THE blueprint which will shape the commercial future of Ballymoney is expected to be in place by the end of the summer, a meeting of the Borough Council has been told.

A detailed plan aimed at addressing issues including shopping trends, gap site development, locals choosing to do their business in other towns, high rents and rates, the need for a second hotel, promotion of the evening economy and improvements to premises, is currently being prepared by a team of experts.

There has been some concern of late about the closure of shops in Ballymoney and, disturbingly, this week it emerged that a number of stores are said to be close to pulling the shutters down.

Traders and business people are concerned at the downturn no doubt due to the economic climate and the Council have put in place measures to help confront the issues affecting potential growth.

Current research commissioned prior to the so-called Masterplan for the town indicates that Ballymoney is retaining 58% of its catchment area of more than 30,000 people.

Convenience shopping of 37% however was going to other towns.

The Masterplan has been shaped by a detailed analysis of issues including demographics, diversity of offer, convenience and comparison spend/market share, footfall, vacancy levels, access safety and environmental issues. Household and user surveys were also conducted.

Walter Hutchinson, from the Department of Social Development, which has responsibility for urban regeneration across towns and cities in N. Ireland, attended a meeting of the Council’s Development Committee to inform councillors of the need for a Masterplan to provide a comprehensive long-term strategy for Ballymoney.

He revealed that consultants had been in place in October last year and their remit was to prepare a masterplan and action plan for the town centre which should be distinctive, inspirational, realistic, credible and deliverable.

The plan, managed by a project team of key stakeholder organisations, would also define the timescale and resources required for the delivery of the town centre transformation.

Consultants will be looking at ways in which to expand the various sectors – retail, office and business, residential, evening economy, hospitality and commercial leisure.

Mr. Hutchinson said there had been one well-attended stakeholder session with some 70 representatives from the community, business and statutory organisations taking part in themed workshops.

The draft proposals will be subject to a 12-week public consultation period prior to the finalisation of the masterplan document by the summer, moving to the implementation stage of September.

Concern was expressed about the state of Linenhall Street and it was revealed that plans are in place as a priority to improve its appearance as an interim measure. The measures are believed to be costing in the region of £100,000.

The chair of the committee, Alderman Bill Kennedy, said the aim was to boost the economy by creating new opportunities for investment which would lead to an attractive town centre.