THERE are currently more than 800 vacant business premises in north Antrim, it has been revealed.
Figures obtained in response to a recent Assembly question by North Antrim TUV MLA Jim Allister reveal that on 20 May 2012 there were 483 vacant businesses in Ballymena, 203 in Ballymoney and 116 in Moyle.
In comparison with just two years ago this shows a 10% rise in the number of businesses that have closed down.
Mr Allister expressed dismay at the continuing rise.
“The continuing decline in our town centres and in business generally is illustrated by these disappointing figures,” he said.
“The recession is biting hard and high rates are contributing to driving many out of business. Such steps as have been taken are clearly not working.
“It is quite dreadful that across north Antrim there are over 800 former business premises now lying vacant.
“We can all see it in our high streets, but more than that it means many more hundreds of people previously employed in these businesses now out of work.
“Whereas a promised rates revaluation in 2015 in the business sector may bring relief to some, for many others, I fear, it will be too late.
“This rates revaluation was promised years ago but was postponed by the Stormont Executive, meanwhile businesses in previously prosperous streets are being crippled with rateable values set when those streets were buzzing with shoppers.
“The fact that when shops fall vacant the owners still must pay half rates - another innovation by Stormont - means such property is a perpetual drain on the owner occupier.”
Last month Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland announced £45,000 funding towards the production of a masterplan for the regeneration of Ballymoney town centre.
The masterplan will serve to identify the strategic vision and regeneration opportunities in Ballymoney and how they can be realised.
“Ballymoney is a town which relies heavily on its independent traders, and it is important that we create an environment that protects what is there, but also allows Ballymoney the opportunity to diversify and strengthen what it can offer to its residents and many visitors,” he said.
“The assignment is out to tender at the minute and I am hopeful that a team consultants can be appointed by the end of the month to take this masterplan forward and provide the town with a vision that will allow it to grow and prosper in the future.”
Mayor of Ballymoney Borough Council, Councillor Ian Stevenson, commented: “Ballymoney Borough Council welcomes this vote of confidence in the future of our town. We look forward to working with DSD on the masterplan and to identify and create opportunities to regenerate the town centre and provide for its sustainable future.”