Vacant shops blight town

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BALLYMONEY is among the worst towns in Northern Ireland for empty shop premises, it has been claimed - just days after the Social Development Minister launched a masterplan to breathe new life into the town centre.

Carrickfergus tops the league of shame with 21 per cent of shops empty, followed by Ballymena and Portadown on 20 per cent.

However, there was a 19 per cent vacancy rate in Ballymoney, Armagh, Lurgan and Lisburn, according to the report from property experts GL Hearn.

Chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) Glyn Roberts, who represents small and medium-sized businesses, said: “Northern Ireland has not only the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK, but twice the UK national average.”

Launching tbe Ballymoney Masterplan, Minister McCausland said: “This Masterplan is a comprehensive long term strategy which will guide the development opportunities and regeneration plans of Ballymoney Town Centre.

“ It contains some exciting ideas which, with support from private and public sector, should provide a vibrant future for retailers, businesses and the people from the town.

Cllr Bill Kennedy (DUP), Chair of Ballymoney Council’s Development Committee, said: “There is a growing optimism about the future of the town.

“The Council is now eager to advance these plans which will deliver a vision for our town centre and generate increased visitors and spending, retain jobs, create jobs and contribute to the town’s long term viability.”