned by North Down Borough Council into the future of Bangor town centre. A similar study was commissioned for Holywood in 1997. The reports established a strategy for each urban centre and are still relevant today.

Central to the company’s corporate objectives are the bringing together of the locally based public agencies and private business interests in a proactive manner to implement the regeneration strategy for both Bangor and Holywood.

Initially jointly funded by the European Peace and Reconciliation Fund and North Down Borough Council (NDBC), its mission statement is:

“To develop Bangor & Holywood as vibrant towns for the Twenty-first Century, improving the retail, environmental, cultural and leisure facilities for residents and visitors alike."

Since EU funding halted in 2001, NDBC has carried the lion’s share of the core costs, averaging 75% of running costs, with the remainder coming from the Bangor Chamber of Commerce, Holywood Chamber of Commerce and administrative costs levied on project funds competitively sought from other agencies and central government bodies. The town centre management company has no annual project budget and is dependant on bidding for pockets of monies from a variety of sources. This can deflect the focus of the company away from regeneration tasks.

The Board of BHTM is made up of Councillors, representatives of the Chambers of Commerce and local businesses from both towns.

The regeneration strategies have been supplemented by significant public consultation by the North Down Local Strategy Partnership in 2003 following the release of further EU Peace and Reconciliation funds (Peace II).

Introduction to response:

All views expressed in this submission relate to experience gained within the political boundary of North Down encompassing the urban centres of Bangor and Holywood.

Response to terms of reference:

1. Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

a. BHTM is aware that DSD carry out town centre regeneration through a variety of funding vehicles and intervention mechanisms. This includes Neighbourhood Renewal, Living Over The Shop, CRISP, Urban Development Grant and Comprehensive Development Projects. However in the urban centres of Bangor and Holywood, minimal funding intervention has been allocated or projects completed. The department is currently working in support of town centre development schemes, led by the private sector, in both towns. Other than this more recent work there has not been any significant regeneration by the Department. This is unfortunate and at times has been seen locally as a reflection of the perception that central govt. views North Down as too affluent and not worthy of assistance – the “Gold Coast" phenomena. Locally this is also interpreted as a reflection of Bangor’s “peaceful nature". I.e. it has not been at the forefront of the social conflict so does not need assistance. It is almost perceived as punishment for being an example of peaceful integration. Given that Bangor town centre is within the Harbour Ward and is defined as an area of new TSN, the lack of intervention and support has generated significant hostility and cynicism towards Govt. bodies.

b. Bangor town centre is not currently serving the economic and social needs of its population as the planning policies have failed in their objective. Economic studies completed for the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) defined North Down as leaking a gross sum of £81m out of available expenditure of £307m. In a recent health check, commissioned by Bangor Chamber of Commerce, (Retail Study – Bangor Town Centre, by Kenneth Crothers FRICS IRRV MCIArb W/2002/1038) submitted to the Planning Agency in support of objections to the ongoing expansion of the Bloomfield Centre, concluded that Bangor town centre is at a critical and “fragile" stage. As Queens Parade goes undeveloped and Bloomfield expands, that fragility undermines Bangor town centres long-term sustainability. This “fragility" also contributes to social division and inequality. In town planning terms, Bangor is an example of “the donut effect" – a buoyant prosperous outer ring but a hollow centre. If DSD wish to create sustainable town centres (in the sense of serving its local population), then in the case of Bangor it has failed in its policies. The availability of retail space in an accessible location, with a critical mass of complimentary uses will attract occupation and this secures advantage over other locations, e.g. Bloomfield Centre gaining advantage over the town centre. As property development takes considerable time to bring to the market, and markets are fickle and vulnerable to economic uncertainties, once advantage is secured then a location can be compromised for a generation. Successfully intervening in this process demands joined up Govt. action.

2. Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

a. As noted above this response deals with the North Down area and as the area has secured little funding for regeneration, the writer cannot comment on instances of specific failure to address disadvantage and poverty.

b. However, it should be noted that although not highest on the deprivation list, Holywood town centre would benefit substantially from DSD investment. Small amounts of match funding could encourage the private sector to invest in improving the visual aspects of the townscape that in turn encourage higher footfall. Funding would also support the Holywood Conservation Area in promoting good design of buildings and presenting public space.

3. Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

a. DSD is currently working to bring forward the Queens Parade regeneration scheme and will be seeking consultation with the local community as the process unfolds. It is too early to comment on the nature and effectiveness of such engagement. DSD is also supporting the regeneration of Holywood town centre but as yet have not engaged in any public consultation.

4. Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

a. In the context of regenerating urban centres, the most contemporary tool promoted by the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) is the use of Business Improvement Districts (BIDS). This is being utilised throughout the UK to breathe new life into towns and cities. Although not necessarily suitable for every location, it could prove to be a very valuable addition to the DSD’s effectiveness. New legislation would be required to introduce BIDS into Northern Ireland. This policy intervention should be introduced at the earliest opportunity.

b. Critical to making any regeneration strategy effective is the principle of “Working in partnership". This refers not only to the private and public sectors but also significantly within the public sectors. A critical difference between local authorities in mainland UK is their ability to bring together management influence over town planning, roads, public space and housing. However, despite best efforts to create joined-up government, DSD’s objective of supporting town centres is critically flawed and undermined by the Planning Agency’s inability to bring forward a revised PPS5 to protect town centres and make them the only location for future retail development. This failed “partnership" working is at the core of the failure in many of Northern Ireland’s urban centres and can be seen as a failure of central government. The need for a fresh PPS5 has been agreed for many years. Drafts have been circulated but no will exists to see it through. Without such policies in place town centre regeneration is compromised.

Response to issues on town centre regeneration not covered by the terms of reference.

1.0 Why have town centre regeneration?

Town centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, social interaction, marketing and promotion.

The newly formed Northern Ireland Executive has released its Programme for Government 2008 – 2011. Within the publication the Executive states that they, “Will strive to also ensure that all parts of our region share in sustainable economic and social development and are able to and benefit from a better future." One of the key principles in the delivery of this commitment is “working in partnership … to harness the ideas, energy and commitment of all the sectors."

2.0 Recommendations for future town centre regeneration.

If DSD is to retain overall management of town centre regeneration it needs to:

a) Offer, at least, match funding to local authorities that establish town centre management partnerships irrespective of TSN status. Town centre management is not only a delivery mechanism for correcting past mistakes but an investment in reducing liabilities in the future. DSD should allocate officers to sit on the local regeneration initiatives as eyes and ears to listen to and harness local opinion and energy. This would give DSD part ownership and a grass roots stake in a “bottom up" approach to regeneration.

b) Establish an intellectual structure that would form the basis for an achievable regeneration strategy for each urban centre across Northern Ireland. Once each area has a draft strategy DSD should fund the process of public consultation and publication of the strategy once agreed by the local council. This process was utilised by the Local Strategic Partnerships in managing the EU Peace and Reconciliation funds.

c) Seek senior Ministerial support in bringing together policy makers to achieve a joined up approach to local regeneration strategies. This should aim to give those individuals with the ability and motivation to contribute locally to achieve a sense of the possible. This is in the knowledge that the most effective and sustainable regeneration is achieved not by imposing action from above but by local people making local decisions and being empowered to achieve local results. DSD must be the facilitators of the structure within which local initiatives can flower or fail.

d) PPS5 is and should remain the principal policy statement on Retailing and Town Centres in Northern Ireland. Similarly the development plan framework is the statutory basis for development and the Local/Area Plan is the appropriate vehicle for planning land use and associated communications. However there needs to be a recognition that the issues facing town centres in Northern Ireland also require a more holistic approach based on an integrated town centre strategy with economic development, training, marketing and promotion, as well as property development and environmental improvement components.

e) A commonly agreed monitoring and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual town centres.

f) DSD should enlist the assistance of the ATCM in introducing legislation that would permit a Northern Ireland style of BIDS to be introduced adding another tool to the regeneration toolbox.

End (26th November 07)

Belfast Chamber of Trade & Commerce

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce logo

26/11/2007

Ref: Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Dear Sir,

We represent in excess of 500 retail and commercial businesses in Belfast City Centre in a Strategic Alliance with Belfast City Centre Management Company, with the clear mandate to promote Belfast City as the Capital of Northern Ireland and the key regional economic driver.

We welcome the inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration as an important step to consider in-depth the need to protect and enhance our town centres and thereby encourage greater coordination between relevant government departments particular Department for Social Development, Department for Regional Development and Department of the Environment. In particular DSD must, if it is to effectively carry on the work of regeneration intervene, and assist with the priorities and content of Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015 and Planning Policy Statement 5 which relates to the protection of towns and city centres.

There are two aspects of the terms of reference which we would like to contribute to. These include:

(i) Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres

Victoria Square, Belfast

In the case of Victoria Square the retail led approach to town centre regeneration could be considered to be very effective. The effectiveness of the programmes underpinning the Victoria Square Development could be judged to be successful on three grounds:

1. Effective private-public partnership: The successful partnership between private developers Multi-Development and the Department for Social Development have ensured the smooth development of the project from initiation to the proposed launch date of the scheme in March 2008. This is an effective model that can be used on a smaller scale within town and city centres across Northern Ireland.

2. Appropriate policy and programmes underpinning town centre regeneration: While DSD’s vesting powers have been used to good effect in Victoria Square, it is vital that DSD’s work is not undermined by policy and operational decisions by other government departments particularly planning decisions made within Department of the Environment.

3. Impact on local economy: Research indicates that the opening of Victoria Square will have injected £828.9m into the local economy and create a substantial number of employment opportunities. The 35 metre diameter iconic glass dome is symbolic of the recent regeneration efforts taking place in Belfast City Centre. The open streetscape architecture, residential and leisure elements coupled with a longer trading day will have a transformative impact on life in the city centre, a key objective of all regeneration programmes in towns and cities.

(ii) Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions

The application of PPG6 and its replacement PPS6 in Great Britain summarised by the following:

“Sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning2. The planning system has a key role in facilitating and promoting sustainable and inclusive patterns of development, including the creation of vital and viable town centres. The Government is committed to developing and supporting successful, thriving, safer and inclusive communities, both urban and rural – a vision set out in the Communities Plan." (Source: Planning Policy Statement 6)"

This policy ensures that an impact assessment is undertaken on any proposed edge-of-town or out-of-centre locations within the catchments of the potential development. It also sets out that all options in a town centre should be thoroughly assessed before less central sites are considered. There are a number of examples of how unrestricted out-town developments have been detrimental to the vitality of town and city centres in the absence of PPS6. One of the most documented is the case of Meadowhall, Sheffield which was developed in the 1990’s and located three miles outside Sheffield City Centre. The development had a detrimental impact on the near by city of Donacaster and three towns (Wakefield, Rotterham and Chesterfield) who all experienced a 43% decrease in non-food shopping trips.

There have also been a number of example how such policy has guided the development of viable and vibrant town centres. In 2000, West Quay in Southampton was the first inner city regional centres in the UK comprising of a retail park and retail shopping centre over 74,000m2. Research by the University of Surrey over a five year period has indicated that the development has had a fundamental impact on the urban identity of Southampton. The research noted that the development has been vital to the survival of Southampton as the south coast’s leading regional centre.

In our view in addition to streamlining consulting effectively on and delivering its existing regeneration activities it is view that Social Development Committees must be to ensure that the use of its resources and budget is not undermined by decisions and policies generated within other Northern Ireland Government Departments.

It should be noted that the lack of statue frameworks in Northern Ireland has left room for opportunist development rather than properly researched and planned regeneration. It would be Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce’s opinion that if BMAP and PPS5 had been adopted they would by their very nature protect the vitality and sustainability of town and city centres within Northern Ireland.

Should the Committee move to oral hearing regarding town centre regeneration I would be grateful if you would consider evidence from the Chamber on this very important issue for towns and city centres across Northern Ireland. At that point we would be confident of being able to deliver a wider range of information and research pertinent to this issue.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Dave Pennick sig

Dave Pennick

President

Belfast City Council

Marie Austin
Department for Social Development
Room 410
Parliament Buildings
BELFAST
BT4 3XX

28 Nov 2007

Dear Marie

Re: Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond to the review / inquiry into town centre regeneration.

Belfast City Council has a particular interest in the regeneration of towns and cities across Northern Ireland as an important element of the Regional Development Strategy. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the review or inquiry as part of an ongoing process to ensure the protection and enhancement of our town centre through increased co-ordination between government departments particularly the Department of Social Development (DSD), Department for Regional Development (DRD) and the Department for Environment (DOE).

In terms of this broader approach and context the continued effectiveness of DSD and delivery of an urban focussed policy is predicated on ensuring that the content of development plans (Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan) and planning policy (Planning Policy Statement 5) positively support the protection and regeneration of towns and city centres.

We must highlight that the Council’s response will be subject to review by the Development Committee on Wednesday 12 December 2007 and to ratification by Council on Wednesday 2 January 2008.

The appended document outlines Belfast City Council’s detailed response. The response includes details of a range of broader issues within the introduction and generic sections of the response. The next section addresses the 4 specific areas of the inquiry.

Should you have any queries concerning this letter or the appended response, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Marie-Therese McGivern sig
Marie-Therésè McGivern

Director of Development

Response to the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

1 Introduction

1.1 There are a number of examples of the role that the Department of Social Development (DSD) has played in contributing to town centre regeneration across Northern Ireland. This approach and intervention rightly recognises the important role for these centres as the basis for longer term sustainable regeneration that will support wider economic development in line with the aspirations of the Regional Development Strategy.

1.2 These interventions have however suffered from the absence of a national strategic framework to examine town centre regeneration for Northern Ireland. An understanding of the context for such regeneration activity and the ability to influence inter-related processes is critical in shaping policies and guiding interventions. Whilst the focus by DSD has been on the delivery of programmes to enhance regeneration activity through direct interventions as part of the wider Executive, there is a responsibility to join up policy initiatives and ensure the potential for regeneration and development is maximised.

1.3 In considering regeneration activity and the potential for the maximisation of regeneration benefits, the Department must take account of the potential for such work to be undermined by potentially conflicting policies or decisions such as those in relation to out of town retail. The weakness and underperformance of many centres has been exacerbated by the failure to control the centrifugal pressures for the development of out of centre retail and other services. The failure to ensure that policies and decisions across the Executive recognise the clear benefits of harnessing private sector as well as public sector investment in furthering the sustainable regeneration of the centres across Northern Ireland is a continuing weakness.

2 General Comments

2.1 At present there is no shared agenda or agreed development vision, strategy or framework for Belfast. Different government departments as well as the local authority are involved in regeneration. A comprehensive co-ordinated city centre vision and strategy with regional importance should be devised with clear direction for the city centre and buy-in from all stakeholders encompassing regeneration and future stewardship.

2.2 Although DSD have acknowledged in their Neighbourhood Renewal agenda that there needs to be an integrated and joined up approach for all agencies to work closer together this sentiment has not always been adhered to. At a strategic level there is perceived limited engagement with political representatives who have the democratically elected mandate to work to address regeneration initiatives.

2.3 Through the State of the City initiative for Belfast there is overall agreement that collectively all agencies must work in collaboration. Belfast City council would welcome the opportunity to work closely with DSD in agreeing the priorities for city centre regeneration.

2.4 The Lyons review of local Government underlined place shaping as one of the key roles and responsibilities of local government. The Council welcomes the opportunity to work with all stakeholders and in particular DSD to effectively build that place shaping capacity.

2.5 The Council would suggest that efforts to improve relationships within the city and tackle the problems associated with division would require a long-term commitment and a joint approach from all service providers. The Council looks forward to working with DSD on dealing with visible manifestations of sectarianism and racism and promoting good relations across the city, as outlined in the ‘Shared Future’ document and would welcome a statement of support for this within any strategy for the city centre.

2.6 The Council supports the view that we need to have a long term programme based approach addressing clearly defined needs to have a sustainable impact. This should be clearly based on the positive benefits associated with the regeneration of centres as the basis for the future sustainable development of the region.

3 Specific Comments

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the DSD to regenerate town centres.

3.1 In the absence of a coherent national strategic agenda it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of DSD programmes and policies to regenerate centres as there is limited baseline data and targets to measure impact and success. However it is evident that a number of specific and partnership projects have contributed to improving the aesthetics and environments including public realm projects and the Renewing the Routes programme.

3.2 As a result of the absence of a regeneration framework a number of long term aspirational plans have developed for parts of the city centre including the North West Quarter and North East Quarter.

3.3 Policies have been weakened by the lack of influence on the wider decision making process and the adverse impact proposals for out of centre retail on both business confidence and investment. The clear policy in relation to the support and control of development proposals for the centre of Belfast (Victoria Square and Cathedral Way) was undermined by the inability to align other policies or decisions by the Executive. The clear advantages and additional benefits from regeneration investment in city centres has not been articulated or introduced into these related processes. Whilst work by the University of Ulster has highlighted the positive longer term returns from investment in brownfield developments (for both the investor and surrounding communities) the assessments have yet to capture or incorporate these broader advantages into the processes.

3.4 The emphasis on retail led town centre regeneration would be considered as an effective and partially successful approach. The value of the approach taken in relation to the major development proposals for the centre of Belfast (Victoria Square and Cathedral Way) has been successful in relation to the positive partnerships developed; the direct tangible economic and social benefits and the emphasis or focus of actions on the development of existing retail centres.

3.5 The legacy of DSD’s Laganside Corporation has been a major contributor to the city centre regeneration linked to the Waterfront. The work in improving the physical environment in the city was impressive and the contribution to employability activity was welcome, albeit although it appears as something of an afterthought to the development activity. The tangible outputs in terms of jobs created for the local community and community grants schemes helped the local community buy into the new developments and helped re-establish a connection with the river. Belfast City Council welcomes the opportunity to continue working closely with DSD to maximise the impact of the foundation activity initiated by Laganside.

3.6 Animation of centres is an important element of strategy and the Council would welcome the opportunity to develop activity through the utilisation of Laganside funds for events developing on the activity previously delivered through this former DSD conduit. However better co-ordination with existing funding organisations e.g. BCC, ACNI and NIEC would provide a more effective package of support covering any gaps. The Council would support the provision of additional public funding for specific projects i.e. SS Nomadic and the Belfast Wheel. The Council’s continuous co-ordination programme is supported and we hope that this can be extended across the city centre.

3.7 The positive work by DSD should continue through investment in signage and branding and late night openings, as well as more and more alternative events in city centre such as the big wheel. The limitations on future public resources necessitate partnership and pooling of resources in order to be more efficient and effective in achieving outputs.

3.8 We are also happy with our continuous co-ordination and involvement in events to promote DSD’s ‘Streets Ahead’ programme and we hope that this can be extended right across the city centre.

3.9 The Neighbourhood Renewal work has been disappointing, in terms of the protracted and confusing process. Neighbourhood Renewal areas are small and they don’t consistently cover the city or the city centre. Little consideration appears to have been given to linkages between Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships or connections from neighbourhoods to the city centre.

3.10 The current strategy does not fully consider the needs of city centre dwellers or the opportunities presented by encouraging retention and expansion of this group. The absence of a strategy, and therefore associated implementation regeneration programmes, means that initiatives fail to target service provision for current dwellers or provide strategies to retain and expand this city centre asset. There is a need for both economic and social assets to be considered in the development of any centre regeneration strategy and associated programmes by DSD.

3.11 The value and longer term benefits of town centre regeneration requires consideration and focus due to the proposals and approvals of purpose built out of town shopping centres in direct competition to the retail and service offer of town and city centres. Nationally there are moves towards preventing the town clone syndrome where High Streets become replicas of each other through an emphasis on encouraging the development of the independent retail sector an area that requires greater emphasis in policy.

3.12 The Council strongly welcomes looking closely at the economic conditions that are having an impact on centre regeneration including the level of rent, the number of vacant properties, the land speculation issue and supply and demand.

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

3.13 Evidence suggests that, while regeneration policies have gone some way towards improving the physical form of the city, they have had only a modest impact on areas of disadvantage. Indeed, in some cases, the gap between the poorer areas and the rest of the city has actually increased.

3.14 We strongly advocate the need for new imaginative ideas to link the city centre to communities such as Lower Falls, Lower Shankill and the Markets. We would recommend commissioning a best practice study of European cities as many EU cities have successful city centres that are well linked to communities that surround them.

3.15 Belfast does have a number of wards listed in the multiple deprivation index as deprived neighbourhoods and communities. Initiatives to address these including new targeting social need plans have been introduced. The Council recommends the need for an anti-poverty strategy for the city to identify where gaps in earning, education attainment and living conditions exist.

3.16 It is imperative that all of Belfast’s communities have easy access to, and take ownership of, the economic opportunities and the cultural, social and retail facilities in the city centre. Without access to these facilities, the quality of life within the surrounding neighbourhoods will be severely compromised and without the support and patronage of local people, the city centre will not be able to sustain itself.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

3.17 Stakeholders could also be the other policy makers in the executive such as the planning service as their input is valuable in understanding and influencing the context to ensure that the potential for regeneration is maximised.

3.18 The Council strongly recommends that future regeneration initiatives or strategies need to consider all stakeholders who use the city centre including the growing population of children and young people. Belfast must plan holistically around the needs and asset value of young people ensuring they are valued and understood by other city centre users including the private sector, rather than the current trend which appears to concentrate on their negative potential, for example Anti-Social Behaviour.

3.19 The Council’s Waste Management Service has little awareness of DSD’s regeneration initiatives, which indicates a lack of effectiveness of engagement with a significant stakeholder. The Waste Management Service would welcome the opportunity to engage with DSD to explore a number of relevant issues.

3.20 The ‘Door Project’, a multi-agency youth initiative supported by the Council, has been seeking to provide a ‘safe space’ facility in the town centre over the last 3/4 years. The project had secured up to £3m in support of the project. However the escalating cost of city centre property has resulted in an inability to secure an appropriate site within their financial means. Funders have had to withdraw and the Project Committee has now abandoned their efforts to progress the project further. This project illustrates the need for any centre regeneration strategy to consider the ‘drivers’ and ‘barriers’ for regeneration.

3.21 The strategy must ensure that it connects neighbourhoods to the citywide agenda. Neighbourhood dwellers must be actively engaged ensuring they have access to and benefit from the targeted wealth and job creation. They must also feel that the retail, cultural and social offer includes their needs alongside the needs of targeted visitors. For example the perception of many residents in North Belfast is that they have been denied access to the wealth and job opportunities that resulted from the Laganside regeneration project. This is compounded by the planning decisions which have resulted in the physical connectivity barriers between them and the city centre.

Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

3.22 On 26th October, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published the Local Government White Paper ‘Strong and Prosperous Communities’. The White Paper advocates: 1. Strengthening the role of local Councils as strategic leaders and place-shapers through the creation of enhanced partnership frameworks and joint delivery models between central and local government and partner agencies including the third sector; and 2. Creating stronger cities and strategic regions through devolving greater power and resources to city and regions, promoting the concept of City Development Companies and encouraging the creation of Employment and Skills Boards in core cities.

3.23 The Council welcomes exploring the prospects of exploring City Development Companies (CDCs) or Urban Development Companies (UDC), similar to URCs but with a wider territorial remit across the whole city and a wide range of functions including economic development and marketing as well as physical regeneration. Derry / Londonderry already have a similar body to a URC ILEX. This approach would pull together in a coherent approach all the priorities, programmes and policies of a wide range of stakeholders. The Council is in favour of the principles of development company’s as they reinforce the community planning process, making appropriate reforms while the RPA and the future of local government is finally determined.

3.24 DSD along with the Council should really put resources into piloting BIDS given their success elsewhere in USA.

3.25 The emerging approach in other parts of the United Kingdom provide a useful insight into the value of clear contextual guidance that provides guidance and protection for the sustainable development of the existing urban areas.

“Sustainable development is the core principle underpinning planning. The planning system has a key role in facilitating and promoting sustainable and inclusive patterns of development, including the creation of vital and viable town centres. The Government is committed to developing and supporting successful, thriving, safer and inclusive communities, both urban and rural – a vision set out in the Communities Plan." (PPS 6: Planning for Town Centres, ODPM, 2005)

3.26 The context for regeneration activity is critical and the Social Development Committees review of DSD must through consideration of the broader actions ensure that the utilisation of its resources and budget is not undermined by decisions and policies generated within other Departments.

3.27 This policy approach, in PPS6 above, ensures that an impact assessment is undertaken for “any application for a main town centre use which would be in an edge-of-centre or out-of-centre location and which is not in accordance with an up-to-date development plan strategy". The guidance also states that all options in a town centre should be thoroughly assessed before peripheral or less central sites are considered. There are numerous examples of developments that have been detrimental to the vitality of town and city centres in the absence of clear guidance and the priority established in PPS6. There are, however, also positive examples of how policy has contributed to the development of viable and vibrant town centres.

3.28 In terms of the future the Council would recommend that DSD via the DFP seriously reconsiders the opportunity to use EU funding 2007-2013 to earmark the city centre as an urban area for concentrated effort.

Big Lottery Fund

Committee for Social Development,
Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration,
Room 410,
Parliament Buildings,
Belfast,
BT4 3XX

28 November 2007

Reference Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Dear Ms Austin

Further to your recent request to submit written evidence to the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration, please find attached an overview of specific programme interventions, which Big Lottery Fund has funded.

The Big Lottery Fund, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been distributing out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by an act of Parliament on 1 December 2006.

Big Lottery Fund has invested in excess of £381m, providing support for more than 7,500 projects in Northern Ireland and contributing to real improvements to local communities and the people most in need.

Big Lottery Fund has run a series of programmes each of which works towards our mission of being committed to bringing real improvements to communities and to the lives of people most in need.

We are also an outcomes funder and details of the areas in which we wish to make a difference are outlined below:

a. People have the opportunity to achieve their full potential

b. People can actively participate in their communities to bring about positive change

c. Community ownership of better and safer rural and urban environments

d. Improved physical and mental health for all people.

The attached submission gives details of the Big Lottery Fund programmes related to your original request.

I would be happy to provide additional information, if required.

Yours sincerely,

Walter Rader sig

Walter Rader

Director, Northern Ireland

Submission by Big Lottery Fund

Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Background

The Big Lottery Fund, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been distributing out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by an act of Parliament on 1 December 2006.

In Northern Ireland, since 1994, the Big Lottery Fund and it’s legacy organisations (Community Fund, New Opportunities Fund and the Millennium Commission) have invested in excess of £381m, providing support for more than 7,500 projects in Northern Ireland and contributing to real improvements to local communities and the people most in need.

The remainder of this paper details specific BIG programmes which relate specifically to the following elements of your original request.

Big Lottery Fund Programmes

Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities.

This £130 million UK wide programme was our first environmental programme, and the first to delegate grant-making authority to award partners. The Programme Budget in Northern Ireland was £5.6 million, Creating Common Ground was appointed as the award partner with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as the lead partner.

The aim of the programme was to help urban and rural communities throughout the UK understand, improve or care for their natural environment.

Transforming Your Space

The main aim of this 2002 UK wide £49.5 million programme was to provide communities with the opportunity to take responsibility for their local environment, and make it safer, greener, cleaner, more pleasant to use and accessible to all. In Northern Ireland, we awarded £2.1 million to14 projects through an open application programme.

Improving Community Buildings

This is a one off open direct grant application programme launched solely in Northern Ireland, in September 2006. The aim of the programme is to refurbish or modernise community venues in order to increase the level of community use and enhance the quality of services provided. There is approximately £5 million available for the programme.

People’s millions

This UK wide programme aims to fund projects that improve the lives of local communities through transforming the local environment by making the local environment cleaner, safer and greener; improving the local natural environment; and improving the design, appearance and accessibility of local amenities. To-date £346,000 has been awarded to seven projects in Northern Ireland. We have worked with UTV as a partner on this programme, through a competition the public have voted on which projects they wish to see funded in Northern Ireland.

Living Landmarks

Living Landmarks was launched in June 2005 to fund major projects that will have a real impact on communities. The £140 million UK wide programme will support large-scale capital projects.

In November 2007 we announced that Connswater Community Greenway had secured a £23.5million grant. The project led by Greater East Belfast Partnership will use the grant to connect 379 acres of public open space, build 43 bridges and create 19kms of cycle and walkways. The project will benefit more than 40,800 people living in the area, improving the living environment and providing opportunities for leisure, exercise, recreation and supporting healthier lifestyles.

The grant will also be used to develop a 9km linear park through east Belfast, following the course of the Connswater, Knock and Loop rivers, connecting people and places from Castlereagh Hills to Belfast Lough.

In addition many of the Millenniums Commission’s individual large capital grants have had major impact on town centres, for example £45 million to the Odyssey Trust Company, £2.5 million to the St. Patrick’s visitor centre in Downpatrick, £4.9 million to the Millennium Forum in Derry, £4.9 million to the ECOS Centre in Ballymena and the £2.1 million to Belfast City Council for community parks.

Annex A includes, additional information on the impact of the Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities, Transforming your Space and People’s Millions programmes in Northern Ireland.

Annex A

Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities

In Northern Ireland Big Lottery Fund worked with Creating Common Ground, and ran two complementary programme strands:

The type of activities funded by the grants included:

22 Parks and Open space projects to the value of £373,723; 9 children’s play projects to the value of £260,439 and 18 recreational facilities to the value of £464,469 .

The type of activities funded by the grants included:

89 Parks and Open space projects to the value of £1,659,405; 14 children’s play projects to the value of £411,002 and 24 recreational facilities to the value of £693,554

Independent evaluation of the programme indicated that it was effective in meeting its aims i.e. positive impact on environmental regeneration, community safety, neighbourhood renewal, community relations and building community infrastructure.

Transforming Your Space

In Northern Ireland a total of 14 grants were awarded, with an average grant size of £150K.

Improvement in quality of life was the overriding priority when allocating resources. Match funding was not required but some evidence of partnership working and ‘buy in’ on the part of the local community was encouraged.

The link between environmental and community benefits was at the heart of Transforming Your Space, and it is here that the greatest impacts were seen with the benefits including:-

People’s Millions

Carrickfergus Borough Council

Carrickfergus Borough Council response to the Committee for Social Development Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

1. Introduction

1.1 Carrickfergus Borough Council came into being as a result of the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland, which was implemented in 1973. At that time the original Carrickfergus Borough Council, together with the Whitehead Urban District Council and part of the Larne Rural District Council area, were amalgamated to create the present Carrickfergus Borough Council area.

1.2 The Council area is located on the north shore of Belfast Lough and extends from Greenisland in the south-west to Whitehead in the east. The total area of the Borough is 8,203 hectares (32 square miles), with a population of circa 39,700.

1.3 This response is being prepared on behalf of the Economic Development Sub-Committee of Carrickfergus Borough Council.

2. Previous experience of assistance for Town Centre Regeneration from the Department for Social Development (DSD)

2.1 Before 1990 the Carrickfergus Maritime Area consisted of several brownfield sites. The sites had unsightly uses consisting of oil and chemical tanks, coal stockpiles and contaminated land which resulted in a deteriorating appearance. During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Carrickfergus and the surrounding area suffered the loss of several large industrial employers including Courtaulds synthetic fibre factory, ICI’s man made fibre production and Carreras Rothman tobacco plant. The area, which had enjoyed a considerable measure of prosperity during the 1950’s and 1960’s, experienced a disproportionate share of the manufacturing job losses which occurred in the early 1980’s, thus resulting in high unemployment forcing local residents to seek employment further afield. This was coupled with the development of the Abbey Centre complex which included Carrickfergus in its catchment area.

2.2 The Council became anxious regarding the deteriorating appearance of the town and the high levels of unemployment and approached the Department of the Environment (Planning and Regeneration) in 1989. Together it was agreed to produce a Town Centre Plan to tackle the process of decline. During this time the marina and harbour were incompatible partners. The harbour was receiving imports including dirty cargoes, loose coal and fertiliser which were unloaded by grab crane. The commercial pier was functional but grimy and unattractive and although the marina was successful in attracting a large range of private recreational craft the general appearance of the entire site was poor.

2.3 Resulting from the Town Centre Plan the Council, the Department for Social Development and the Department of the Environment created the Maritime Area Partnership (MAP) Board to carry the scheme forward. The maritime area was to be considered as a vital extension to the adjacent traditional town centre and developed with compatible mixed uses such as retail, leisure and housing. The aim was to make a positive contribution to the regeneration of the town and high standards of design were to be imposed.

3 Achievents

3.1 The regeneration of the Maritime Area delivered the following results:

3.1.1 A World Class Marina Development including Conference facilities and Local Tourist Information Point

3.1.2 A 3 star rated ‘Premier Travel Inn’ Hotel

3.1.3 Several restaurants and bars

3.1.4 An Omniplex 6 screen cinema

3.1.5 A Retail Outlet encompassing a Co-op store, Travel Agent, Off License and Post Office

3.1.6 260+ Residential units totalling 500+ new residents

3.1.7 Open space including restoration of Legg Park

3.1.8 50+ community residential development

3.1.9 Hi-tech offices provision

3.1.10 Creation of 500 full and part-time jobs

4 Additional benefits

4.1 The scheme has since stimulated other regeneration projects such as:

4.1.1 Carrickfergus Cohesion Strategy - The main aim of the Cohesion Strategy is to integrate and interconnect the Town Centre to ensure it’s a successful, vibrant and convenient town centre for all who live, work and visit it. The scheme aims to protect the town’s historic character whilst accommodating developments to enable the sustained future of the centre. The scheme will provide a quality public realm indicating the uniqueness and importance of the centre and will deliver a consolidated retail core to maximise the opportunities of restaurants and evening economy users. DSD played a significant role in the development of this strategy and chaired the working group responsible for its development.

4.1.2 Way Finding Signage Project - In order to celebrate and promote the unique visitor offering that the Borough affords, the new Way Finding Project will soon be complete. The signage will be interlinked and help direct visitors and residents alike around the various areas of historical significance throughout the Borough.

4.1.3 Public Art and Space Project - A Public Art and Space project is underway to enhance the open spaces including areas throughout the Maritime Area.

4.1.4 Restaurant Development - Papa Browns restaurant opened just on the outskirts of the maritime area but resulted from the success of sister restaurant ‘Springsteens’ based in the maritime development.

4.1.5 Cheston Street Development - Adjacent to the maritime area, Cheston Street has almost finished a new development of residential units, strengthening the desire for town centre living.

4.1.6 Marine Gardens Sports Complex - A new multi-purpose outdoor sports complex is being built in Marine Gardens for public uses. The gardens are several hundred meters from the maritime development.

5 New developments arising from the maritime area scheme

5.1 More recently, the DSD have supported Phase I of the re-development of Carrickfergus promenade, which aims:

5.1.1 To provide an improved walking environment

5.1.2 To provide a more welcoming environment

5.1.3 To improve first impressions of the town

5.1.4 To improve accessibility to and within the town centre

5.1.5 To increase the number of people using the marine promenade

5.1.6 To mitigate the visual impact of vehicular traffic

5.1.7 To maximize the tourism potential of Carrickfergus

5.1.8 To enhance civic pride

5.1.9 To improve linkages between attractions within Carrickfergus

6 Outcomes

6.1 442 jobs were created through the original maritime scheme, not counting construction or secondary jobs related to the development. Of these jobs, 95% are held by local residents.

6.2 The maritime area itself is very well used. The interim evaluation of the project identified a footfall in the area of 1,805,400 in 2003. By 2007, this had increased to 1,862,953.

6.3 In addition to the jobs created and visitors attracted to the area, the development also has a wide range of tangible and intangible benefits to the community such as:

6.3.1 The Sailing Club has had a 250% growth in membership over the last 20 years. The Club provides a winter and summer programme of sailing events including Sailability – a totally inclusive sailing programme designed for the disabled community. The Sailing Club aims to become a Centre for Excellence for the 2012 Olympics.

6.3.2 A Sea Cadet Centre is based at the maritime area available to all children throughout the Borough for a subscription of £1 per week and enables the child to access the unit everyday, be eligible for training programmes and provides an entry point for a career in the Navy. The training programme not only deals with academic qualities but focuses on non-academic qualities of children also.

6.3.3 There is an events programme with a wide range of activities suitable for all socio-economic groups including Sailing Regattas, Children’s events, Civic event, National/International/World Championship events such as Classic Sail and World Optimist Championships. The maritime area hosted the BBC Proms in September 2007.

6.3.4 There is a Public Art programme in place incorporating the community with a wall mural based at the Marina.

6.3.5 The Council has contacts with all local schools and universities and provides an educational programme for young people covering the maritime development

6.3.6 Increased social and community benefits through the creation of extra leisure facilities which are inclusive to all.

6.3.7 Creation of linkage promenades resulting in environmental benefits for users of the area and increased civic pride due to the high quality design

6.3.8 The growth in marina occupancy resulting in tourism benefits and increased expenditure in the town

7 Conclusion

7.1 Carrickfergus Borough Council believes that the Carrickfergus maritime area scheme achieved its objectives, secured value for money and made a significant beneficial contribution to the town. As such it could be considered a model for future schemes and has initiated additional regeneration in the area such as further town centre residential units, extension to the town centre through the Cohesion Strategy, further public access and open spaces, outdoor multi-sports complex and extra leisure facilities for the benefit of all.

7.2 The effectiveness of engagement with the local community and key stakeholders is shown by the departments represented on the Maritime Area Partnership Board which managed the scheme, and by the range of community-led activity available in the maritime area. That 95% of jobs are held by local people shows the scheme’s effect on disadvantage and poverty. The scheme was recognised as a finalist in the 2007 BURA best practice awards, and the MAP Board has been identified as a successful and replicable model for future developments.

7.3 Without the support of the Department for Social Development, this scheme would not have been possible. The Department invested £4 million in the infrastructure of the project, with Carrickfergus Borough Council investing a further £2 million. At a time when other funds such as those available through the Building Sustainable Prosperity Programme are being refocussed away from Town Centre Development, the support provided by the Department for Social Development is all the more cruical. Carrickfergus Borough Council woud strongly support DSD-led town centre regeneneration schemes being expanded.

7.4 Carrickfergus Borough Council would also welcome DSD assistance in encouraging a more flexible approach to development on the part of the Planning Service, in particular in relation to regeneration within the conservation area of Carrickfergus. In addition, the additional challenges in relation to regeneration within a conservation area should be recognised, and additional resources allocated to assist in this area.

Officer to contact

Nicole Mulholland
Development Manager (Economic)
Carrickfergus Borough Council
Museum & Civic Centre
Carrickfergus BT38 7DG
T 9335 8000
E nicolem@carrickfergus.org

City Centre Initiative (CCI) Derry

Dear Marie,

City Centre Initiative (CCI) stemmed from a re-branded City Centre Partnership with Town Centre Management objectives. While the organisation still deals with projects on promotion marketing, accessibility, retail/service offer and the environment the partnership believed that there were specific problems in addition to the traditional town centre management objectives.

These additional issues would have an impact on our centre and we re-branded with family friendly, safe and clean centres as our core objective. This brought us into dealing with anti social behaviour / alcohol (pubs and clubs)/ ownership and management of CCTV and drawing up protocols which have certainly impacted in a positive way for all our centre users. All areas tackled have a partnership approach.

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

I have just been appointed to the post in Derry City (5 weeks ago) and I may therefore not be in a position to give a comprehensive overview of some of the requested data.

However DSD fund the salary of the City Centre Manager and that of an Administrator with some allowance for office overheads. The approximate value is 50k per annum and is funded through the Neighbourhood Renewal Project (promotions programme). This is finishes in March 2008 and DSD have advised they will no longer be able to fund the post. The funding is always on a year to year basis which limits our effectiveness as an organisation in terms of planning and commitments we can make.

Certainly in the past the North West development Office has contributed to CCTV in a partnership set up for a limited time as there was a need to establish such a group in our centre. However this was a one off project. This is possibly typical of some department programmes where they are driven by single issue initiatives at local level as opposed to policies and programmes having an overarching strategic framework, which filter down to regional and local programmes that feed into the overall framework.

It must be said that the ‘EDAW report’ in 2000 did go someway in addressing the issues raised in this paper but once written has had little exposure.

Identify area’s where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantaged and poverty

Unless there is a uniform and comparable Key Performance Indicator regime it is impossible to practically and quantifiably answer the above question.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when tacking forward regeneration initiatives.

DSD tends to recognise the importance of Town and City Partnerships in a wealth of department documentation. Regardless of an environment it is vital to build relationships which are mutually beneficial and such partnerships are key to engaging with local communities and stakeholders. Local authorities must endorse and support these partnerships also. However unless funding is provided such partnerships will fail.

Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness and policy intervention.

When looking elsewhere (Scotland Wales and England and Southern Ireland) the one thing that strikes you is that there is a joined up approach to issues. Government departments tend to (at least be seen) to co-operate together more effectively. The lack of a joined up approach may be impacted by the proposed RPA.

The National Association of Town Centre Management may be in a position to give some practical examples of best practice elsewhere but the structure need to be put in place for effective delivery.

As previously mentioned the EDAW REPORT of 2000 did address some of the practical aspects of Town Centre Management in a Northern Ireland context. It made some 27 recommendations which still provide relevance today.

Yours faithfully

Sean Trainor

Chief Executive

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd

Northern Ireland Assembly Submission To Committee For Social Development Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

Submission by

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd
Abbey Street
Coleraine
BT52 1DS

November 2007

Introduction

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd was set up in 1997 to manage, promote and develop the town of Coleraine. Coleraine was one of the first towns to embrace the concept of Town Centre Management as a catalyst for urban regeneration It is well established member of the National Association of Town Centre Managerment and has won two national awards for best practise. The Town Centre Manager is current Vice Chair of ATCM (NI) and has served as Regional Chair 2002-2004. Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd has worked closely with DSD on Master Planning and Development Briefs which has resulted in current development proposals worth £115 m for the town centre. The Town Centre Manager has completed the pilot Diploma in Place Management which aims to professionalise the Town Centre Management discipline.

The Town Partnership Company seeks

A board of representatives from the public, private and community sector is supplemented by various steering groups covering key issues - Environment, Access, Promotion, Development and Safety.

Funding comes from a 3 Year core funding package from Coleraine Borough Council and the private sector. Project funding is generated through applications to external funding sources and over £2.5 million has been raised to date. This added value funding does not include financial resources allocated from partner organisations, estimated at well over £6 million.

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd was involved in the preparation of the ATCM (NI) response to the inquiry and agrees with the issues and recommendations. Our response deals with issues and recommendations that are relevant to Coleraine.

Response to terms of reference:

1. Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd believe that DSD policy and programmes have had limited effectiveness due to the lack of an overarching Strategic Framework, Policy. Effective Town Centre Regeneration, although within DSD remit, is much wider and needs to encompass wider government policy such as

DSD should adopt the hierarchy of towns as a means of identifying level and type of intervention based on wealth creation.

DSD should have a major input into the preparation of local Area Plans, to ensure that local Master Plans and Development Strategies are given importance and statutory weight.

The lack of a robust policy has had the single most severe impact on the regeneration of our town and city centres. DSD must take the lead role in adopting and applying this to public and private retail development schemes as a matter of urgency.

Similar to the Coleraine model, DSD should take the lead in standardising Town Centre Regeneration Strategies. This should include a 10 year Masterplan, 3-5 yr Strategy and Operational Plan. They should be driven by local Town Partnerships and jointly core-funded by DSD, Council and private sector.

Below we have provided a local example of our experience of working with DSD

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd has worked closely with DSD at both a strategic and operational level to deliver projects on the ground. Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd produced a Town Centre Masterplan back in 1999 with financial assistance from DOE Planning Service and Coleraine Borough Council. This has provided the framework for the ongoing development of the town. This was supplemented in 2005 by a Development Strategy which identified 5 key development sites and assessed retail capacity up to 2010. This led to DSD producing a Development Brief for 2 key sites and a series of Regeneration Objectives for the town centre, which formed the basis for assessment. Currently, there is a preferred developer for each scheme, which will deliver over 200,000 sq. ft of new retail, 110 apartments, 1500 car parking spaces and new public spaces – development worth well over £115 million.

While this project represents best practice in urban regeneration, it has been severely affected as follows

Both reports were prepared to feed into the emerging Northern Area Plan, but are not officially recognised. This meant that DSD had to invest considerable funds in appointing new consultants to verify the Retail Capacity figures. This delayed the process by 18 months.

Although DSD personnel were committed to the Coleraine project it was severely hampered by the huge workload on the DSD personnel, both in urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal. DSD Public Servants come from a variety of disciplines and received no formal training. The scale of the Coleraine project made this particularly apparent. This also added considerable delay to the project. Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd welcomes the recent restructuring within DSD to allow for focus on Urban Regeneration. This is a positive move and should be supplemented by finalised training and best practice evaluation, underpinned by an overworking strategic framework. Developing teams focused on urban regeneration will allow expertise to be developed. Their work will be further enhanced if it is underpinned by an overarching Strategic Framework

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd has also been involved in the following DSD policies

Urban Development Grants

These have been relatively successful in Coleraine. Following a re-aligning of the boundary to allow for secondary areas of dereliction to be included. We would welcome the re-introduction of this scheme, particularly if it is revised and more flexible to the needs of individual town centres to maximise regeneration potential.

Town Centre Marketing Programme

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd have successfully availed of a 3 year funding package which has delivered measurable success on the ground. This has been a successful programme that should become a mainstream funding initiative.

2. Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

Town Centres should be viewed as centres for wealth creation and community cohesion by all government departments. DSD regeneration funding has tried to target areas of disadvantage and poverty in a piecemeal fashion but, because it has not been backed up by an agreed Town Centre Strategy, and robust evaluation process it has been limited in its effect. The ludicrous current situation where DETI refuse to recognise Town Centre Regeneration in its economic development funding criteria and DSD have not got the necessary funding in place, must not be allowed to continue. DSD, as set out in (1) above must take the lead role, and avail of the necessary funding to deliver.

3. Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

Coleraine has a very effective Partnership which has been cemented by part success, shared ownership and commitment. The full list of partners is enclosed as Appendix One. This Partnership model is based on best practise in the rest of the UK. It is an independent company, funded but not controlled by Council. The Town Centre Manager is employed by the Town Centre Partnership Board. This ensures maximum buy-in and effective engagement from all stakeholders. DSD have recognised the importance of Town Centre Partnership’s across their various publications. This was also identified in the EDAW report (2000) commissioned by the Department of Environment. There was a list of the main component 27 recommendations for effective town centre regeneration, many of which have been part focused in this document. A copy of the report is attached as Appendix Two. The DSD committee should to study this report in detail.

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd has been successful not just in its make-up, but also in its ability to address strategic and operational issues as detailed in (1). It has been thwarted however, by the lack of a sustainable funding mechanism which, has limited its impact. It operates on a “shoestring" budget to cover a Town centre Manager, part-time administrator and overhead costs. There is limited project funding which to date has come from external European funding applications. This resource is drying up and is a serious concern for this Partnership going forward. We suggest a joint funding package from DSD, Council and the private sector be the way forward. Consideration of BIDS legislation within a Northern Ireland context is a natural progression and should be evaluated as a matter of urgency.

4. Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd has been closely guided in its work by ATCM which provides example of best practise at a GB and European level. We would recommend that DSD consult and engage with ATCM in the preparation of future policy and intervention programmes. There are numerous examples of best practise in England and Scotland, particularly in the areas of Masterplanning, pilot BIDS legislation and formalised training. It is our firm believe that these could be tailored to suit the Northern Ireland context. As a point of note, Coleraine and Ballymena has submitted an Interreg Funding proposal with parties in Scotland and the Republic, to pilot the BID’s model and share best practise in urban regeneration.

Appendix One

Coleraine Town Partnership Ltd

Partner Organisations

Appendix Two

EDAW
Report on the Reinvigoration of Town Centre 2000

Key Recommendations

Recommendation 1: There is a strong case for PPS to reviewed as a priority

Recommendation 2: That s review of policy on rural shop support and market town development by undertaken as part of a wider study of Rural Social Exclusion.

Recommendation 3: A common monitoring and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland town centres.

Recommendation 4: Town centre management should be considered as an element of town centre reinvigoration in Northern Ireland.

Recommendation 5: Town centres are of significance across the communities they serve and urban regeneration strategy should address their reinvigoration as a corollary to targeted strategies for neighbourhood regeneration.

Recommendation 6: Housing can make a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres but will require the establishment of public subsidy systems able to overcome market failure.

Recommendation 7: Within the context of any review of PPS5 transport issues should be reviewed and greater emphasis placed on the specific needs of town centres.

Recommendation 8: The Regional Transport Plan should include specific polices in respect tot town centre.

Recommendation 9: Parking controls are considered to be the key area for short term action (as detailed in the Report) and attention should be given to developing a consistent approach but one which recognises the specific circumstances of each town centre.

Recommendation 10: Pedestrianisation in some of the case study towns would seem not to have worked in terms of the viability and vitality of the town centre. There is a need to review the bases upon which pedestrianisation is carried out and to initiate schemes only as part of a comprehensive town centre strategy.

Recommendation 11: Town centre strategies should be prepared to guide future public and private sector investment in town centres. The preparation of a Strategy should be pre-requisite to significant investment and should be led by District Councils in consultation with key stakeholders (including Government Departments and private sector organisations). Strategies must comply with existing up-to-date development plans and mesh with the Regional Strategic Framework and Policy Planning Statements.

Recommendation 12: Government should prepare and issue guidance on the preparation of Town Centre Strategies.

Recommendation 13: Positive encouragement should be given to town centre housing development where this contributes to strategic land use objective3s and in support of town centre reinvigoration. Consideration should be given to providing subsidy and technical support for schemes to promote living over the shops (LOTS).

Recommendation 14: Any revision of PPS5 should require social inclusion impacts to be a relevant criteria in assessing the impacts of large scale retail developments in accordance with the policy of mainstreaming social inclusion.

Recommendation 15: Towns should be encouraged to position themselves to target particular tourism market needs – families, activities, art, etc. Leisure, entertainment and other development which encouraged vitality in town centres should be promoted within the parameters set by normal development control procedures to minimise nuisance and loss of amenity for residents.

Recommendation 16: Tourism and leisure issues should be addressed as part of any review of PPS5.

Recommendation 17: Funding of town centre projects could be limited to those Town Centres where there is an agreed Town Centre Strategy.

Recommendation 18: Town Centre Management as an approach should be promoted as an essential prerequisite to funding being provided for town centre schemes. This need not involve the appointment of a Town Centre Manager but this should be considered for larger town centres or groups of smaller town centres.

Recommendation 19: Town Centre Partnerships should be established for all major town centres or where the local authority proposes to prepare a Town Centre Strategy. This partnership should be guide the preparation of a town centre strategy and should be wound-up only if and when a Town centre Management partnership is established to progress the Strategy or a decision has been made not to progress a scheme.

Recommendation 20: The government should consider the establishment of a Town Centre Regeneration Agency to act as the supervisory mechanism to manage funding and to ensure that monitoring and evaluation information is collected as a condition of funding. The Agency would require to ensure absolute transparency in its decision making and should not become involved in the preparation of individual strategies – only in the dissemination of information and in the co-ordination of funding.

Recommendation 21: Department of Social Development has a lead role to play in relation to reinvigoration of town centres in conjunction with the Department of Regional Development.

Colin Neighbourhood Partnership

N. I. Assembly
Committee for Social Development
Room 410, Parliament Buildings
Belfast, BT4 3XX

27 November 2007

For the attention of Marie Austin, Committee Clerk

Dear Ms. Austin,

Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

I refer to your letter of 17th October 2007 and note your Committee is examining the current approach to town centre regeneration.

I am writing on behalf of the Colin Neighbourhood Partnership which I am Chair. That said I am a qualified Chartered Surveyor and Property Director of Alburn which is a private development company active throughout Ireland and UK.

The Colin Neighbourhood Partnership covers the areas of Lagmore, Twinbrook, Kilwee and Poleglass with a population of circa 28,000 people. A three year Action Plan has just been signed off by the DSD which my Board is now actively endeavoring to undertake. The Board is well represented by all the key stakeholders with full political, community and statutory representation. Politically the area falls within West Belfast but Planning and services are provided by Lisburn City Council.

A flagship project identified in our Action Plan is the delivery of a new Town Centre for Colin. To date Colin has developed into four distinct housing areas with no heart. A district centre was developed in 1994 called the Dairy Farm. This was promoted and funded by DSD /BRO but was sold to the private sector in 1998 since then it has deteriorated to extent it provides little if any benefit to the community. In other words a failed attempt. It is our experience that as far as Town Centre Regeneration goes, there exists a lack of joined up working from Government Departments, Planning and Road Services and in general a lack of commitment to Urban Regeneration from Government Departments.

Adjoining the Dairy Farm are some 15 acres of land in ownership of DSD, Housing Executive and Southern Health & Social Care Trust. All these statutory agencies have expressed support and commitment to the establishment of a new town centre to include retail, leisure, transport connections, health and well being, residential and amenity space. Funding has already been safeguarded in the sum of £3.5M under IDF; this is to undertake Environmental improvement works to the Stewartstown Rd which will be the gateway to the new town centre. Consultants are shortly to be appointed by Colin to undertake a full Masterplanning exercise to include methods of procurement for new town centre. It is anticipated the Masterplan will be adopted by the Board in early summer 2008 with a full public consultation to follow. This will lead to adoption of the Dairy Farm and adjoining lands as a new town centre thereafter. Such adoption likely to form part of the final BMAP.

Lisburn City Council’s Economic Development Officer, Paul McCormick has taken the lead for Colin to date but as our Masterplan takes shape you should be aware of our plans and in particular how best these can be implemented. Certainly there is commercial demand for a new town centre but there is a clear role for all the statutory authorities to facilitate and create the environment where private sector can and will commit. We also recognise that the reliance on DSD at community level has failed, the Colin Board are therefore anxious to retain ownership of the entire exercise and participate in the overall success. At this stage we are seeking a secondment from the DSD to assist us with the Masterplan but in due course this will lead to the delivery of the new town centre. The opportunity to create a new town centre for Colin is probably unique but the ingredients and timing have never been better.

I would welcome an opportunity to give oral evidence based primarily on my role as Chair at Colin but also my wider experience of developing elsewhere.

Yours sincerely

Nigel Kinnaird

Chairperson.

Colin Neighbourhood Partnership, Unit W4, The Colin Centre, Stewartstown Road, Belfast BT17 0AW. Tel: 028 9062 3813 Fax: 028 9062 9725 www.newcolin.com

Comber Regeneration

29 November 2007

Experiences Regarding Town Centre Regeneration Scheme

Comber Regeneration Ltd (CRL) was incorporated in June 2004 following its inception as regeneration committee under the auspices of Ards Borough Council in 2004.

DSD Support

We continue to be disappointed by that the level of support given by DSD at CRL meetings, and the need to spend public money employing “consultants" to satisfy DSD procedures when we already had a comprehensive Regeneration strategy report prepared by GVA GRIMLEY in March 2005, summarised as follows: -

1. No real input or apparent interest in our project

2. Money wasted employing consultants which could have been better used

3. Unhelpful attitude towards achieving funding deadlines

4. Sending representatives to meetings who make statements which are later denied

5. Sending representatives to meetings who have NO apparent decision making ability

6. DSD do not accept previously approved Council tendering/purchasing methods

UDG Scheme

Problems we experienced with regard to potential projects when dealing with DSD and the District Valuer, under the UDG Scheme which may be summarized as follows:

1. DSD staff are generally found to have little understanding of the risks and difficulties associated with property development and the regeneration process. They were therefore tentative, indecisive, and concerned more with the process than the successful outcome of the project. We felt that instead of being on our side, and effectively part of our team, they became just another obstacle to overcome. DSD should therefore make more use of property professionals in this process.

2. Despite asking DSD, CRL were not made aware of the uptake of UDG applications in Comber, with the result that we were frequently working at cross-purposes with other grant applicants. In a town with many vacant, under used, and derelict sites and properties this made our task of selecting and co-coordinating priorities all the more difficult. CRL as the nominated Regeneration Company for Comber should be kept better informed.

3. The methodology of DSD asking the District Valuer (DV) to fix value limits for acquiring property in isolation and without consultation with the grant applicant or property owners, was impractical, unhelpful and the single most significant obstacle to effective negotiations. Some if not most of our efforts to acquire vacant property failed because of this. The DV must have a more positive input and become directly involved in the regeneration process.

4. In the case of Comber, the application of the UDG Scheme (long since withdrawn) was too transient to effectively encourage any significant degree of regeneration. Its precipitate withdrawal was a serious blow to the development prospects for the town of Comber. UDG and the other regeneration grants, as in the case of Belfast and Londonderry, must be secured on a more permanent basis.

Case Study – Comber Co. Down

Following the approval of a grant from SEED GVA Grimley prepared a report on future strategy for regeneration of the town of Comber in May 2005. The scheme centred on upgrading the Square and the adjoining main streets. The scheme included public realm works, traffic calming with a one-way system, raised pedestrian surfaces, improved lighting, and security. A steering Group was formed to promote and implement the strategy, which included, DSD, DRD Roads Service, Ards Borough Council (ABC) Development Director and Regeneration Officer and interested local councillors.

With the need to satisfy all stakeholders and despite not having any funds CRL through ABC instructed Landscape Architects, Scott Wilson to prepare plans for the scheme.

Substantial agreement was achieved after extensive meetings including public realm works, traffic calming with a one-way system, raised pedestrian surfaces, improved lighting, and security. As a result of this exercise, DSD advised that £300K could be available to support to support the regeneration plan.

CRL presented Scott Wilson’s plans to a public meeting at which they were broadly supported with few objectors.

Following a written consultation period, it emerged that there were difficulties with the area adjoining the war memorial. Conscious of the DSD budget deadlines and in order to take things forward CRL agreed a smaller scheme approx £300K.

By this stage, Council had taken over the implementation and costing of the scheme which was further watered down to £100K in order to meet DSD deadlines thus effectively ignoring the broad thrust of the professionally prepared strategy.

There are serious issues of public interest involved in terms of wasted funds. As a group of unpaid volunteers, we, CRL, put in lot of work engaging with consultants and stakeholders to produce a professional strategy for the town of Comber which was effectively undermined by some negative political and local organizations. This appears to be typical in other town centre schemes throughout the Province.

Conclusion

DSD were typically un-commercial, often unsupportive, and negative and were bogged down by the process.

DRD were generally supportive of the scheme though they were never fully tested on funding possibilities

As a voluntary Group, we were not encouraged to follow through to project in spite of local enthusiasm which was increasingly dampened by bureaucracy in DSD, and negative political and local organizations thus effectively ensuring the bigger picture and strategy was not achieved.

Local people dedicated time into a scheme, secured funding for a strategy only to find DSD’s funding arrangements based on an annual budget were inflexible, and appeared designed to frustrate

A smaller £100K scheme is now planned for implementation. It remains to be seen whether DSD and ABC can keep sufficient interest in CRL to ensure there is the momentum to achieve the strategy with a second phase of the scheme.

This is an example of under-spend where a project was viable and not achieved. It is hoped the original strategy can be achieved in a second phase with better support from DSD and the continued support of ABC and DRD.

Johnny Andrews

Chairman
Comber Regeneration Ltd.

Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure

FROM: Linda Gregg
Clerk
Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure

DATE: 25 October 2007

TO: Marie Austin
Clerk
Committee for Social Development

Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

Your letter of 17 October 2007 was discussed at the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure’s meeting of 25 October 2007. The Committee agreed to forward your Chairperson’s letter to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The Committee decided not to makes its own submission to the inquiry but has asked the Minister to forward it a copy of any written submission which his Department makes to the inquiry.

Linda Gregg

Committee for Finance & Personnel

Committee for Finance correspondence

Cookstown District Council and
Cookstown Town Centre Forum

Cookstown District Council correspondence

Response from Cookstown District Council and Cookstown Town Centre Forum

Submission to Committee for Social Development
On
Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Submitted by:

Cookstown District Council & Cookstown Town Centre Forum
c/o Cookstown District Council
Council Offices,
Burn Road,
Cookstown
Co Tyrone
BT80 8DT 29th November 2007

Cookstown District Council & Cookstown Town Centre Forum Response to NI Assembly Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Introduction

This response has been formulated by Cookstown District Council in conjunction with Cookstown Town Centre Forum. Cookstown Town Centre Forum was established in 2002, to spearhead town centre regeneration efforts and brings together 21 members. Members are inclusive of the public, private and community/voluntary sectors, and representatives include Cookstown District Council, Cookstown Chamber of Commerce, Department for Social Development, Planning Service, Roads Service, NIHE, local businesses and the community.

Cookstown’s ten year Town Centre Regeneration Strategy was launched in 2003 following extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders from the public, private, community and voluntary sectors, and details a range of short to medium term actions, funding structures, delivery mechanisms, etc.

The Forum act as an ‘umbrella’ to facilitate the delivery of projects by lead partners ensuring a strong, positive and co-ordinating vehicle to deliver regeneration of the town centre. Through joined up governance, and utilising the experience of members, the intricacies of project delivery are addressed, resulting in effective delivery and positive outcomes.

The fundamental driving principles are to:

Professional support towards implementation of the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy are provided by Council’s Director of Development, Economic Development Officer, and the Town Strategy Manager. These officers are responsible for implementing Cookstown Town Centre Regeneration Strategy and servicing the Town Centre Forum and its sub-committees.

Cookstown in Context

Cookstown District Council area covers over 510 sq/km making it the eleventh largest District in Northern Ireland in terms of area. Cookstown District is centrally located in the heart of Northern Ireland with Lough Neagh to the east, and the Sperrin Mountains to the west, and has a current population of approximately 35,000, representing an increase of 23% since 1981. Cookstown town is a traditional market town, widely recognised as the ‘Capital of Mid-Ulster’ and acts as the District’s main industrial, commercial, retail and employment base. The district has a strong rural settlement character with approximately two-thirds of its population living in rural areas.

Cookstown District Council has over the last five to ten years in conjunction with Cookstown Town Centre Forum proven itself to be one of the most proactive and developmental local authorities throughout Northern Ireland. In fact, during the last decade Cookstown District has achieved the accolade of being the third fastest growing area in Northern Ireland in terms of employment growth, quite an achievement given it is the second smallest local authority in Northern Ireland. Council’s strategic approach and its innate ability to deliver upon challenging programmes and targets has been demonstrable, including its success in achieving New TSN targets. In particular Council’s Local Economic Development Programme containing a large number of economic initiatives, including town centre regeneration has been a tremendous success.

As a result of effective and co-ordinated implementation of town centre initiatives, key findings from a recent Town Centre Healthcheck highlighted the following:

Cookstown currently operates in what is known as the ‘Western Region’ of Northern Ireland. The region has a number of medium sized towns, with a population in excess of 10,000 people and serve as the administrative, commercial, service, health and educational centres for a large hinterland. Such towns act as the economic driver for their respective Council areas. Accordingly the retail and commercial performance of such towns is instrumental towards providing not only a substantive proportion of all jobs available in the region but also impacts significantly upon the general well-being and performance of the sub-regional economy.

Response to Terms of Reference

1) Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

The current approach by DSD regarding intervention to assist in Town Centre Regeneration is narrow focused and is driven by single issue initiatives and as such is not based on identification of need through recognised Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), nor is the success of DSD intervention measured using these recognised indicators. In a number of its publications DSD recognise the value of town centres as a centre for wealth creation and community cohesion, there is no delivery mechanism for this aspiration due to the lack of a Northern Ireland urban regeneration policy. It is therefore difficult to analyse the effectiveness of this intervention due to the fact that is not underpinned by an overarching strategic framework.

This concept and indeed the recognition that Town Centres play a vital role in the economic activity of Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and wealth creation, not to mention community cohesion, is often overlooked by the lack of joined-up government. On the ground, this has been seen by the lack of co-ordinated action by the statutory bodies such as DETI, DSD and the Planning Service. As a result, DETI’s European Programmes don’t recognise Town Centre Regeneration and is compounded by their recent withdrawal of European funding and support. In addition, financial resources from the DSD to assist town centre regeneration and promotion initiatives are also very limited. Many of DSD’s support measures are focused exclusively on ‘neighbourhood renewal areas’ and this narrow focus does not address the wider urban and socio-economic issues.

There is a clear need to address this lack of a strategic framework and as such would suggest that the following hierarchy for a framework should be adopted:

This framework should be supported with long term budgeting to allow for the implementation of projects over a the required period and not through fixed annual budgets that do no take account of the timeframes needed to deliver large schemes such as comprehensive public realm initiatives which can take a number of years to deliver. Indeed even a small environmental improvement scheme can take 18 months to deliver. E.g. Cookstown Burn Road EIS, part funded through DSD was given approval to proceed in July 2007 with funding drawdown to be completed by July 2009, only to be informed in September 2007 that funding was to be decommitted indefinitely due to an internal DSD spend review. This current ad-hoc process currently adopted by DSD is unacceptable as it not only leads to raising local expectations to have them dashed but also demonstrates a clear lack of planning and budgetary control.

2) Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

DSD policy and programmes fail to recognise the value of town centres as centres for wealth creation, community cohesion or as the economic driver for their respective Council areas while also impacting significantly upon the general well-being and performance of the sub-regional economy.

In September 2006, Cookstown and three other Council areas in the West were classified by DETI as disadvantaged (previously TSN), out of a total of six areas across Northern Ireland.

It is also difficult to quantify this failure as many of DSD’s support measures are focused exclusively on ‘neighbourhood renewal areas’, of which Cookstown has none, and this narrow focus does not address the wider urban and socio-economic issues. The impact of Town Centre Regeneration shouldn’t be limited to ‘disadvantage’ and ‘poverty’, but should be assessed on the basis of KPI’s through Town Centre Healthchecks and baseline studies, with a socio-economic focus as recognised in Cookstown’s Town Centre Regeneration Strategy and as outlined in point 1 above.

3) Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

Cookstown Town Centre Forum has been the main driver for the development and implementation of Cookstown Town Centre Regeneration Strategy through extensive consultation with a range of stakeholders including statutory agencies, local businesses, members of the community and voluntary sector, etc. Implementation of the Strategies are supported by the Council and up until recently many projects have been funded through Council’s Local Economic Development programme and DETI’s ERDF funding, including the salary costs for Cookstown’s Town Strategy Manager. However, DETI has clearly indicated that Town Centre Regeneration within the new Competitiveness and Employment Programme, included in Council’s Local Economic Development Strategy 2007 – 2010, is not eligible for future funding. Town Centre Regeneration therefore now appears to fall to DSD as the lead agency in consultation with other bodies, and, consequently DSD should be the main Government Department charged with driving forward urban regeneration until such times as the implications of the Review of Public Administration are known. As the main body with a remit for Town Centre Regeneration, DSD must provide core funding for implementation of initiatives outlined in Cookstown’s Regeneration Strategy and assist with salary costs to promote the vitality and viability of Cookstown and assist the wider region to flourish.

A number of key projects have emanated from the Town Centre Regeneration Strategy and Action Plan that Cookstown District Council and Cookstown Town Centre Forum can easily demonstrate they have the capacity to deliver, including successful initiatives such as:

At a strategic level there is a weakness in DSD’s directly consultation with local communities and key stakeholders to regularly discuss and review urban regeneration and the prospects for Cookstown and the wider Western region to create and support a buoyant and healthy economy and provide job opportunities.

DSD consistently recognise, across a range of their publications, the important role that Town Centre Partnerships can play as the most effective method of engagement with local communities and key stakeholders, which has relevance to this Inquiry. The EDAW Report into Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000), commissioned by the Department of the Environment, stated: “Town Centres have a role that extends far beyond places in which people shop and transact business. They are, literally and metaphorically, at the heart of the communities they serve. The importance of town centres is therefore not simply their commercial viability but also their contribution as a location for jobs, services, community development, marketing and promotion."The Report’s Key Recommendations are attached as Appendix 1.

Cookstown Town Centre Forum whilst still delivering effective on the ground improvements, is also concerned with the strategic development of the town centre, and often focus on creating a competitive advantage. With the scale of change in Northern Ireland, notably in terms of the new or planned retail developments, this is a critical issue for Cookstown when approximately two thirds of retailers are still family owned independent retailers. This unique position and retail offer needs to be preserved, and promoted, but is under significant pressure from the movement of commercial activity to out-of-town retail locations, the increasing dominance of national retailers and enhanced telecommunications including on-line shopping.

However, other challenges exist such as the lack of an integrated approach between Planning Service and Roads Service with regard to the Town Centre Living Scheme and the lack of flexibility to overcome town centre parking requirements is a potential deterrent for when encouraging new dwellers into the town centre.

Cookstown is renowned for its traditional Saturday rural market which regularly draws people from the town itself and a much wider catchment area. The Market Rights, owned privately grants the right to hold a free market every Saturday and also two fairs. There is a need to revitalise and develop the market with a focus on improving the quality, in keeping with overall aspirations for the future of the town centre.

4) Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

Evidence for the requirement to protect town centres is shown by the following statistics, supplied by Verdict, in the UK:

Retail Sales 1995 - 2000

Total retail spend increased 30.4%
Town centre sales increased 27.8%

Retail Sales 2000 - 2005

Total retail spend increased 19.6%
Town centre sales increased 11.8%

Retail Sales 2010 - 2015

Total retail spend forecast increase 15.9%
Town centre sales forecast increase 6.6%

A full report is enclosed as Appendix 2.

There are a number of important policy areas, to which interventions have been shown to be successful including Transport, Housing, Community Safety, Marketing, Night-time & Evening Economy.

A more recent policy intervention has been:

Business Improvement Districts

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that has not enacted legislation to allow the concept to be delivered. Legislation has also been enacted in the Republic of Ireland.

A BID is an innovative concept that has already received substantial support from both the public and private sectors in England, Wales and Scotland. A BID can provide a funding base to improve the trading environment of a town by contributing towards the costs of initiatives to help reduce crime, improve cleansing, or promote and market the town. It would be a welcome introduction in Northern Ireland and Cookstown District Council has already prioritised such an initiative within its new Local Economic Development Strategy (2007-2010).

Key Recommendations

Urban regeneration must be underpinned by the wider Government strategies and local plans if it to be successful in the long term. Cookstown therefore puts forward the following recommendations:

Appendix 1

Key Recommendations

The EDAW team’s key recommendations which were discussed in the above Report are:

Recommendation 1: There is a strong case for PPS5 to be reviewed as a priority

Recommendation 2: That a review of policy on rural shop support and market town development be undertaken as part of a wider study of Rural Social Exclusion.

Recommendation 3: A common monitoring and evaluation system would help to compare and contrast performance in individual Northern Ireland town centres.

Recommendation 4: Town centre management should be considered as an element of town centre reinvigoration in Northern Ireland.

Recommendation 5: Town centres are of significance across the communities they serve and urban regeneration strategy should address their reinvigoration as a corollary to targeted strategies for neighbourhood regeneration.

Recommendation 6: In developing any town centre project involving public sector funding the needs of the socially excluded must be recognised and the impact on those groups must be stated. Wherever possible projects should positively:

Recommendation 7: Consider identification of a Town Centre Regeneration Sub-programme within the second Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

Recommendation 8: Housing can make a significant contribution to the reinvigoration of town centres but will require the establishment of public subsidy systems able to overcome market failure.

Recommendation 9: Within the context of any review of PPS5 transport issues should be reviewed and greater emphasis placed on the specific needs of town centres.

Recommendation 10: The Regional Transport Plan should include specific policies in respect to town centres.

Recommendation 11: Parking controls are considered to be the key area for short-term action (as detailed in the Report) and attention should be given to developing a consistent approach but one which recognises the specific circumstances of each town centre.

Recommendation 12: Public transport should be promoted as an alternative to the car and as part of social inclusion strategy.

Recommendation 13: Pedestrianisation in some of the case study towns would seem not to have worked in terms of the viability and vitality of the town centre. There is a need to review the bases upon which pedestrianisation is carried out and to initiate schemes only as part of a comprehensive town centre strategy.

Integration Recommendations

The following recommendations are based on the findings of the study as whole and on developing a ‘joined-up’ policy approach.

Policy

PPS5 is and should remain the principal policy statement on Retailing and Town Centres in Northern Ireland. Similarly the development plan framework is the statutory basis for development and the Local/Area Plan is the appropriate vehicle for planning land use and associated communications. However there needs to be a recognition that the issues facing town centres in Northern Ireland also require a more holistic approach based on an integrated town centre strategy with business development, training, marketing and promotion, as well as property development and environmental improvement components.

Recommendation 14: Town centre strategies should be prepared to guide future public and private sector investment in town centres. The preparation of a Strategy should be a pre-requisite to significant investment and should be led by District Councils in consultation with key stakeholders (including Government Departments and private sector organisations). Strategies must comply with existing up-to-date development plans and mesh with the Regional Strategic Framework and Policy Planning Statements.

This kind of approach will require more ‘Joined-up’ policies from the various Government Departments and private sector agencies involved. It is important that given the restructuring of the Government Departments that a lead Department is identified. The most appropriate Department is this regard would seem to be Social Development.

Practice Integration

There is a need to co-ordinate public sector activity in town centres, this can be best achieved through an obligation to commit in principle to an agreed Town Centre Strategy. Such a strategy is however not an alternative to a current and active development plan - indeed it should be seen as an extension to the development plan in that it would add an economic and social development role to the primary land use orientation of the development plan. This will require a partnership between Government, local authorities and the private sector that will ensure a more integrated approach town centre management and development. However it will also require the preparation of guidance.

Recommendation 15: Government should prepare and issue guidance on the preparation of Town Centre Strategies.

Responsibility for co-ordination of government involvement in individual town centres should be agreed for all larger towns. In most cases this role would probably fall to the Planning Service in order that there is continuity between the development plan and the Town Centre Strategy.

Physical and Business Environment

Recommendation 16: Whilst physical regeneration is important in town centres it should be part of a more holistic approach that looks at the town centre as a multipurpose location. There should be a wider recognition of the importance of business development, Welcome Host training and marketing and of ensuring that the product mix is optimised.

Urban housing

Recommendation 17: Positive encouragement should be given to town centre housing development where this contributes to strategic land use objectives and in support of town centre reinvigoration. Consideration should be given to providing subsidy and technical support for schemes to promote living over the shop (LOTS).

Social inclusion/cohesion

Recommendation 18: Town Centre Strategies should be required to explicitly state the implications of proposals on social inclusion.

Recommendation 19: Any revision of PPS5 should require social inclusion impacts to be a relevant criteria in assessing the impacts of large scale retail developments in accordance with the policy of mainstreaming social inclusion.

Tourism and Leisure

Recommendation 20: Towns should be encouraged to position themselves to target particular tourism market needs - families, activities, art etc. Leisure, entertainment and other development which encourages vitality in town centres should be promoted within the parameters set by normal development control procedures to minimise nuisance and loss of amenity for residents.

Recommendation 21: Tourism and leisure issues should be addressed as part of any review of PPS5.

Funding

Recommendation 22: Funding of town centre projects could be limited to those Town Centres where there is an agreed Town Centre Strategy.

Public sector funding for town centre initiatives (whether physical development and/or business development training/marketing) should be routed through the same channels. The mechanism for this will require to be agreed by the Government and attention paid particularly to ensuring transparency given the likely level of demand for limited resources.

There should also be a presumption that private sector funding will be a part of any town centre improvement scheme - either directly or as part of an integrated package of projects. European support for town centre strategies and projects should be sought as part of the Second Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

Public funding for town centres should be conditional upon meeting a given set of requirements and also be subject to competition. The criteria should include physical, economic and social considerations - in particular making a positive contribution to social inclusion policy. Given anticipated funding constraints it should be the responsibility of applicants to prove need and also the ability to deliver holistic programmes of action.

Town centre management

Recommendation 23: Town Centre Management as an approach should be promoted as an essential prerequisite to funding being provided for town centre schemes. This need not involve the appointment of a Town Centre Manager but this should be considered for larger town centres or groups of smaller town centres.

Structures

Recommendation 24: Town Centre Partnerships should be established for all major town centres or where the local authority proposes to prepare a Town Centre Strategy. This Partnership should be guide the preparation of a town centre strategy and should be wound –up only if and when a Town Centre Management Partnership is established to progress the Strategy or a decision has been made not to progress a scheme.

Recommendation 25: The government should consider the establishment of a Town Centre Regeneration Agency to act as the supervisory mechanism to manage funding and to ensure that monitoring and evaluation information is collected as a condition of funding. The Agency would require to ensure absolute transparency in its decision making and should not become involved in the preparation of individual strategies - only in the dissemination of information and in the co-ordination of funding.

Recommendation 26: Department of Social Development has a lead role to play in relation to reinvigoration of town centres in conjunction with the Department of Regional Development.

Dissemination

Recommendation 27: An illustrated Executive Summary setting out best practice and key conclusions should be produced and consideration be given to an associated Conference in the summer of 2000. The Case Studies should be circulated and supported by facilitated workshops involving key players.

Source: Reinvigoration of Town Centres (2000)

Appendix 2

Planning for town centres: performance

(a) Retail spending

Total retail spending vs Town Centre retail sales

 
Total spending
Town Centre sales
1995 - 2000
+30.4%
+27.8%
2001 - 2005
+19.6%
+11.8%
2006 - 2010
+15.9%
+6.6%

Annual growth forecasts for 2006 - 2010

Source: Verdict Research - Town Centre Retailing 2006 and UK Out-of-Town Retailing 2007

(b) Town Centre Pedestrian Flows

All High Streets:
Regional cities:
Year to end May 07: -12.7% Year to end May 07: -5.2%
Year to end Apr 07: -11.2% Year to end Apr 07: -6.7%
Year to end Mar 07: -7.0% Year to end Mar 07: -4.2%
Year to end Dec 06: -3.6%  

Source: ATCM Springboard High Street Index June 2007

(c) Town Centre Retail Development

England 1994
14%
England 1999 - 2005*
35% (50% with edge of town)
Scotland 1999 - 2005
22%
England 2006 - 2011
42% (50% within 110 metres of centre)
Scotland 2006 - 2011
10%

*Includes 80% of new shopping centre development but only 23% of supermarket development

Source: BCSC - In Town or Out of Town 2006

(d) Space growth requirements

Comparison space in convenience stores

1999
12%
2005
21% 25% (an extra 86,200 sq mtrs per annum for 10 years)

Projected need for additional comparison floorspace (sq metres gross)

2006 -2015
6,090,000
Replacement demand
2,234,000
Total
8,324,000

Projected development pipeline 2006 - 2015

In-town
4,190,000
Out-of-town
1,370,000
Retail warehouses
2,280,000
Total
7,840,000

Source: BCSC - How Much Space 2007

(e) Projected out of town space growth by category 2006 - 2011

Clothing & footwear
+20%
Food & grocery
+19.7%
General merchandise
+13.2%
Electricals
+8.4%
DIY
+4.7%
Furniture & floorcoverings
+ 4.6%

Source: Verdict Research - Out of Town Retailing 2007

(f) Food shopping

Supermarket sales 2000-06
+26%
Specialist grocery sales 2000-06
+1%
Specialist grocery stores closures 2000-06
7% (2500)
Supermarket non-grocery sales 2000-04 (est.)
+89%

Source: Competition Commission Inquiry - Emerging Thinking Report: 2007

Craigavon Borough Council

Committee for Social Development – Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Introduction

Craigavon Borough Council’s evidence to the enquiry centres on DSD’s Interventions in Lurgan and Portadown which both fall within the Borough of Craigavon. Craigavon Borough Council has extensive experience of participating in DSD projects aimed at regenerating the town centres within the Borough. In recent years Council has match funded the implementation of the town centre marketing & promotion schemes. Additionally, Lurgan was one of five towns selected to participate in a pilot Urban Development programme which was aimed at enhancing individual properties within the Lurgan area.

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by DSD to regenerate town centres

Urban Development Grant

In general the scope of this pilot programme is perceived as good locally. The pilot programme in Lurgan will provide a significant opportunity to regenerate key buildings in the Town Centre, improve the image and perception of Lurgan and make it more attractive to potential investors, tourists and other visitors. However, resource restraints mean that only three projects will be able to avail of the funding provided. Lurgan’s attractiveness to visitors has been decimated by the proliferation of vacant and underused properties and additional funding could help the area to enhance its appeal.

Additionally there are key gateway properties which are in a serious state of disrepair whose improvement could have had a significant impact on the first impressions of visitors. The effectiveness of this scheme is not yet evident mainly due to the fact that the scheme has yet to really take off in Lurgan.

There have been significant delays in implementing the Pilot Scheme given that it was announced around May-June 2006 and at the time of writing, no work has been completed on the ground in relation to any of the chosen properties.

Town Centre Marketing and Promotion

Again, the scope of the marketing and promotion scheme is broadly positive. However, Craigavon Borough Council believes that the scope of this programme could have been widened outside the realm of marketing and promotion and into general improvements in the Town Centre. Some of the individual premises within our Town Centres are in need of schemes such as shop front improvements and other similar repairs. This programme could have played a significant role in implementing these improvements.

Public Realm/Environmental Improvements

Council believes that the scope of the Public Realm projects will ensure that it has the potential of making a significant impact on the development and growth of the two town centres within Craigavon Borough. However, given the delays in developing and approving the schemes, there are now issues in relation to the resourcing of the two schemes.

Local Community Fund

The Local Community Fund has been designed to develop community capacity and strengthen community infrastructure and, although not a specific regeneration initiative, the scheme has enabled Council and local residents to initiate a widespread environmental cleanup which included graffiti removal, for houses and on local businesses thus contributing to regeneration in the town centre.

General

In general terms, Council believes that there needs to be improvements made to the timescales for rolling out initiatives aimed at regeneration. There appears to be a significant development period where local partnerships are established and educated. The Urban Development Grant Pilot Programme is one particular scheme.

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty

Craigavon Borough Council believes that it is very hard to comment on any linkages between regeneration funding and disadvantage and poverty at the individual level. However, we believe that the introduction of these regeneration initiatives will have a positive impact on the competitiveness of the town centres vis a vis other competing towns and cities such as Newry, Banbridge and Lisburn. Specifically, full implementation of the public realm schemes will lead to enhanced appeal to visitors, tourists, shoppers and investors which in turn will help to create the employment necessary locally to help address disadvantage at the individual level.

Additionally, other funding schemes (Local Community Fund, Neighbourhood Renewal and Areas at Risk) are helping to build community confidence in areas on the periphery of town centres and are helping to address significant social need. These periphery areas do not tend to realise the immediate benefits of the regeneration initiatives outlined above but would benefit indirectly.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives

Council believes that DSD need to improve the level of local consultation prior to the roll out of regeneration initiatives. Under both the Urban Development Grant Pilot and the Marketing and Promotion Project, the scope and impact of these schemes could have been enhanced if an appropriate period of consultation had been undertaken.

In terms of the Urban Development Grant, Craigavon Borough Council believes that there are key gateway and strategic buildings within Lurgan that could have been targeted under the UDG scheme. However, this scheme was launched with very little prior consultation with Council. Council believes that the targeting of this funding to areas and properties most in need could have had an enhanced impact in the development of Lurgan Town Centre.

Additionally, Council believes that there needs to be more co-ordination with Statutory Agencies (Planning Service, Roads Service etc.) and service providers (NIE & BT) during the development stage of regeneration initiatives.

Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions

Although we are unaware of any particular examples of best practice, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the Republic of Ireland have responsibility for Urban Renewal. They have been implementing Urban Renewal initiatives for several years and could provide some examples of best practice.

The Committee may also wish to note that Craigavon Borough Council is currently developing Terms of Reference for a review of the performance of the Town Centre Management Companies within the Borough and their contribution to the regeneration of the towns.

Department of Agriculture
and Rural Development


DARD Correspondence
DARD Correspondence
DARD Correspondence

Department for Employment and Learning

DEL correspondence

Social Development Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Evidence from Department for Employment and Learning

Contents

Department for Employment and Learning

1. Departmental Aim

To promote economic, social and personal development through high quality learning , research and skills training: and

To help people into employment and promote good employment practices

2. Department’s key areas of activity

3. Key Business Areas in DEL

Corporate Services: Minister’s Private Office/Office of the Permanent Secretary/Central Management, Press Office, personnel, staff welfare, staff training, departmental records, statistics/research and evaluation.

Strategy and Employment Relations: Strategy and Equality covering compliance with S75 statutory duties, Co-ordination Unit and in particular the Department’s linkages with interdepartmental strategies; Employment and Industrial Relations, Including responsibility for relevant legislation and sponsorship of the Labour Relations Agency; the NI Certification Office; the administration of the Office of Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals; the Industrial Court; and the Redundancy Payments Service; Migrant Workers Unit (facilitating the interdepartmental strategy)

Higher Education: Development of policy for the planning, funding and administration of higher education. Also, policy for student loans and awards, education maintenance allowances and for the payment of postgraduate awards.

Further Education: Development of policy for the planning, funding and administration of further education, including the reconfiguration of the Further Education Sector in line with the FE Means Business Review. Also responsible jointly with the Department of Education for the policy and curriculum for the 14-19 age group.

Skills and Industry: Responsibility for the NI Skills Strategy that sets out a vision for skills in Northern Ireland in 2015 and focuses on raising the skills levels of the workforce, enhancing the quality of those entering the workforce, and addressing the employability of those not in employment. This includes Careers and Information, Advice and Guidance policy and delivery and the policy and administration of Training for Success (Professional and Technical Provision replaced Jobskills from September 2007), Bridge to Employment and Management Leadership programmes and also for sector development and the associated Sector Skills Councils.

Preparation for Work: Responsibility for the administration and delivery of the New Deal programmes; Steps to Work initiatives; the Disablement Advisory Service; Pathways to Work targeted at Incapacity Benefit recipients; Progress2Work (NI) to assist with overcoming major barriers to employment resulting from problems associated with homelessness and substance misuse, an offending background, and other community based employability initiatives such as LEMIS (Local Employment Intermediary Service) designed specifically to engage with unemployed and economically inactive people in Northern Ireland’s most disadvantaged areas, and help them equip themselves for work.

Employment Service (part of Preparation for Work Division): the delivery of the public employment service through frontline teams in the network of 35 Jobs & Benefit Offices and JobCentres . A pivotal function of the Service is its local engagement with employers and the availability of “online" vacancy filling services to assist business and jobseekers alike.

4. Context of DEL’s work

DEL’s Contribution to the Programme for Government is summarized as follows:

PRIORITY: Growing A Dynamic, Innovative Economy

Actions: Increase by 300 the number of PhD research students at local universities by 2010

Introduce a new programme to increase the commercialisation of university and college research by 2010.

Goals: Increasing the employment rate from 70% to 75% by 2020

Ensuring by 2015 that 80% of the working age population is qualified to at least GCSE level or equivalent.

Increasing the number of adult learners achieving a qualification in literacy, numeracy and ICT skills by 90,000 by 2015.

Increasing by 25% the numbers of students, especially those from disadvantaged communities, at graduate and postgraduate level studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM subjects) by 2015.

PRIORITY: Promote Tolerance, Inclusion And Health And Well-Being

Actions: Introduce in 2008 a new Employment and Support Allowance to enable those unemployed due to ill-health or disability to return to work.

Put in place by 2010 a careers advice service to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

In carrying out its business DEL will contribute to the following Public Service Agreements (PSAs):

5. Relevance of DEL’s work to Town Centre Regeneration

In the delivery of its programmes and services DEL contributes to town centre regeneration by:-

(i) Preparing People for Work

This is important for town centre regeneration in ensuring that people have the skills and attributes which potential town centre employers require in a modern economy. The Department contributes strongly across the entire skills range. It works with the Further Education Colleges and Universities to support the development of essential skills right through to the provision of support for PhD students. The Department’s all-age Careers Service has an important role to play here in providing information and guidance for those wishing to avail of it. The Department has a wide range of programmes available, for example New Deal, Bridge to Employment, Progress2Work, Training for Success, to help people progress and prepare for work

(ii) Supporting Job Seekers

The Department’s network of JobCentres and Jobs and Benefits Offices (the latter jointly run with the Social Security Agency) are the key portal to services relevant to job seekers or job changers. Vacancies, including those in town centres are advertised here and specialist advice and support is available. The Department’s website and “JobCentreonline" are also effective in connecting those seeking work with suitable vacancies.

(iii) Supporting Employers

The Department engages with employers to ensure its services are relevant to their needs. These services provide opportunity for employers to draw on the Department’s ability to refer job seekers or potential job changers to emerging vacancies. Employers also benefit from the Department’s work to develop a highly skilled workforce and to encourage entrpreneurship.

(iv) Neighbourhood Renewal

The Department is fully engaged with the 36 Neighbourhood Renewal Partnerships – some of these cover town centre areas. Action plans submitted to the Department have been reviewed and key issues identified on which DEL has a contribution to make. These include long term unemployment, essential skills, low educational attainment and aspirational levels. The Department is responding to individual plans and highlighting links between its current provision and the issues raised.

Department for Employment and Learning

November 2007

Department of Finance and Personnel

DFP correspondence

Department for Regional Development

DRD correspondence

Annex A

Policies and Programmes to Regenerate Town Centres

The Regional Development Strategy (RDS) and Draft Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS 5)

Background

The Regional Development Strategy (RDS) and draft Planning Policy Statement 5 – ‘Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Development’ (draft PPS 5) set out policy which is relevant to town centre regeneration.

The RDS was formulated in 2001. All Government Departments are required to have regard to it in the exercise of development functions.

In addition, planning policies and development plans prepared by the Department of the Environment (DOE) Planning Service and development schemes prepared by the Department for Social Development (DSD) must be in general conformity with the RDS.

The RDS and draft PPS 5 are based on the principles of sustainable development. This will ensure that retailing and commercial leisure developments are suitably located and designed to provide a catalyst for economic, social and environmental benefits for the community at large.

These policies are designed to contribute to overcoming social exclusion and to ensure that the public can experience a revitalised retail and commercial leisure environment.

Shops play a central role in shaping places and communities that influence people’s lives. Since the mid-1990’s, the market here has been changed with the arrival and growth of multiples.

The Regional Development Strategy

Formulated under the Strategic Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, the RDS provides an overarching strategic framework for development plans and policies, guiding public and private investment decisions relating to land use.

It sets out the spatial development strategy, based on a hub, corridor and gateway approach. A key objective is to promote balanced and integrated growth across the network of cities, main and small towns, and their rural hinterlands.

The Strategy promotes a sustained urban renaissance based on maintaining compact cities and towns and creating high quality urban environments to underpin their role as hubs of economic activity and providing more attractive towns in which to live.

The RDS sets out a number of Strategic Planning Guidelines relevant to town centre regeneration. These include:

Draft Planning Policy Statement 5 – ‘Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments’

Draft PPS 5 was published in July 2006 with a 16 week period for public consultation. It will replace PPS 5 ‘Retailing and Town Centres’, which was published by the DoE in 1996.

The key objective of the new PPS is to sustain and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres in a manner consistent with achieving the strategic objectives of the RDS.

Draft PPS 5 includes guidance on the role of Development Plans, which are prepared by DoE, and advice on promoting town centres. It also sets out guidance to deal with the control of development.

The draft PPS sets out the importance of promoting town centres. It recognises the need for DoE, DRD and DSD to work together with retailers, District Councils and others “to assist the regeneration of town centres." The policy therefore supports the need for a comprehensive approach to the regeneration of our cities and towns. It also highlights the importance of the DSD’s urban regeneration strategy.

The draft PPS also contains a number of policies, including a sequential test, which are designed to ensure that town centres are the first choice for major retailing. It also recognises that district and local centres have an important role in accommodating an appropriate scale of retailing.

The current position on draft PPS 5 is that the Department is redrafting the policy, taking account of the representations received to the consultation process. There is an outstanding Judicial Review which is scheduled for hearing on 29 November. This challenges the DoE’s decision that draft PPS 5 is a material consideration in the determination of a planning application for major development at Sprucefield. It will not be possible to publish the final PPS 5 until the outcome of the Judicial Review is known. Similar to draft PPS 14, the Judicial Review challenges DRD’s authority to make such policy. This issue is currently being considered with the possibility of responsibility transferring to DoE.

Environmental Improvement Schemes.

Roads Service works closely with DSD officials and other interested parties on environmental improvement projects. This work includes discussions on scheme design, traffic management during the works and following completion, and ongoing maintenance arrangements. In cases where a DSD project produces a benefit to the roads infrastructure, Roads Service may consider contributing to the cost.

The Department’s Sub Regional Transport Plan (SRTP) contains practical blueprints for the development of sustainable transport networks in 29 main towns and cities across the North. It presents a balanced set of proposals for improvements in local transport including walking, cycling, public transport and highway measures and will contribute to an improvement in mobility for all, whilst seeking to minimise adverse environmental impacts.

The proposals in SRTP will be implemented by Roads Service as the sole roads authority and the other transport agencies such as Translink and independent bus operators, assisted by appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders covering a range of interests including local councils, regeneration companies, DSD, SUSTRANS, regional cross-border groups and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Improved transport infrastructure, short-stay parking availability and public transport services will contribute greatly to the development and reinvigoration of designated regeneration areas.

By way of a good example of co-operation on regeneration projects, Roads Service is a consultee in the Belfast Public Realm - ‘Streets Ahead’ project and is represented at different levels to ensure that the project is designed and implemented to conform to the required specifications regarding road safety, street lighting, materials, drainage and construction.

Roads Service’s input is important to ensure that practical problems are resolved at an early stage and that best practice is established in regard to the future maintenance requirements, highlighting foreseeable difficulties with specific materials and additional costs which may be incurred in the future. To date, the Roads Service’s input to this significant regeneration project has been extremely beneficial.

Department of Enterprise,
Trade and Investment

From the Office of the Minister

DETI logo

Netherleigh
Massey Avenue
Belfast
BT4 2JP

Tel: 028 90 529452
Fax: 028 90 529545
E Mail:private.office@detini.gov.uk

Gregory Campbell MP MLA Our Ref: DETI COR 208/2007
Chairman
Committee for Social Development
Room 410
Parliament Buildings
BELFAST
BT4 3XX 23 November 2007

Dear Mr Campbell

DSD Committee Inquiry Into Town Centre Regeneration

Thank you for the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

This is an important issue for the Department, particularly from a tourism perspective. The attached response from DETI draws on our own experience and hopefully raises specific matters which the Committee will find helpful.

The Minister looks forward to hearing of the outcome of the inquiry. I have arranged for a hard copy of our response to be forwarded to the DSD Committee Business Office.

[Signed]

Peter Hall

Departmental Private Secretary to Nigel Dodds OBE MP MLA

DETI’S Input to the DSD Committee Inquiry into
Town Centre Regeneration

Invest NI

Invest NI would welcome any initiatives which seek to regenerate town centres. The more attractive and vibrant these areas are, then the more potential they have to become marketable, both in terms of attracting foreign direct investment and stimulating new business growth.

Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB)

1. The public realm is very important from a tourism perspective. NITB met with DSD recently and discussed town centre regeneration in some detail. The big issue for NITB is integration, ensuring that the visitor is considered. This would include matters such as:

2. Vibrant, attractive urban centres can be a major contributory factor to an increase in tourism and economic generation. The reverse can also be true.

3. In October 2004 NITB published a Visitor Servicing Strategy which touched on many of these issues. There is a need for integration between councils, DRD and DSD, to ensure a common approach to large, medium and small towns.

4. The Tourism Signature Projects also impact on urban areas such as Londonderry, Downpatrick and Armagh, and on a smaller scale, Ballycastle and Newcastle. NITB would hope that their links to the Signature Projects will provide these areas with enhanced priority for future regeneration work.

5. The Walled City of Derry Signature Project has highlighted a number of other important issues that the DSD Committee may wish to consider:

Department of Health,
Social Services and Public Safety

DHSSPS correspondence
DHSSPS correspondence
DHSSPS correspondence
DHSSPS correspondence
DHSSPS correspondence

Department of the Environment

DOE logo

Central Management Branch
10-18 Clarence Court
BELFAST
BT2 8GB

Ms Patricia Casey
Clerk to the Environment Committee
Northern Ireland Assembly
Parliament Buildings
Stormont
Belfast BT4 3XX

Telephone: 028 90 5 40855
Facsimile: 028 90 5 41169
Email: una.downey@doeni.gov.uk

Your reference:
Our reference:

Date: 26 November 2007

Dear Patricia,

I refer to the letter of 17 October 2007 from the Committee for Social Development to the Minister of the Environment Ms Arlene Foster MLA seeking her views on an Inquiry which they are currently undertaking in respect of Town Centre Regeneration.

Background:

The Department of the Environment has no remit or direct responsibility in terms of Town Centre Regeneration and would have no experience or authority to comment on many of the issues raised in the terms of reference such as the implications of the application of regeneration funding in relation to poverty, the engagement of local communities/stakeholders and comparison with policy in other areas.

Current Position

The Department however does work in close liaison with the Department for Social Development where there is an inter-relationship between emerging development plans and Town Centre Regeneration Schemes. There is mutual consultation between the Departments and for its part our Department has provided planning advice to a number of steering groups for Town Centre Regeneration Projects and has had close liaison with DSD in the preparation of development plans. This has ensured where appropriate that regeneration schemes and the wider town centre issues are taken forward effectively through the plan process. The Department is satisfied that this relationship has operated successfully and that the town centre regeneration schemes completed to date have included a number of environmental improvements, contributing significantly to the vitality of town centres.

A key planning principle is the protection of the viability and vitality of town and city centres and to this end planning policy would generally facilitate and encourage appropriate economic development within designated town centres. In this regard policy would be supportive of regeneration initiatives. The Department also identifies within town centres, vacant and under developed sites which offer opportunities for appropriate mixed use development.

The Department for Regional Development has published a Draft Planning Policy Statement 5 Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments which is likely to have an impact on planning policy within town centres both for Development Plans and in the determination of planning applications. The Committee for Social Development may wish to consider this draft as part of the ongoing inquiry.

It is recognised that land use planning policy and town centre regeneration are being considered as part of the ongoing Review of Public Administration. The outcome of this process will have implications for the future outworking of both planning policy and town centre regeneration.

I would submit these comments for your consideration and ask you to forward these to the Committee for Social Development for their consideration in the ongoing inquiry.

Yours sincerely,

Una Downey

DALO
[By Email]

Correspondence from DOE April 2009

Briefing Paper on Planning Policy Statement (Pps) 5 for the Department for Social Development (DSD) Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Policy Context

The current published Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 5 - Retailing and Town Centres was initially published by DOE N. Ireland in June 1996.

It is the intention to replace the existing PPS 5 and draft PPS 5 - Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments was published for public consultation, by the Department for Regional Development (DRD) in July 2006.

Draft PPS 5 is currently the subject of judicial challenge.

Objectives of current PPS5

It should be noted that the current PPS 5 while advising that town centres should normally be the first choice for major retail development, notes that the availability of suitable sites within town centres will be a factor in how new retail proposals are determined.

Criticism of the current PPS 5

Draft PPS 5 – Retailing Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Development.

Draft PPS 5 was first published by DRD in July 2006 for a four month consultation period. Seventy seven responses to this consultation were received from a range of government departments and statutory agencies, district councils, non government organisations, consultancies and private individuals.

DRD continued to work to finalise PPS 5 until 15th January 2008 when a public notice was released which announced that the Department of the Environment N Ireland was assuming responsibility for a number of planning policy statements including PPS 5.

Subsequently on 14th April 2008 leave was granted for a judicial challenge to draft PPS 5. The outcome of this legal challenge is still awaited.

Correspondence from DOE 30 April 2009

DOE correspondence

Disability Action

Town Centre Regeneration

November 2008

Orla McCann, Access Manager
Disability Action
Portside Business Park
189 Airport Road West
Belfast
BT3 9ED

Tel: 028 90 297880 Fax: 028 90 297881
Textphone: 028 90 297882
Website: www.disabilityaction.org

Introduction

Disability Action is a pioneering Northern Ireland charity, working with and for people with disabilities. We work with our members to provide information, training, transport, awareness programme and representation for people regardless of their disability, whether that is a physical, mental, sensory, hidden or learning disability.

More than one in five (300,000) people in Northern Ireland has a disability and the incidence is higher here than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Over one quarter of all families here are affected.

As a campaigning body, we work to bring about positive change to the social, economic and cultural life of people with disabilities and consequently our entire community.

Our range of services is provided from a network of four local offices, with 100 staff and 250 volunteers.

Disability Action’s Access Unit is widely recognised as the premier source of access information and advice in Northern Ireland, amongst professionals, the statutory authorities, the media and disabled people. Disability Action is the only disability organisation offering this service with staff professionally qualified in a range of disciplines relating to the built environment.

The Unit also facilitates the Regional Access Committee, which comprises representatives of the local access groups, the disability sector, design professionals and those statutory bodies with responsibility for the design of the built environment. The Committee has been in existence since 1981 and campaigns for changes to policy to affect better accessibility. The regional Access Committee was consulted in the compilation of this evidence.

Disability Action welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to Committee for Social Development Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration. We will be happy to present oral evidence to the Committee.

Evidence

It is not clear from your correspondence what the Committee means by “regeneration". Town Centre Regeneration can include the economic regeneration of an area as well as improvements to the physical infrastructure and appearance.

In economic terms it is crucial that people with disabilities are given every opportunity to participate in the economic life of an area that is in terms of employment and training opportunities, as well as participation in the social and cultural life of a town. The housing stock of an area should include accessible provision so that disabled people can fully integrate as citizens. Housing stock should reflect that people with disabilities live in many different household formations and therefore not be restricted to two bedroom bungalow style properties.

Disability Action strongly believe that accessibility should be a condition of any spend of public money and therefore regeneration works should always improve the accessibility of an area for all. That is, works should take account not only of people with mobility impairments but also other disabled people with a range of disabilities, for example visual or hearing impairments and learning disabilities.

It is disappointing when regeneration works do not reflect the minimum technical specifications set out in regulations and simple provisions such as dropped kerbs and tactile surfaces are not correct or not provided. The same can be extended to facilities within regeneration projects such as art centres, libraries, and other public facilities, which lack even the basic provision one would expect for accessibility such as accessible parking provision. For example Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, the new library in Strabane and the new museum and art centre in Ballymena none of which include parking for disabled people.

One would expect public buildings, landscapes and town and city centres to demonstrate best practice and to lead by example in order to encourage best practice in the private sector.

Disability Action appreciate the desire to make our towns and city centres aesthetically pleasant and welcome the efforts made to establish Northern Ireland towns as equal amongst premier urban areas across Europe. However we believe that aesthetics do not need to be compromised to accessibility, indeed the best examples of good access are those where the intervention is not apparent.

Regeneration projects tend to sway toward the removal of vehicles from town and city centre areas, which can be beneficial for some disabled people but which disadvantages others. The Blue Badge scheme was devised in recognition of the fact that some disabled people are entirely reliant upon the private car for independence and require to park close to their destination. The pedestrianisation of large area of town centres defamates this right. Coleraine is a key example of how not to design a town centre.

The solution offered by Roads Service is to devise a secondary permit scheme, the so-called “white permit", which traders and others who require vehicular access to a pedestrian zone may apply for. This too diminishes the Blue Badge Scheme.

A disabled person living in Northern Ireland must not only apply for a white permit to gain access to a pedestrian zone in their area but also apply separately for a similar permit for every pedestrian zone they wish to use. How on earth is a visitor to Northern Ireland supposed to manoeuvre this quagmire? Given that the Blue Badge is recognised across Europe it is a shame that it is not recognised in parts of Northern Ireland.

Shopmobility schemes are often utilised as a means of overcoming access difficulties associated with town centres however these schemes are to be considered as one loop in a chain of provision rather than as a solution in their own right. Not all disabled people can use shopmobility equipment and not everyone would want to. It is not acceptable that people with disabilities should be forced to use schemes such as shopmobility or door-to-door transport in order to access their town or city centres.

In relation to “shared surfaces" we would direct the Committee to recent research undertaken by the Guidedogs for the Blind Association in GB, which found that blind and partially sighted people find areas where vehicles and pedestrians share the same space intimidating.

Many representative organisations of the disability sector in Northern Ireland have signed up to the following shared surfaces statement:

“The pedestrian environment must be inclusive and safe for all users. Where there is no clear pedestrian area, as traditionally distinguished by a kerb, there are access and safety implications for all disabled people, including those with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

The following organisations will only support streetscape and public space developments, including those that follow the ‘shared space concept’, that meet the needs of all disabled people.

We call on:

Regeneration should extend to the management of town centres. Since the introduction of the smoking ban our streets have become cluttered with tables, chairs and other obstructions, which are not only inconvenient but also hazardous to people with disabilities. Furthermore A-boards, display stands and other paraphernalia exaggerate the problem. Service providers should be made to demonstrate a risk assessment on both their internal and external areas and maintain clear accessible routes past their property.

Key to the provision of successful regeneration is consultation with local people and representative groups. Consultation needs to be genuine and instrumental in shaping the regeneration scheme. We often hear of the disappointment of disabled people and disability groups who have been consulted regarding schemes and had their comments ignored in the final design resulting in a lack of or poor accessibility.

Conclusion

People with disabilities make up approximately 20% of the population of Northern Ireland. This is a significant group of people whom, along with their friends and families are being excluded from our town and city centres because of poor design and a lack of understanding amongst those responsible for the development and management of these areas.

At a time when local traders are losing business to out-off-town shopping centres it is a disgrace that people with disabilities who represent a significant spending power are discouraged from using their town centres by bad design and discriminating policy. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Disability Action will be happy to present and illustrate this evidence to the Committee for Social Development.

Correspondence from Disability Action
2 April 2009

Disability Action correspondence

Down District Council

Committee for Social Development Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Submission presented by Down District Council Prepared by Sharon O’Connor, Director of Development

Down District Council has developed a number of plans to regenerate its key towns. A number of schemes are planned or are currently in progress, most notably Newcastle, Co. Down where the Council led initiative has resulted in an award winning[1] high quality outcome.

The Council has been fully engaged in the Area Planning process associated with the Down Ards Area Plan and has been frustrated that the process has not afforded the District a development platform which will allow our towns to realise their potential.

Summary

Town re-generation strategies affect social and economic change and can have a positive impact in tackling disadvantage and poverty and creating social cohesion. Such projects require a holistic approach in order to derive maximum benefit for local people. Local government is well placed to develop and deliver such strategies but will only be effective if such plans enjoy committed project input from key government partners. Ideally, such strategies should be supported by an area planning model which can be locally relevant and responsive to the distinct needs and character of local towns.

1. Re-inventing our towns

Local government is concerned with the improvement of our towns and villages; understandably we question the idea that a central government approach to developing our local town centres is the most effective way to engage with complex issues that are effectively local in nature. Down District Council would contend that central government is not best placed to engage with the key stakeholders in the process, however, we would wish to acknowledge the support of colleagues in a number of key agencies principally the Department of Social Development, Planning Service, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Arts Council NI in the work we have done to date.

Based on our practical experience of developing such schemes we propose that there are better local solutions to the challenges faced by our town centres. In many respects the work of re-generation is a natural consequence of the need to renew and revive the physical, social and economic fabric of our towns and villages. The motivation to advance such work and the theory and practice varies considerably from place to place and is shaped by the character, culture and economic circumstance of the people and the location.

Locally our recent civil conflict has been a particular feature of how our towns were shaped /altered as a requirement of security and economic decline. All around us the legacy of civil conflict remains, the PSNI station blast wall in Downpatrick which continues to inhibit traffic flow in this key town being a prime example. Socially, our patterns of use of public space have resulted in communal segregation and also a failure, in some locations, to reclaim safe places for shopping and recreation. Unfortunately the absence of any meaningful night-time economy has resulted in our towns being subject to a plague of anti-social behaviour.

The programme for re-generation of town centres has been driven largely by economic and social imperatives. In Great Britain we have seen a wide range of mechanisms such as strong planning policy and properly resourced development companies being used to lead such programmes. Locally these programmes have been promoted largely by local government, often in the absence of relevant, current, developmental urban planning policy. In rural towns such as Newcastle, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and many others, the master plans have been produced by local government and their effectiveness limited by local government’s inability to create infrastructural change necessary to support these plans. In local government terms most of our difficulty derives from two key constraints; limited budgets and fragmented public administration generally.

One of the key requirements for creating town centres that work is the process of master planning and we have found like-minded partners in the NI Housing Executive, e.g. their LOTS scheme is a useful model in bringing our town centres back to life.

Our towns now enjoy, to a greater or lesser extent, the benefits of a renewed confidence of the private sector resulting from peace. Examining the results in our towns, it is worth recording that this development has often happened in a piecemeal way and it is worth questioning the potential benefits which might have been achieved had effective master planning been in place. Currently our planning, roads and regeneration endeavours may be led by individual agencies with the other partners being in a passive, reactive mode. There are few examples where really effective, integrated planning is evident.

Laganside as a development vehicle is perhaps the closest we have to an integrated approach, however, outside Belfast town centre, re-generation has largely been driven by local authorities who, in the absence of formal powers, have worked hard to persuade often unwilling partners to engage. With the exception of the Department of Social Development we have experienced limited success in obtaining support for infrastructure. Only very modest amounts of finance have been offered from Roads Service to support major programmes funded by Council. However, where there has been support from DSD the result has been very significant betterment of carriageways and lighting. Some other partners have assisted with key project support such as the Arts Council NI’s support for public art and NITB’s support for tourism access measures.

2. Drivers for regeneration

Economic – Chief among the reasons for undertaking the process of re-generation is the need to reinvigorate the commercial life of the town. In Northern Ireland which is a small geographic area, Belfast acts as a catalyst, drawing commuters from the whole of the region. Local towns have seen decline based on the shopping and lifestyle choices of commuting families.

The ongoing slow pace of inward investment in rural towns has not helped and commercial and service business within towns have been hampered by the lack of development sites and the slow pace of planning applications.

Social – It is a legacy of the Troubles that Belfast lost people to its rural hinterland. It is a feature of this that people are choosing to settle in attractive new developments on the edge of towns and villages. Such communities do not relate to the nearby town centre culturally, socially or economically and often shop and socialise outside the area. This has only served to reinforce a spiral of decline in many rural towns and villages, further eroding the viability of the retail and service core.

Cultural – It is a fact that people are only now beginning to venture into the towns and villages at night for cultural and social reasons. Because of the long-standing difficulty of making arts and cultural provision sustainable, we find ourselves culturally deficient[2] in terms of provision which makes our towns attractive to tourists.

It should be noted that in a number of locations the investment of Arts Council Lottery funds into new arts centres where these have been in towns, has been of significant benefit to the re-generation process. Notable examples here include Armagh and Omagh. These funds are now closed and thought should urgently be given to sources of capital funds to ensure that such developments can be assisted in locations where they create a vital component to the development of life enhancing aspects to town centre schemes.

Infrastructure – Because of long-term chronic deficits in roads investment, our towns suffer from the very worst aspects of traffic alleviation measures done “on the cheap". Here, our own efforts in Newcastle and plans for Downpatrick and Ballynahinch will be diminished due to the lack of funds to create effective traffic management solutions. Ballynahinch continues to plead for a by-pass and forcing through traffic down a seventeenth century street layout in Downpatrick and the lack of any two-way traffic alternatives to the Main Street in Newcastle, have negative consequences for the local economy far beyond the inconvenience of traffic volumes and delays.

The area planning process is inadequate. There is a pressing need to examine many of the planning assumptions which are effectively a cap on economic growth. For example, in rural towns with limited development sites, the re-development of brownfield sites is hugely constrained by car parking requirements. Tightly drawn settlement limits and a lack of understanding on the part of some planners about the nature of current economic development potential, further limits growth. Today we are not expecting to attract major factories which, if they meet Invest NI criteria, can be located on business parks but rather, a range of smaller firms who may wish to locate in town centres. Key economic growth sectors such as retail, hospitality and tourism type businesses do not fit this outdated model of industrial zoning, which in our views needs urgent and radical attention.

Even in the Draft Down Ards Area plan no relief is provided for in terms of ambition to create 21st solutions to managing traffic, creating access and allowing space for economic development within the town cores. Newcastle and Downpatrick have virtually no space for commercial life to expand and this is the case in all our towns and villages. Ineffective siting of car parks along with poor pedestrian and roads linkages which in many cases saps pedestrian life, exist within our towns. We require alternative ambitious and imaginative solutions.

The chief inhibitor to these solutions is the lack of an integrated strategic development approach across all of the agencies concerned. To a degree local government recognises the difficulty for agencies such as Roads and Water Service in terms of the competing requirements of 26 councils, however, all too often attempts to shape re-generation is stifled by a discussion which starts and finishes with how much money is available within a particular budget as opposed to what is actually required to create better outcomes. Clearly, without more integrated planning at local level with local government actually making these decisions, there will be only limited scope for improvement.

In key towns local government is using physical renewal as the key driver of re-generation but we realise that this has a limited impact as the other key functions are outside our control, in particular planning policy and the allocation of finance for re-generation purposes.

3. Quality and design

The chief imperative in creating sustainable town centres is design. In schemes promoted by Down District Council we have prioritised quality over cost. Council has taken seriously the role of “place shaping" and has applied its own financial resources to creating improvements in Newcastle which we believe set the tone and standard for private developers to follow.

Within regional planning policy we believe that greater effort should be made to direct the practice of developers in terms of requirements for quality. In this regard we would like the Committee to consider the potential negative consequences of the preferred Design and Build approach now being promoted by DFP for the procurement of major works. This methodology which has undoubted attraction from a cost control perspective, may result in subjugating the design team to cost as the key imperative as opposed to aesthetic design.

4. Disadvantage and poverty

Our experience in involving local people is that they share our view on quality and design and we have received very positive feedback for not compromising on these aspects.

The role of central government in town centre re-generation is currently concerned with a number of policy areas;

Towns are segregated places, and this segregation is just not along sectarian lines. Social class is demarcated by housing; whilst privately owned middle income homes may be located on the outskirts of towns, they do not suffer the consequences of physical isolation experienced by low income families in NIHE estates where public transport, especially in rural contexts, may be deficient. The needs of these communities in terms of access to economic and social opportunity is being addressed via the Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme, however, the effectiveness of such programmes will continue to be inhibited by the challenges presented by deficiencies in roads, public transport and economic opportunity and the lack of engagement of some of the key players.

Regional Development Strategy does consider issues associated with community cohesion and the development of shared spaces. Strategic Planning Guidance SPG SRC 3 aims to “foster development which contributes to community relations, recognizes cultural diversity and reduces socio economic differentials within N.I." However, in area planning terms, this barely registers.

A range of academic research alerts us to the fundamental flaw in a territorial approach to addressing deprivation by pointing to the reality that many of the issues contributing to the internal features of deprivation, are external in nature, e.g. access to employment, health and educational factors.[3] In a review of this policy within the NI area planning context, Murtagh argues; “Building these concerns and priorities into local development plans is essential in the creation of any genuinely integrated and credible regeneration agenda for rural areas of Northern Ireland."[4]

If we are serious about tackling these formidable challenges we need to holistically challenge access to jobs, shops, health, education and leisure opportunities and this can only be done by considering the town as an entity as opposed to a collection of separate communities.

The character and nature of local towns is a key consideration in terms of creating regeneration which is effective. Our towns have developed and grown or indeed declined due to a range of internal and external factors. Towns like Downpatrick have seen their stature diminished by the centralization of key administrative functions and the gap has not been filled by the private sector, hence we have a town almost wholly reliant on public sector jobs and for reasons of location, coupled with poor roads infrastructure, ill-prepared to compete with other locations for inward investment.

For this reason, we believe that re-generation strategies should adopt a comprehensive, town-wide approach with a holistic menu of interventions identified via a community planning model and delivered by a range of agencies working in concert.

5. Retail strategy, cars and space

The city of Belfast is pursuing retail as a driver of growth. The availability of existing large scale parking and developer budgets which can support new retail locations with the city core are required to make this work. The new Victoria Centre demonstrates how central government has assembled a development platform and attracted the resources to make this new retail asset a reality.

Sadly, in a rural context, such projects fall to the local council who has many more hurdles to overcome. The financial viability of rural retail businesses is a key concern for rural councils; the reasons are largely related to the competitive inability of small independent traders to cope with the increasing growth of major players in key regional centres. Commuters shop on route to work and this decline in retail sales volume has been devastating to many of our small towns with resultant loss to the sustainability of the town centre.

Strategic approaches being used to counter these challenges include re-generation schemes and the process which uses upgrades in the physical fabric of the town to encourage private sector re-engagement is tried and tested.[5]

However, in rural towns, the capacity to pursue new retail within the town core of is more difficult to achieve due to a range of scale factors;

In order to maximize the potential of such intervention, it is essential that an integrated approach is adopted. This would ideally be a feature of town plans produced by planners within a local government context. DSD have attempted to create such partnership via the encouragement of steering groups to support streetscape schemes. “…coherent strategy developed in partnership by the key local stakeholders may be beneficial to some small towns." Whilst such approaches are helpful, frustration continues to be caused by the variable levels of commitment evident from key agencies such as Roads Service and the lack of a master planning context evident in some area plans, such as the Draft Down Ards Plan.[6]

6. Actions

What do we propose to address these issues?

In our opinion a number of actions are indicated;

1. We need regional development policy that better integrates infrastructure and planning frameworks.

2. Town-wide strategies tackling social disadvantage, economic potential and physical re-generation would, we believe, be more effective than territorial approaches such as those adopted in Neighbourhood Renewal.

3. The economic development assumptions reflected in the planning framework need to be re-assessed. In other words, planning must reflect contemporary economic development practice as opposed to the very proscriptive traditional industrial zoning model.

4. Within planning policy, retail and service locus within towns should reflect access and space requirements. Planning practice prevents many town centre developments. The immediate proximity of car parking spaces must be reconsidered if our towns are to be sustainable. Provision of adequate car parking and public transport options should be a responsibility borne by government, central and local.

5. The foundation to more effective approaches is to be found with the development of more sophisticated consideration of the nature, character, culture and economic outlook of individual towns. The diversity of towns needs to be supported by key players and the capacity for a pursuance of strategy which may be unique to the particular town must be provided for in policy. Here again, local government is best placed to lead on strategic development and decision making which supports local need.

6. The closure of Arts Council grants to support cultural capital schemes including arts facilities - a vital component to creating a cultural dimension to town centres - must be re-considered and some alternative access to support or match funding re-established.

7. In the particular circumstances of Down, we believe that more flexibility in tourism policy is required to allow us to benefit from our growing tourism platform. The growth potential of the industry locally must be allowed scope for growth which can embrace both town centre and out of town locations.

8. Leadership of local re-generation strategy should be vested in local government and this will only be effective if other partner agencies are obliged to be effective partners. This will require community planning powers and the alignment of developmental budgets to formally adopted towns’ re-generation plans.

9. The development of appropriate regional and local planning policy is key to all of the above. All too often discussions on planning around town centre policy starts and ends with the limitations of existing policy. Perhaps rather than see development potential curtailed and private investment go elsewhere, we should re-consider policy. Is it fit for purpose? Does it provide a capacity for development or is it a cap on progress? If it is the latter, shouldn’t we change the policy?

We need also to recognize that setting up partnerships in itself will not deliver solutions. Many agencies, including local government organizations, are suffering from partnership fatigue. We need project teams with members who are obliged to contribute and accept the mission to shape town centres as a shared mission.

Conclusion

Local government is prepared and can lead such projects. We need to be given resources and recognition to get the job done. Anyone who doubts our competence in this arena should come and talk to us about how we are re-inventing our main towns on time, on budget and demonstrating high quality design values.

[1] Winner of the NI Civic Trust Award 2007

[2] Although the beneficial effects of Arts Council NI’s investment in town centre Arts infrastructure has is very evident in places such as Armagh and Omagh.

[3] Bringing Britain Together? The limitations of area-based regeneration policies in addressing deprivation
Authors: Paul Chatterton a; David Bradley
Affiliation: a Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

[4] Identity; place and conflict in rural Northern Ireland.

[5] Retail decline and policy responses in district shopping centres.
Collis, C.; Berkeley |h N.; Fletcher |h D. R.
Town Planning Review. Vol. 71, no. 2, pp. 149-68. Apr. 2000

[6] Ards and Down Area Plan 2015 - Draft Plan

Dungannon & South Tyrone
Borough Council

Response to DSD Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Introduction

The NI Assembly Committee for Social Development has launched an inquiry into the current approach to Town centre regeneration in Northern Ireland and has invited submissions from organisations or individuals with an interest in the subject.

Under the current LED Programme, Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough Council has been implemented an Urban Regeneration Programme in Dungannon over the last 6 years in Dungannon (in conjunction with Dungannon Regeneration Partnership) and recently extended the programme to include Coalisland town centre. The following response has been prepared by the Council’s Director of Development, Corporate Strategy & Policy Officer and Town Development Manager.

Terms of reference

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by DSD to regenerate town centres.

First and foremost, the scope and effectiveness is largely dependent on location and resources. For example, both Belfast and Londonderry have dedicated Regional Development Offices who both play a key role in driving forward the regeneration and development agenda of Belfast and Londonderry in a comprehensive and integrated way. This is not the case for the three Regional Development Offices responsible for helping to regenerate towns and villages outside Belfast and the North West. Substantial DSD funding and effort has been invested in both Belfast and Londonderry in comparison to rural market towns such as Dungannon and Coalisland by the Western RDO.

It would appear that DSD intervention is inconsistent in terms of vesting and developing derelict sites and properties. For example, a key opportunity site in Dungannon town centre (at Anne Street) has remained undeveloped for over 20 years, despite numerous approaches made to DSD for intervention. The property has been a major blight on the town centre and this is a prime example which highlights DSD failure in regards to policy and strategy. If the site was situated in Belfast, this would not have been the case i.e. Victoria Square.

Moreover, the Belfast and Londonderry Development Offices promote the Urban Development Grant (UDG) as one of their core programmes aimed at encouraging private sector investment by developing vacant, derelict or underused land or buildings in priority areas. Although a pilot UDG programme was offered in 2006 it was largely ineffective as there was no flexibility in terms of rigid deadlines placed on applicants to meet spend targets. The UDG needs to re-established as a core programme for all town and city centres outside Belfast and Londonderry and should be managed by local Councils.

Although DSD assists regeneration in the creation of town centre strategic plans, there is no ‘starter funding’ available from the department for newly formed town centre management (TCM) partnerships outside of Belfast and Londonderry to appoint a staff resource or commence delivery of programmes and projects in order to kick-start the regeneration process, secure early wins and gain a profile within a community. It is important that a programme of DSD funding support is in place for new Town Centre Partnerships and strategic regeneration plans as it is the case in Belfast and Londonderry.

The Council supports the need to develop town centre strategies. However, it is important that such strategies are integrated into a wider urban regeneration masterplan for a sub regional area to ensure the main urban centres are linked to its surrounding community and neighbourhoods in their entirety. It is also critical that urban centre strategies and initiatives take account of all the social, economic and environmental needs of an area.

Marketing and promotion is an essential part of any town strategy and the recent DSD Town/City Centre Marketing and Promotions Programme has been successful in raising the profile of Dungannon as a shopping destination. However, the pilot programme comes to an end in March 2008 and it is the opinion of Council that the programme needs to be mainstreamed into DSD and adequate financial resources allocated to Councils on a rolling basis. To date Council and LED funding have picked up much of the cost of town centre regeneration work, and a recent review of the local LED plan acknowledged the need for an expanded role for DSD in the future.

DSD have invested heavily in public open spaces in Belfast and Londonderry and other town/city centres. Council has prepared conceptual plans and an economic appraisal for a £4.6M Public Realm Scheme in Dungannon town centre which have been approved by DSD and are now with Department of Finance and Personnel for approval. The scheme was included in DSD’s future programme of work, obviously based on need but it has now come to the attention of the Council that funding may not be forthcoming for the proposed scheme. Given DSD’s commitment to urban regeneration and to government policy to address regional economic disparity it is disappointing that support may not be available for this much needed project, which should be a priority for the department given that the town is struggling to compete with other market towns of similar size and focus. In addition, the Regional Development Strategy champions the development of all hub towns in the province such as Dungannon.

It is also critical that future priorities of DSD urban regeneration take account of sub regional areas experiencing deprivation and poverty and that have been seriously impacted by the troubles. Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough has been identified in the top five most disadvantaged regions using economic deprivation figures. Recent DSD statistics has identified children living in Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough as most at risk of low income. Dungannon town has also been one of the most bombed towns of the troubles, 70 times, all of which has left its mark on regeneration.

Given the proposed decrease in budget over the next few years for urban regeneration as profiled in ‘Northern Ireland Executive Draft Budget 2008 – 2011’, it is critical that priority areas are identified, outside the cities. The commitment to such areas is welcomed in DSD’s aims within the budget report to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society through regeneration disadvantaged urban areas, tackling social disadvantaged in the 10% most deprived areas; promoting viable and vital towns and city centres and helping to create shared spaces that are accessible to all, where people can live, work and socialise. This aim needs to be made a reality through targeting funding at poverty and disadvantage not just small neighbourhood renewal areas but at urban centres that will drive the development of wider sub regional areas.

Underpinning the above is the clear lack of cohesion and joined up approach/thinking to a number of DSD programmes including urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal which needs to be addressed. In other regions across the UK urban regeneration takes place in an integrated manner addressing urban centres alongside their urban neighbourhoods, examples on this for reference are provided later.

PPS5 emphasises the importance of carrying out Town Centre Healthchecks and monitoring an agreed set of KPI’s to identify early signs of decline. DSD should award funding to Councils in order to undertake regular healthchecks which would provide the basis for DSD intervention where appropriate.

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address poverty and disadvantage.

Two neighbourhood renewal areas have been designated in Dungannon and Coalisland, which were identified on the basis of the Noble index of multiple deprivation. However, both areas are not recognisable, coherent communities which make sense to the people who live in them. The boundaries drawn up by DSD have divided neighbourhoods and left out pockets of deprivation that exist close to the areas in Dungannon and Coalisland. The level of funding earmarked by DSD is insignificant in terms of reducing deprivation and improving quality of life and a definitive programme budget has never been allocated. Furthermore, the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme has been seen as an ‘add on initiative’ rather than an integrated approach because DSD have failed to successfully challenge and commit government departments at the appropriate level to mainstream funding towards the programme. Statutory representation on Neighbourhood Partnerships has not been at the required strategic decision-making level, and the amount of red tape and bureaucracy involved is cumbersome. As a result the programme has struggled to make an impact at neighbourhood level. With regard to poverty and deprivation it is unrealistic to just focus a few projects on small pockets of areas, there needs to be a radical change in approach to targeting resources to larger sub regional areas experiencing poverty and disadvantage to ensure real impact. As stated previously Dungannon & South Tyrone Borough is in the top 5 most disadvantaged regions in economic deprivation as provided by INI – NISRA Deprivation statistics and a recent DSD publication reported that Dungannon has the highest rates of child poverty and children living in Dungannon were most at risk of low income. The area is also the fastest growth area across Northern Ireland with 3.1% growth in 2005/06 compared to 1% for Northern Ireland. This is mainly attributed to the area most benefiting from migrant workers. Whilst this growth has been positive for the area, it has also brought issues relating to service provision and effective planning and integration. These are serious issues that require real and integrated solutions and will not be affected by targeting a couple of thousand people out of 54,000 people. This clearly underscores the needs for significant targeted funding to be directed by DSD into the urban centres in their entirety, and not just small unidentifiable pockets.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives

See answer above concerning neighbourhood renewal. There was a lack of meaningful consultation/engagement with local communities to identify, discuss and agree the boundaries of neighbourhood renewal areas and consequently nearby pockets of deprivation were not included and communities felt divided. Council believes that DSD needs to find new ways of getting people effectively engaged in the process at grass-root level – by talking to them in different ways in order to secure community ownership, support and pride.

Council believes that DSD needs to consult more effectively with local councils, private sector, community and voluntary sector when developing and bringing forward new regeneration initiatives to ensure effectiveness and smooth implementation of same. One of the key priority issues facing Dungannon town centre is the need to secure a greater joined up approach with government to bring into productive use a number of under/mis-used public and private owned sites/properties in the town. Council believes it is vitally important that DSD, Roads Service, Planning Service and private sector engage and work towards a common regeneration agenda to ensure Dungannon makes the most of opportunities to deliver on its potential. A specific ‘taskforce’ should be set up by DSD to lead this masterplanning process with published objectives and funding ringfenced for regenerating and transforming the town.

Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions

Examples of good practice of urban social development elsewhere include Sheffield and Birmingham. These areas have successful outcomes due to the size of the areas targeted – entire cities, including the centre and neighbourhoods in an integrated manner. Success can also be contributed to the commitment to target resources and mainstream support in a joined up approach. Please see information attached for further reference and follow up.

Recommendations for Action

1. Given that the function of urban regeneration is set to be transferred to local Councils under RPA, DSD programmes such as the Urban Development Grant (UDG) and Town/City Centre Marketing & Promotions Programme, and Neighbourhood Renewal should be core funded by the department and transferred to local Councils to manage.

2. DSD must commit higher levels of funding to Public Realm Schemes in town centres outside of Belfast and Londonderry and priority given to hub towns currently included on the department’s future programme of work.

3. To tackle poverty and disadvantage, a specific ‘taskforce’ is required for the area to lead a masterplanning process for the wider Dungannon urban area and town centre with published objectives and funding ringfenced for regenerating and transforming the town. The Masterplan for the wider Dungannon urban area would require a commitment from the department and other agencies to action.

4. Dungannon & Coalisland towns need to be identified as Neighbourhood Regeneration Areas in their entirety and a commitment to reallocating resources for real impact to be made.

5. DSD needs to take a greater leadership approach to social development and commit other partners to action. At present the commitment is piecemeal and tokenistic.

6. There needs to be a joined up, integrated approach by DSD in terms of its programmes and initiatives to ensure efficient and effective delivery and less duplication and fragmentation.

7. There needs to be a greater recognition from DSD to the value and importance of Town Centre Management Partnerships in driving forward the economic development of town centres, and adequate funding set aside for TCM to enable long term planning.

Federation of Small Businesses

FSB Submission
Committee for Social Development Inquiry - Town Centre Regeneration.

The Federation of Small Businesses is Northern Ireland’s largest business organisation with 7000 members, from every sector of industry. The FSB works to promote and protect the interests of all who own and/or manage their own businesses, lobbying decision makers to create a better business environment.

Introduction

We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration.

The FSB believes that social and community renewal is inextricably linked to economic and physical renewal, and social progress cannot be delivered without economic growth and environmental protection. Enterprise is part of the way to create growing, productive and innovative economies.

Many of the Department of Social Development’s current policies and programmes and policies are successfully progressing regeneration in many of our town centres. It is acknowledged that regeneration work is long-term and that time is needed before plans are fully realised.

The number of programmes and policies offered by DSD is enormous and may lead to considerable confusion for less administratively sophisticated small businesses with few employees. Available grants need to be well-publicised, easy to understand and easy to apply for, with clear criteria. In addition, whilst it is important to ensure that areas of need in large towns and cities, such as Belfast and Londonderry, are addressed, it is also essential to ensure that towns situated on or in close proximity to the border and other population centres on the outskirts of Northern Ireland are appropriately developed and the neglect of past decades redressed.

Regeneration initiatives are cross-cutting and inter-departmental, linking with enterprise, entrepreneurship, education, investment, employment, and tourism strategies. ‘Joined-up’ government is therefore essential to successful regeneration, so that all relevant departments, strategies and initiatives support each other in achieving shared objectives. It is equally important to engage district councils and relevant agencies such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company.

Out-of-Town Centres

It is the view of the FSB that the revitalisation of the independent retail sector is key to wider town centre regeneration. This sector makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the character of the high street, and is economically essential as money spent locally is largely recycled through other local services.

The retail sector in Northern Ireland has changed drastically in recent years, principally due to the willingness of large multiples to enter the local marketplace as the security situation has improved. Many of the new sites accommodating the incoming retail chains have been developed away from existing town centre infrastructure, and as a consequence they have overwhelmingly drawn the shopping public away with them. As a consequence the ability of independent retailers to retain their customers has been severely damaged. It is now apparent that the promised ‘spin off’ for town centres when approval was given for out-of-town developments has not materialised.

The expansion of large chains through their ‘neighbourhood stores’ has raised the threat of ‘cloning’ and the loss of any form of local identity. It is vital that Northern Ireland’s town centres maintain – and indeed celebrate – their individuality. Tourists who come to Northern Ireland and find shopping malls and high streets which are exactly the same as the ones they came from will find no reason to return.

Lively town centres attract people to spend money. Initiatives such as the Greenway project in East Belfast and the proposed E-ways are important to attracting people to visit areas and of providing environmentally friendly, accessible and efficient transport. It is important that there are retail outlets to provide for the needs of users of these projects.

Regeneration programmes also need to include plans to reinvigorate town centres at night by providing places of entertainment and leisure services in a safe environment with good transport. It is important to address anti-social behaviour and ensure visible policing to increase both security and confidence.

Working in partnership and consultation with local people and stakeholder engagement is integral to successful regeneration. The proposals made under the Review of Public Administration for community planning partnerships are important to giving a voice to small businesses in local areas.

Arterial Routes

The arterial routes of our towns and cities have been severely eroded in recent years, and whilst it is recognised there are a number of contributing socio-economic factors, the inward flux of large retail chains is a significant factor in the clear decline in both the visual and commercial environment. Many main routes have become simple through roads, with those passing through having no incentive to stop, which has in many cases resulted in buildings become derelict and run down, and a thoroughly unattractive environment developing. The FSB notes that taking forward a programme of work on key arterial routes is a headline commitment for DSD in A Shared Future, and we reiterate that such a programme must take account of economic development as well as community and social development in promoting a shared community where people wish to live, learn, work and play together.

Regeneration initiatives in these areas must have a representative voice from the small business sector. Positive input includes:

Reviving Retail

In 2006, the FSB published its thoughts in a policy document entitled ‘Reviving Retail in Northern Ireland’. It contained a number of recommendations valid in this inquiry:

The FSB recognises that small businesses have a major part to play in attracting customers to their stores. an attractive visual environment will encourage both first time and repeat visitors, and can be achieved by simple steps such as erecting appropriate and well maintained shop front signage, a level of greenery, and regular checks to remove rubbish. The refurbishment of shop fronts and interiors will attract both local shoppers and tourists/ visitors.

Boston Main Streets Programme

The FSB has examined examples of best practice in other parts of the world. One of the most effective is the Boston Main Streets programme, and there is much to draw from it in promoting regeneration in Northern Ireland.

The mission statement of this programme is

“…committed to making Boston’s neighbourhood commercial districts thriving, vibrant centres of commerce and community through its support of the Boston Main Streets program, …to develop long-term strategies to increase the economic power and resources of neighbourhood commercial districts while pursuing initiatives that build knowledge and capacity for Main Streets programs and the businesses they serve".

The Main Streets programme focuses its effort on providing businesses and community residents with tools and information necessary for their commercial centre to compete in today’s market. The programme helps neighbourhood Main Street organizations capitalize on their unique historical, cultural and architectural assets while addressing many economic development needs around small business retention and recruitment in light of strong competition from shopping malls and discount retailers.

For example, to achieve the elements of a successful Main Street, the City of Boston has provided the following services for designated Main Street districts; Technical assistance in organizational development, strategic planning and market development, matched funds to support the cost of hiring an executive director (effectively a town/city centre manager), linking up each district with a ‘Corporate Buddy’ for financial and technical services, matched funds annually to support promotional events in the district and matched funds toward improvements to private or public property.

Federation of Small Businesses

Marie Austin
Committee Clerk
Committee for Social Development
Northern Ireland Assembly
Room 412
Parliament Buildings
Belfast, BT4 3XX

7 April 2008

Dear Marie

Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Further to your letter of 18 January 2008 following the FSB’s attendance at the Social Development Committee’s inquiry as stated above, as requested I enclose further information regarding the Boston Main Streets historical revitalisation program.

In respect of the Committee’s other request, in relation to a statistical analysis showing the demise of small businesses within town centres, unfortunately we do not have any Northern Ireland specific information. However, the following data may be of interest:

I hope this information is useful.

Yours sincerely

Carolyn Brown
Policy Manager

Federation of Small Businesses

Supplementary Submission to the Social Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Introduction

When we made our presentation on Town Centre Regeneration to the Social Development Committee on 17 January 2008, we cited the Boston Main Streets program as an example of good practice. We are pleased to provide further information as requested by the Committee.

The Boston program is only one of a number of these initiatives, which have been adopted by 40 US states including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Detroit and New Orleans. It is a national model for urban areas seeking to revitalize neighborhood commercial districts, while preserving their unique historical and community character.

Over 1000 communities in 40 states have taken part in the Main Street program since 1977, generating more than 3.6 billion dollars in new investments; over 83,000 new jobs, more than 33,000 new businesses; and more than 36,000 building rehabilitation projects.

The Main Streets Program emphasizes a partnership approach, inclusive and meaningful engagement with all stakeholders, and both visible and practical commitment and resourcing. Of particular importance, however, appears to be the presence of a ‘Champion’ with vision, commitment, enthusiasm and leadership who can generate excitement and make things happen.

While it provides a proven framework, tools and mechanisms for success, it is flexible, adaptable, non-prescriptive and above all, independent.

Kennedy Smith, who was Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Streets Centre for 13 years between 1991 and 2004, says:

“America’s communities put way too much emphasis on attracting new national retailers instead of local owned businesses and small industries…locally owned businesses, while more difficult to cultivate, ultimately return more money to the community than national retailers…While civic leaders often (well, always) covet the retail sale tax revenue they might collect from national retailers, its ultimately a zero-sum game, with tax revenues offset by higher municipal service costs and lower wages."

In the same article, she notes: “Main Streets are the places where true innovation occurs. Chain store packed shopping centres offer mind-numbing predictable formulas that make our communities one, big homogeneous blur. Independent businesses are the incubators of the great new ideas and the mirrors of local character." (Main Streets News, June, July 2004).

Main Streets Program

The program is a community-driven, comprehensive methodology used to revitalize older, traditional business districts throughout the United States through public/private partnerships. It is a common-sense way to address the variety of issues and problems that face traditional business districts. The underlying premise of the Main Street approach is to encourage economic development within the context of historic preservation in ways appropriate to today’s marketplace. As such, the program is not appropriate for retail parks or shopping centres, although many of the principles and actions can be applied. The Main Street Approach advocates a return to community self-reliance, local empowerment, and the rebuilding of traditional commercial districts based on their unique assets: distinctive architecture, a pedestrian-friendly environment, personal service, local ownership, and a sense of community

The Main Street Program is based on a four point approach - Design, Economic Restructuring, Promotion, and Organization — that are combined to address all of a commercial district’s needs and tailored to meet local needs and

Opportunities (see Appendix 1), and has eight Guiding Principles – comprehensive, incremental, self-help, partnership, identifying and capitalizing on unique assets, quality, change and implementation (see Appendix 2).

The Main Street approach is incremental; it is not designed to produce immediate change. Because they often fail to address the underlying causes of commercial district decline, expensive improvements, such as pedestrian malls or sports arenas, do not always generate the desired economic results. In order to succeed, a long-term revitalization effort requires careful attention to every aspect of downtown — a process that takes time and requires leadership and local capacity building.

The program has developed a comprehensive set of tools and sources of advice and assistance on which new programs can draw, so that there is plenty of support while enabling a tailored approach. There is a ‘Getting Started’ webpage, providing advice on whether a Main Streets program is appropriate for an area, and advice on first steps to take. In addition to the website, a variety of manuals are available from the National Trust Main Streets bookshop, and interested communities are encouraged to contact and network with established programs to access their experience and identify examples of good practice that could be translated.

Successful programs gain national recognition, but there is also a system of accreditation against 10 established basic performance standards, which provide realistic goals and a tangible incentive for achievement, in the form of a certificate and a press release. Most areas publicise these with launches or ceremonies.

Main Street programs are organized by coordinating entities at the statewide, citywide, and sometimes countywide level. Each coordinating program has an application process for entry into its system and manages the designation of Main Street programs within its jurisdiction. In areas without a statewide or citywide coordinating program, an organization may self-initiate a program.

There are usually workshops or training on how to put together an application. Generally, the application must show that a Main Street program has support from the entire community, not just from an individual or small group of people.

While a Main Street program can be housed in a variety of agencies or organizations, one of the most common and successful ways is to establish an independent, private nonprofit organization whose express purpose is to revitalize the commercial district. As a separate organization, the Main Street program can:

Several models for central organizing bodies are suggested: Free-Standing Nonprofit; City Government; Chamber of Commerce; Community Development Corporations; Merchants Association; Special Taxation District; Downtown Development Authority (see Appendix 4). The advantages and disadvantages of each of these are clearly set out, but it is entirely the decision of the area community to decide which of these models is appropriate to them.

The first step is to form a working group which includes a wide range of stakeholders from public sector, the business community, residents, voluntary and community organizations – the wider the range the greater the commitment and engagement. Next steps include conducting an audit of what exists already in the area, developing work and budget plans, raising awareness, fundraising, recruiting board members and volunteers with defined roles in the form of job descriptions, ensuring information and training is provided, keeping people informed, liaising with other programs. Applying for designation is a vital step in the process.

A key principle is not to be overly ambitious – programs are advised to start with small projects that are easy to accomplish and that will have a visible impact, and build capacity from there.

For example, the Storefront Improvement Program aims to improve the design and physical appearance of buildings by providing neighborhood business owners with professional architectural advice. Consequently, each local Main Street district and their businesses have the opportunity to improve their businesses as well as to help enhance the overall image and economic conditions for all within their particular community.

Good design decisions are strong foundations for good business and can be cost-effective investments when properly planned. Business and property owners who participate in the Storefront Improvement Program also are eligible for grants on a reimbursement basis to help defer the cost of improvements.

The Storefront Improvement Program often becomes a catalyst for other district activities, including streetscape, sidewalk, traffic flow, and crime watch improvements and on-going local Main Street district promotion activities.

The Storefront Improvement Program is usually launched through a promotional campaign aimed at local businesses and building owners, which continues in various formats throughout the life of the Main Street program.

To apply to the Storefront Improvement Program, a neighborhood business or property owner contacts the local Main Street manager to receive a preliminary application. The local Main Street manager submits the preliminary application to the local Main Street Design Committee. Upon approval of funding and design assistance, an architect conducts an on-site meeting with the business owner and produces a conceptual design proposal and description of the proposed storefront improvement. Using the conceptual design proposal and description as a guide, the business owner then hires a contractor to complete the improvement project.

Boston Main Streets Program

Fifteen years ago, many of Boston’s neighborhood commercial districts were not inviting places to visit. Changing shopping patterns and demographic shifts led to a disinvestment in the neighborhood shopping districts from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. In 1995, the City of Boston launched Boston Main Streets Foundation, a public-private initiative formed by the City of Boston (government), the business sector and the community ( residents and voluntary/community organizations) , to revitalize the city’s neighborhood commercial centers. The Foundation is committed to making Boston’s neighbourhood commercial districts thriving, vibrant centres of commerce and community, and its aim is to develop long-term strategies to increase the economic power and resources of those districts while pursuing initiatives that build knowledge and capacity.

Neighborhood-based, non-profit main streets organizations work to improve main streets districts throughout the City of Boston.

For Boston, strengthening the commercial and community center of each neighborhood supports several economic development goals: jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for Boston residents; commercial districts that are the social heart of the community; unique neighborhood commercial districts that attract prospective investment; and an understanding that the commercial core of each neighborhood is vital to the residential community and vice-versa. It capitalizes on historical, cultural and architectural assets while addressing many economic development needs around small business retention and recruitment in light of strong competition from shopping malls and discount retailers.

Roslindale Village

For example, the revitalisation of Roslindale Village in Boston started in 1983. At the time, Roslindale suffered from disinvestment and a deteriorated building stock. Using the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street model, Roslindale merchants, owners, city officials and residents built an organization and workplan to reverse their prospects. Within its first three years, the Roslindale Village Main Street Program brought about 73 facade changes, 43 commercial building renovations; 29 net new businesses; 132 net job gains, totalling over $5 million in new investment.

In 1995, the city of Boston expanded its partnership with the National Trust’s National Main Street Centre revitalisation program to the entire City of Boston, resulting in a $4.2 million public-private initiative, the first urban multi-district Main Streets program in the United States.

Ten neighborhood commercial districts were designated as Boston Main Street programs in 1995 following a city-wide competition. Four districts were selected in 1997 and four more in 1999. Roslindale Village continues as a mature program today.

Each district receives financial and technical assistance (such as reviewing financial plans, development of volunteer projects and graphic design support) and intensive training in the Main Street approach from the City of Boston Main Streets office and the National Main Street Center. In turn, each Main Street organization hires a full time Executive Director, raises matching funds, incorporates its organization and implements its programs according to an annual work plan.

Boston Main Streets districts follow the four- point comprehensive approach. Specific Main Street activities and operations include storefront improvement grants, public enhancements, local promotional and fund-raising events such as road races, parades, auctions, multi-cultural festivals and holiday shopping events that strategically aim to enhance the image of the business district and attract consumers. District staff and volunteers draw upon the skills and experience of the local stakeholders to revitalize the district.

Program Funding

The City of Boston commits a significant portion of its federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to the Boston Main Streets program, Neighborhood Development Funding (NDF) is used for the districts that are not eligible for CDBG. In addition, the City of Boston commits six full time staff to assist the local districts in many aspects of their programs. Local districts also have access to city architects, design staff, transportation planners and technical assistance specialists. The funding is provided in four basic categories:

1. Program Manager and Program Assistant Salary,

2. Physical Improvements (Public & Private),

3. Technical Assistance and

4. Promotion.

In addition, Boston Main Streets provides local districts with design assistance from local architecture firms in the form of Design Hours. The contracts with the architecture firms are administered by the Office of Business Development Design Services Unit. Boston Main Streets also provides workshops and training.

The Corporate Buddy Program

Boston Main Street districts are teamed up with a Corporate Buddy, a large business or corporation that contributes $5,000 - $10,000 each year towards operational expenses. More importantly, the Corporate Buddy provides access to technical resources such as printing, marketing assistance, and volunteer projects. In Boston, Corporate Buddies include: Citizens Bank, PNC Bank New England, Boston Edison, Fleet Bank, Star Market, LISC, the Gillette Company, Mellon Bank, Boston Private Bank & Trust, New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., Sovereign Bank.

In turn each Main Street organisation is expected to provide the following from local sources:

Wi-Fi initiative

Boston is bringing wireless technology to Boston’s communities through the Main Streets WiFi Initiative, which creates a free entry point for residents to access the Internet, help attract and retain visitors to the districts and educate and inform local residents & businesses on the use and applications of wireless technology. The Initiative is a joint collaboration between the Main Streets program and the following four private businesses: ASCIO Wireless, Colubris Networks, Airpath, Tropos USAi.net and Boston Data Centers. Boston Main Streets has made WiFi available in two Main Streets districts, and is developing sites in several more districts.

The Boston Main Streets program also includes a Boston Community Change card – a kind of loyalty card for the community – which gives rebates on every day transactions to generate cash rebates for retailers and donations to local community charities.

Boston Main Street Statistics

The Main Street districts continue to mature and develop into solid volunteer based organizations with realistic strategies and action-oriented programs. Quantitatively, the results are impressive. The following statistics have been compiled by monthly district reports from 1995 to December, 2006 (also see Appendix 3 for state-wide statistics)

Annual surveys carried out include the following performance indicators: increases in property values; ground floor occupancy; upper floor occupancy, numbers of retail businesses, restaurants, professional offices, housing units created, businesses that have websites, number of independent (‘mom and pop’) businesses, new franchises, building rehabilitation and improvement projects, levels of crime and levels of attendance at Main Streets festivals.

Qualitatively, the overall goal of the Boston Main Streets program is to improve the quality of life in Boston’s neighborhoods. The vitality of a neighborhood’s business district is critical to the health of the neighborhood as a whole and for that reason all sectors of the community are involved with each Main Street organization. Stakeholders include residents who typically represent the consumer to business and property owners, public and private institutions, community development corporations and merchant associations.

Lessons Learned

The Boston Main Streets’ innovative approach to neighborhood business development brings significant resources to the community. The complex urban issues faced by Boston’s historic commercial districts are examined through a holistic framework that realizes that many of the neighborhood problems are linked. It is this comprehensive approach that has brought the action-oriented projects to completion.

The volunteers and the amount of time they have invested (more than 165,634 hours) are a strong indicator of community interest, enthusiasm and investment of stakeholders working to better their communities. Main Streets events and promotions have fostered community pride and spirit. Façade improvements offer physical proof that the community is prospering. Merchants are using current market information provided through this project to improve merchandising and retail sales.

Boston Main Streets has learned from experience that government can not do everything and that each community must take leadership in shaping the character of their neighborhood. Our nineteen districts participate in this grassroots program to improve their physical appearance, economic structure, and overall quality of life. Our districts pride themselves on the development of their individual identities. The diversity of Boston’s neighborhoods is reflected in each of the districts. At the same time a city-wide perspective is maintained through unified support for each other’s programs and events and the exchange of knowledge and information across the city’s neighborhoods.

The obstacles that face Boston’s urban commercial districts are not unique. The Boston Main Streets framework teaches communities how to begin a successful revitalization process. We believe the foundations are set for Boston Main Street Districts to serve as a model and to share their challenges and accomplishments with other urban commercial districts.

Appendix 1

The Four Points

The National Trust Main Street Center offers a comprehensive commercial district revitalization strategy that has been widely successful in towns and cities nationwide. Described below are the four points of the Main Street approach which work together to build a sustainable and complete community revitalization effort.

Organization involves getting everyone working toward the same goal and assembling the appropriate human and financial resources to implement a Main Street revitalization program. A governing board and standing committees make up the fundamental organizational structure of the volunteer-driven program. Volunteers are coordinated and supported by a paid program director as well. This structure not only divides the workload and clearly delineates responsibilities, but also builds consensus and cooperation among the various stakeholders.

Promotion sells a positive image of the commercial district and encourages consumers and investors to live, work, shop, play and invest in the Main Street district. By marketing a district’s unique characteristics to residents, investors, business owners, and visitors, an effective promotional strategy forges a positive image through advertising, retail promotional activity, special events, and marketing campaigns carried out by local volunteers. These activities improve consumer and investor confidence in the district and encourage commercial activity and investment in the area.

Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape. Capitalizing on its best assets — such as historic buildings and pedestrian-oriented streets — is just part of the story. An inviting atmosphere, created through attractive window displays, parking areas, building improvements, street furniture, signs, sidewalks, street lights, and landscaping, conveys a positive visual message about the commercial district and what it has to offer. Design activities also include instilling good maintenance practices in the commercial district, enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging appropriate new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, and long-term planning.

Economic Restructuring strengthens a community’s existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying its economic base. The Main Street program helps sharpen the competitiveness of existing business owners and recruits compatible new businesses and new economic uses to build a commercial district that responds to today’s consumers’ needs. Converting unused or underused commercial space into economically productive property also helps boost the profitability of the district.

Appendix 2

Eight Principles of Success

The National Trust Main Street Center’s time success is guided by the following eight principles, which set the Main Street methodology apart from other redevelopment strategies. For a Main Street program to be successful, it must whole-heartedly embrace the following time-tested Eight Principles.

Appendix 3

Economic Statistics: The Main Street Program’s Success

Historic Preservation Equals Economic Development

The National Trust Main Street Center annually collects statistical information on economic activity in local Main Street programs nationwide. These statistics are tracked from 1980 to December 2006. The following table shows the progress made in the four years between 2002 and 2006.

  2002 2006
The total amount of public and private reinvestment in physical improvements in Main Street communities:
$17.0 Billion
$41.6 Billion
Average reinvestment per community (i):
$9,513,151
$11,083,273
Net gain in businesses:
57,470
77,799
Net gain in jobs:
231,682
349,148
Number of building rehabilitations:
93,734
186,820
Reinvestment Ratio(ii): the average number of dollars generated in each community for every dollar used to operate the local Main Street program:
$40.35 reinvested for every $1 spent
$25.76 to $1
Average program length:
7.11 years
 
Average cost per job created in a main street district:
$2,394
 
Average cost per business created in a main street district:
$9,651
 
Number of communities
1700
2050
Notes:

(i) The Average Reinvestment per Community reflects investment in communities that have recently begun commercial district revitalization programs as well as those that have been actively involved in Main Street for more than a decade. In addition, it includes investment of communities of a wide variety of sizes and in all parts of the country. For these reasons, communities should be cautious about using this figure as a benchmark for local performance.

(ii) The Reinvestment Ratio measures the amount of new investment that occurs, on average, for every dollar a participating community spends to support the operation of its Main Street program, based on medial annual program costs reported to the National Trust Main Street Center by its coordinating programs.

Appendix 4

Organizational Structures for Revitalization Programs

The Freestanding Nonprofit

Establishing a new nonprofit organization to implement the Main Street program is often the best option. A new organization is frequently able to accomplish things that an existing group with an established agenda cannot. A new organization can set up a board with a broad-based constituency, clearly define an independent mission, create new goals, and infuse a fresh spirit of change into the community. A new group can also forge all of the principles of a successful revitalization organization into a working unit.

On the other hand, effective revitalization programs have been housed in city government or in existing nonprofits, such as a business association or economic development corporation.

These charts show the organizational differences between a freestanding program and one housed in an existing organization:

Main Street Program in a Freestanding Nonprofit Organization

Main Street Program in a Freestanding Nonprofit Organization

Main Street Program in an Existing Organization

Main Street Program in an Existing Organization

City Government

Almost all successful Main Street programs involve city government in some way. Typically, the city is a major funding source for the program and is often represented on the board of directors and on committees, sometimes in an ex-officio capacity. In other cases, however, the revitalization effort is actually part of city government, with staff on the city payroll and offices in city hall.

In some cases, the mayor or city council will appoint a board or committee to guide the program. This model may offer the director the advantage of better benefits and increased job security. Housing the program in city government, however, could result in the political appointment of a director who may not have the experience or skills to run a revitalization program.

City-run programs offer the advantage of more stable funding and show the commitment of local government to the district. Also, by being an “insider," the program director may have a better chance to influence city policy than an independent manager would.

On the other hand, housing a Main Street program in city government can inhibit the development of private-sector participation. Frequently, these programs become too closely aligned with city hall and are perceived as pro-government, not pro-business. Further, the security of the political alignment can dissolve with the next election. If the Main Street program can be given special status, however — as a revitalization commission or downtown development authority — with a nonpolitical, broad-based board, many of these disadvantages can be mitigated.

Chamber of Commerce

Like city government, the chamber of commerce is usually an immediate, convenient option for housing a revitalization program. While sharing offices, clerical staff, and equipment can minimize costs when starting a program, there are some potential disadvantages to consider.

Although the chamber represents the private sector — an advantage for the Main Street program — its city, county, or regional focus can hamper the operations of a program designed to concentrate exclusively on a single commercial district. Tension often arises from conflicts between the chamber’s special interests and the need for a strong commercial district program. For example, the chamber’s primary goal is to serve its members while Main Street’s mission is to promote all businesses in the revitalization area.

Often, the Main Street director’s focus becomes diffused if he or she is perceived to be chamber staff and asked to put energies and resources into activities not specifically related to the business district. Furthermore, a chamber’s tax status can render it ineligible for funding from certain government and philanthropic sources.

As with city hall, the chamber’s leadership is elected, and a change could seriously weaken the revitalization program’s stability. If a clear commercial district focus is established, however, a chamber-housed program may be a good option.

Community Development Corporation

Community development corporations (CDCs) start many new Main Street programs, especially in urban areas. Although most of these corporations focus on developing affordable housing, mature CDCs are finding that they need to address commercial revitalization to meet the consumer needs of residents in housing developments and to stimulate job growth.

As a department within the CDC, the Main Street program probably will not have a separate board of directors. However, most CDCs form a special steering committee that serves many of the roles of a Main Street board. The structure of a CDC can usually be expanded to include committees for each of the four points of the Main Street approach.

Because CDCs also have a larger staff compared to the typical Main Street program, they may have little experience with or commitment to volunteer recruitment. The Main Street director must compensate for this organizational bias. However, if a CDC-sponsored revitalization program can involve the same participants as a typical Main Street program, it can be an excellent way to integrate the Main Street approach with other community development initiatives. Often, the Main Street director’s focus becomes diffused if he or she is perceived to be CDC staff and asked to put energies and resources into activities not specifically related to the business district.

Merchants Association

Initial interest in establishing a Main Street program often springs from the business district’s merchants. While merchants’ groups represent the private sector, they may not have the organizational structure or funding base to sustain a comprehensive revitalization effort. In some instances, revitalization programs housed in merchants associations become too closely aligned with the retailers — and by association with retail promotion. This can lead to a one-sided public image for the program. For Main Street to build credibility, it is essential that the public perceive it as representing all those who have a vested interest in the commercial district. If the merchants association is able to expand its scope and secure a sound funding base, it can be a feasible option for housing the revitalization program.

Special Taxation Districts

Special taxation districts, also known as business improvement districts (BIDs), downtown improvement districts (DIDs), special improvement districts (SIDs), or assessment districts, create an independent, nonprofit organization that raises funds from a single source. Each state must enact enabling legislation giving municipalities the authority to create these districts.

Typically, a majority of the property owners in a specific area vote to assess a fee that is paid by an additional voluntary tax on real estate. The city collects the fees and disburses the revenues to the board of directors, which runs the management corporation for the special taxation district.

A special taxation district can serve as an excellent mechanism to raise funds for mature Main Street programs, but it will require some reorganization to do so. New programs that attempt to institute these districts, however, often create ill will due to the mandatory nature of the assessment fees. During the Main Street program’s initial years, a voluntary contribution system usually works better. As more property owners contribute to the revitalization program, the viability of this organizational structure improves.

Downtown Development Authority

An existing downtown development authority (DDA) or similar group often has many of the qualities and characteristics desirable in a new Main Street program, but its appropriateness depends on the authority’s track record and inclusion of non-downtown interests. Before housing a program in a DDA, carefully and objectively examine its past performance and evaluate community perceptions of the organization. A new Main Street program may suffer if the public perceives the group as ineffective in dealing with downtown issues. Also, analyze the legalities of the authority; states define the legal power of DDAs in different ways. In some states, these groups may not legally be able to perform certain functions required of a Main Street program.

Additionally, the local legislation that established the DDA may restrict board membership to downtown property or business owners, which can create a perceived or real exclusion of broader community participation if the Main Street program is housed there.

Fermanagh District Council

Our Ref: 1/mm

23 October 2007

Ms Marie Austin
Committee Clerk
Northern Ireland Assembly
Committee for Social Development
Room 410
Parliament Buildings
BELFAST BT4 3XX

Dear Ms Austin

Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Thank you for your letter dated 17 October 2007 offering the Council the opportunity to submit written evidence on the issue as above.

However, the scope of the programmes and policies only applies to major towns or county towns so smaller centres, such as Lisnaskea, which are in need of assistance do not qualify.

I hope that this is of assistance.

Yours sincerely

Rodney Connor

Chief Executive

Larne Borough Council

Larne Borough Council correspondence

Committee for Social Development
Committee Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

Larne Borough Council

1. Larne Borough Council initiated Larne Development Forum in 1995 to act as the local area partnership for the promotion of the economic development of the Borough. The Town Development Office was established as one of the projects of the Forum and a Town Development Manager has been employed since January 1997, supported by a part-time administrative assistant. Over the past 10 years, the Town Development Office has assisted in the delivery of the Local Economic Development Action Plan (DETI) as well as demonstrated the benefits of town centre management for Larne.

2. Town Development in Larne has sought “to co-ordinate and promote the development of Larne as a town that is customer friendly, clean, safe, easy to access and offers a quality environment for shopping, services and activities to all its users – shoppers, visitors, citizens and investors". It seeks to act as a catalyst for change in influencing both public and private sector activity through partnership and to lobby and influence other key players to enhance town prosperity, in particular government departments and agencies. Town Development has delivered a number of projects from a variety of funders as well as developed partnerships and structures to ensure complementary and collaborative working across public, community and private sectors.

Policy Environment

3. The experience of the Larne Town Development Office over the past ten years has been that there has been a lack of focussed policy for town centre regeneration and that there has not been “joined-up" government with a common commitment to town centre regeneration. The experience of Town Development Management in Larne was used as one of the case studies in the EDAW Final report in January 2000 – the Northern Ireland Town Centre Reinvigoration Study. This study was overseen by an Interdepartmental Steering Group since it was recognised at the outset that to develop policies for the successful reinvigoration of town centres in Northern Ireland would require consultation, consent and appropriate contributions from a wide range of interests. This report made a number of recommendations involving a wide range of matters including town centre management, planning, transport and housing. The policy proposed from this study fell into three categories – organisational, policy co-ordination and incentives. However, no policy was adopted and this has contributed to the lack of clear focus for town centre regeneration. On a consistent basis across Northern Ireland.

4. Planning Policy for Town Centres relates to PPS 5 – “Retailing and Town Centres" and the more recent draft PPS 5 – “Retailing, Town Centres and Commercial Leisure Developments" published by the Department for Regional Development, supported through the Regional Development Strategy – “Shaping Our Future" and Area development Plans. Locally Larne Town Centre is also within the Larne Area Plan 2010 and the yet to be published draft Antrim Ballymena Larne Area Plan 2016.

5. In August 2007, the Department for Social Development issued “Vital and Viable" – a Good Practice Guide for Breathing New Life into Cities and Towns. The Minister indicated that it is intended primarily for use in areas which do not have specific detailed development strategies in place, and in particular, focuses on our regional cities and towns outside Belfast and Derry. This also outlines the contribution of the Department for Social Development through fostering better planning and marketing, tackling dereliction and market failure, comprehensive development projects and improving streetscape.

6. The Regional Development Office of DSD manages a number of programmes which include the following:

Also

Town Centre Regeneration in Larne

7. Larne has sought to develop and deliver a Town Development Strategy mainly through its economic development strategy; funding for individual activities and projects has been drawn from a range of sources, including Larne Local Strategy Partnership, Larne Community Safety Partnership, private sector contributions, Larne Borough Council/ERDF/DETI, Department for Social Development.

8. There have been limited opportunities available for Larne to avail of the DSD programmes for a range of reasons: Neighbourhood Renewal is a targeted programme which provides resources for those areas and pockets where deprivation is highest; Measure 2.11 was equally targeted at specific areas which did not include Larne; the recent UDG Pilot scheme did include Larne and demonstrated that there is a high level of interest in pursuing town centre schemes if there is some support available; Larne did gain funding support through the grant programme to support the promotion and marketing of town centres; the THI scheme is not available for Larne Town Centre; and Larne BC has made application to the Housing Executive for designation as a Town Centre Living Initiative Area.

9. Where Larne is eligible for the DSD programmes, these are applied for on a competitive basis. “Vital and Viable" confirms that “DSD will support only those projects that have been identified in locally –planned and supported city and town centre strategies – subject to budgets and a number of tests". As a small local authority, Larne has sought for a number of years to identify appropriate partners and adequate resources to develop a meaningful town centre masterplan. The Regional Development Office of DSD has now confirmed (August 2007) that it will appoint consultants to carry out this work. This is welcomed by Larne BC and will ensure that there is an integrated, agreed town centre strategy which will provide a framework for town centre regeneration by all stakeholders. In reaching this point, it has been difficult to establish whether there was a clear process for Council to request DSD to resource this masterplan or whether there was a programme of masterplan production which was planned by DSD. As this is identified as a fundamental requirement for further investment of DSD resources, it has been difficult for Larne Town Centre to compete for funds.

10. It is also clear that the range of powers available either to Council or to DSD would not be implemented without a strategic context. Again as a small local authority, Larne would be seeking support from DSD to pursue comprehensive development projects identified through the masterplan, including site assembly and complementary environmental improvement and public realm investment.

Recommendations

11. Programme for City and Town Centre Strategic Plans

DSD should develop a programme of support to ensure that all city and town centres across Northern Ireland have strategic masterplans in place with appropriate review mechanisms.

12. Inter-Departmental Working

DSD should facilitate an Inter-Departmental Group to ensure that there is commitment from all relevant departments to contribute to and resource town centre regeneration within departmental responsibilities in the context of agreed local masterplans.

13. Urban Development Grant

The Urban Development Grant Pilot Scheme for Selected Regional Towns should be extended and mainstreamed as a means of engagement with the private sector and encouraging investment across the region.

14. Town Centres as Neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood Renewal seeks to support regeneration through social, economic and community actions; as it is a targeted programme, town centres are quite often excluded from the funding opportunities offered, particularly as they have very diverse resident populations. Town centre regeneration funding support from DSD should extend beyond investment in physical and capital projects and should be available for a wider range projects; town centre strategies should be neighbourhood renewal action plans for town centres.

Oral evidence

15. Larne Borough Council wishes to be considered to give oral evidence to the Committee.

Contacts:
Hazel Bell, Town Development Manager
bellh@larne.gov.uk
028 2826 3082

Linda McCullough, Director of Development
mcculloughl@larne.gov.uk
028 2827 2313

Geraldine McGahey, Chief Executive
mcgaheyg@larne.gov.uk
028 2827 2313

Leaside Development Limited

Response to the Social Development Committee
Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration

November 2007

1.1 This paper has been prepared in response to the invitation by the Social Development Committee to submit written evidence in respect of the Committee’s announcement of its intention to carry out an inquiry into town centre regeneration.

1.2 The paper is submitted on behalf of Leaside Development Limited (LDL), the developer selected by DSD to take forward retail led regeneration of the North East Quarter. The principal participants are local companies William Ewart Properties Limited and Snoddon Construction Limited along with international property development company ING Real Estate Development. The developer has extensive experience in the delivery of major town centre regeneration projects throughout Great Britain and mainland Europe. They have been heavily involved in the ongoing enhancement of Belfast City Centre and have worked at close quarters with the Department of Social Development (DSD) and its consultants in recent years.

1.3 LDL are the promoters of Royal Exchange, the major development proposal selected by Minister David Hanson in March 2006 as being the preferred scheme for the regeneration of the North East Quarter (NEQ) and received the commitment of the DSD that Royal Exchange will be the next major regeneration project in Belfast City Centre. LDL therefore offer the following comments based on the experience of working directly with DSD in this regeneration project.

Assess the scope and effectiveness of the programmes and policies adopted by the Department for Social Development to regenerate town centres.

1.4 The DSD’s programmes for town centre regeneration cut across the entire spectrum of considerations prevalent in successful urban regeneration. The requirement for a holistic approach to regeneration is possible because not only do DSD hold a key role in their vesting powers but the scope of the DSDs programmes extend from physical urban regeneration, environmental improvement and enhancement of the public realm to the delivery of Neighbourhood Renewal and New TSN. It ties in prime land uses (such as retailing) with grass roots regeneration (e.g. employment creation and the arts). Such a scope of programmes provides the ‘campaign front’ for tackling the multi-stranded but interlinked issues affecting Belfast City Centre.

1.5 Building on from the success of Laganside in the 1990’s DSD has taken the lead with a clear vision of what is required for the commercial heart of the City Centre and is well down the path to achieving its regeneration. An important attribute of DSD has been a willingness to take external advice from consultants in order to achieve best practice. A good example of this was the commissioning of the Regeneration Policy Framework.

1.6 This led to the publication of the key policy document ‘the Regeneration Policy Statement’ (RPS) which now provides the framework for guiding how best to assess, determine, manage and phase the delivery of major City Centre regeneration proposals.

1.7 The ambitious vision that the DSD sets out in it’s regeneration programme through the RPS has required private sector developers to strive for the best solution to address the issues affecting strategic sites. While the most visible success of this to date in the City Centre has been the development of Victoria Square, it should also be noted that behind the scenes there has been significant work ongoing to deliver the next major City Centre redevelopment scheme at Royal Exchange.

1.8 The DSD’s publication of the Draft and Final North East Quarter Masterplan is indicative of a clearly defined policy approach which adopts a fully inclusive consultation process. Moreover the decision to produce this document simultaneously with the Draft and Final North West Quarter Masterplan’s illustrates the comprehensive approach of the DSD in seeking to thoroughly examine and decide how best to ensure the correct sequencing of the regeneration of strategic sites within the City Centre. Furthermore importantly it provided a fully transparent, accountable and inclusive decision making process.

1.9 The policy approach provided in the framework of the RPS and the NEQ Masterplan guided LDL’s comprehensive response to the DSD’s Development Brief. The wide ranging policies and component parts of the RPS which seek to maximise the existing heritage and character of the City Centre, establish a truly retail led mixed use scheme, improve linkages between and through City Quarters and the drive for quality design signal the requirement for cross sector support from all key stakeholders.

1.10 The environmental improvement programmes of DSD are particularly timely as the evolution from the Public Realm Strategy into the ‘Belfast Streets Ahead’ programme will ensure that the linkages between the strategic regeneration sites are now being physically up graded. This will allow for the full impact and integration of Victoria Square to take place and will provide an important backcloth to the promotion and delivery of the Royal Exchange scheme.

1.11 The dovetailing of DSD’s physical regeneration programmes with its social initiatives is comfortably achieved and the stakeholders are wholly aware how each aspect fits into the broader aims. This has ensured a full consultative process is carried out and LDL consider it to be an important aspect of the strategy for the delivery of Royal Exchange.

1.12 LDL, as a direct consequence of the DSD’s programme for regeneration and its policies, now expects to deliver an internationally successful major retail-led regeneration scheme the physical, economic and social benefits of which will stretch well beyond boundaries of the NEQ site and to the rest of the City and the Metropolitan Area.

1.13 The experience of LDL to date has been that the current DSD programmes and policies for the regeneration of the City Centre are well founded and thorough. They provide a clear vision and pathway for delivery of a socially and economically inclusive City Centre regeneration programme. LDL have invested heavily in the future of Belfast City Centre and the programmes and policies currently in place have been a guiding principle for this and will provide the mechanism for its realisation.

1.14 LDL are confident therefore that the Social Milestone set out in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Draft Investment Strategy 2008-2018 of ‘commencing the major NEQ mixed-use regeneration scheme by 2011 leveraging in significant private sector investment’ is achievable albeit this could well occur earlier (i.e. 2009/2010).

Identify areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

1.15 We are unaware of any areas where the application of regeneration funding has failed to address disadvantage and poverty.

1.16 LDL’s response to the DSD’s NEQ Masterplan and Development Brief undertakes to prepare and put in place an Action Plan that will demonstrate a visible commitment to the aims and objectives of Equality of Opportunity and New TSN with regard to the Royal Exchange scheme. This commitment which has been obtained by DSD is evidence that through the application of funding the resolution of the issues of disadvantage and poverty are given equal weight to the successful physical delivery of a proposed scheme.

Consider the nature and effectiveness of engagement with local communities and other key stakeholders when taking forward regeneration initiatives.

1.17 The engagement with local communities and key stakeholders has been central to the delivery of successful regeneration programmes and policies. DSD and LDL’s engagement with the key stakeholders and local communities in respect of the North East Quarter Masterplan provided the background for an agreed conceptual layout that included all principles and components that have been reflected in the Royal Exchange scheme.

1.18 The liaison with key groups allowed important issues to be highlighted and addressed at the outset. Two such issues for example where the need for permeability through the NEQ to ensure strong linkages between the Cathedral Quarter to Royal Avenue and the incorporation within the Royal Exchange scheme of the retention and reuse of a prominent listed building for cultural use.

1.19 The effectiveness of the engagement with local communities and key stakeholders is evidenced by the fact that Royal Exchange has letters of support from the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, Employment Service Board for West Belfast and Greater Shankill, Belfast GEMS, North Belfast Partnership and the Stepping Stone Project.

1.20 The requirement of DSD that all key stakeholders and local communities are engaged in the process is a positive approach and places the onus on the private sector to take the initiative. It is pertinent that the compliance of fulfilling this process is given weight in Development Briefs. This clearly sets out the nature of the regeneration process and the importance of full public endorsement.

1.21 Moreover, it is recognised that it is also necessary to also build into the consultation process the correct forums to allow appropriate engagement. These include public exhibitions, presentations to the Council and community groups, round table conferences and debates and one to one meetings and as a consequence ensure every opportunity for participation in the process.

1.22 In order to deliver specific initiatives such as the Action Plan for the New TSN the establishment of Steering Groups ensures that particular aspects of the regeneration initiative can be delivered in a fully inclusive and timely fashion.

1.23 LDL’s experience (which is plainly ongoing) recognises the need to bring the key stakeholders along with it in each step of the regeneration process. The nature of each initiative linked to the scheme requires its own forum for engagement and under the guide of DSD LDL continually seek to achieve the most inclusive and productive consultation with all key groups.

Identify and consider relevant experience elsewhere in terms of effectiveness of policy interventions.

1.24 LDL are international developers that have a wealth of experience in major regeneration proposals in Great Britain, The Netherlands and Portugal and would endorse the policy and programme approach of DSD as a strong example of effective intervention which is on a par with the approaches the Companies have experienced elsewhere.

1.25 Policy intervention is a ‘tool’ that can be used to control the use of land, direct investment and facilitate an inclusive process. It is set out in legislation and in policy statements in various jurisdictions because it is a tried and tested way of achieving stated Government objectives intended for the public good.

1.26 The reality is that some matters cannot be left to market forces if the public good is to be achieved. Where issues are complex and require the coming together of participants with diverse and perhaps differing positions, the use of policy intervention can mediate and resolve matters.

1.27 Policy intervention is used elsewhere in Government civic facilities to create circumstances to lever development funding and for the delivery of major infrastructural projects such as road schemes or the removal of permitted development rights in conservation areas. These types of policy intervention ensure the safe and convenient movement of the public, give protection to the commercial health of town centres and enhancement of them as areas of historical significance.

1.28 The effectiveness of regeneration policy intervention can be seen across the major cities of Great Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe. In Great Britain a wide variety of delivery agencies tailored to specific circumstances exist and take the lead in regeneration as found in the establishment of government sponsored agencies such as Liverpool Land Development Company or Thames Gateway who work in partnership with all sectors of the community to advance long term sustainable regeneration projects.

1.29 Our experience and knowledge of projects elsewhere demonstrates the need for effective policy intervention and public sector taking the initiative in partnership with private and voluntary groups to ensure the full delivery of successful regeneration programmes.

1.30 In Belfast the need for the large scale enhancement of the City Centre particularly in the North East Quarter has been recognised and acknowledged for over a decade. The powers of the DSD to formulate programmes and policy and make Development Schemes and Vesting Orders are critical in the delivery of the regeneration schemes. These comprehensive planning and compulsory purchase powers are rarely used but it is vital that Government bodies employ whatever powers open to it as is necessary in partnership with the private and voluntary sector to deliver strategically important schemes.

Limavady Borough Council

Inquiry into Town Centre Regeneration
Committee for Social Development

1. Limavady Borough Council has, in the past, supported town centre regeneration through: