Five Ministers address Future High Streets summit

Five Ministers address Future High Streets summit

Five Ministers from across the UK and Ireland addressed the Retail NI Future High Streets Summit in Belfast today, outlining their vision for the regeneration and transformation of high streets.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD, NIO Minister of State Conor Burns MP, Shadow Levelling Up Minister Alex Norris MP, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey all addressed one of the largest ever attended high street conferences here.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD told business leaders attending the Summit that the future of retail is hybrid, with both brick-and-mortar and online stores crucial in high street regeneration.

Virtually addressing attendees, Ireland’s Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment pointed to the pandemic as ushering in a third way of doing business under a new and improved hybrid model.

Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns MP, spoke about the UK Government’s vision for the high streets of Northern Ireland and how the Levelling Up funding will help the regeneration of the high streets, with £49 million already being invested in innovative projects across Northern Ireland.

Shadow Minister for Levelling Up, Alex Norris MP, also spoke on the UK Government’s recent White Paper and how levelling up can be delivered on a local level in Northern Ireland.

The in-person conference took place this morning and promoted a new vision for our high streets post-pandemic and discussed how local, regional and national governments can deliver real change for local towns and cities.

Sponsored by DWF Law, the Summit was hosted by broadcaster Tara Mills and featured panel discussions with Executive Ministers on the Assembly’s future economic priorities ahead of May’s election. The Summit also considered key strategic documents including the work of the newly formed High Street Task Force.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD said: “Two years ago, none of us could have predicted the terrible consequences that Covid-19 would have on our previously bustling high streets and shopping centres. From business closures to stay-at-home orders, necessary public health measures meant that, while our population was protected, many bricks and mortar traders were devastated. Many adapted quickly, moving online, setting up delivery services and finding other ways to hold on to their customers.”

“Now as we emerge from the pandemic and rebuild, this conference has been a really good opportunity to share our experiences and find ways to work more closely together for a strong, prosperous all-island economy. I strongly believe that the future for retail is hybrid with physical stores and on-line shopping providing a new and even better retail experience.”

Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Conor Burns MP, said: “Northern Ireland high streets have enormous potential, great produce and wonderful customer service. It is that personal touch and connection which brings people back into shops again and again and it’s something which I personally value.

“Through the Levelling Up Fund, the Government is already delivering support to Northern Ireland’s retail sector. Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, for example, received £1.2 million from the first round of funding to help revitalise their town centre and improve the experience of everyone who spends time there.

“As we look ahead to the next round of Levelling Up funding, I look forward to working closely with partners in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government, as well as those in the business sector, to ensure we continue delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”

 Chief Executive of Retail NI, Glyn Roberts said: “There is no doubt we are not short of strategy and policy when it comes to the future of our high streets. The Executive’s Investment Strategy, Infrastructure 2050, UK Government’s Levelling Up White Paper and the Northern Ireland High Street Taskforce report all set out ambitious plans for our town centres.”

“The question that Retail NI members ask is how we get local, regional and national governments all pushing in the one direction and more importantly how all these policy priorities can be delivered so we can create 21st century high streets. Alongside a dynamic retail and hospitality offering we also need to ensure they become multi-functional hubs with libraries, community services, police stations, healthcare, leisure, education, open spaces, housing and sports facilities.”

Head of Real Estate in Northern Ireland at DWF Law, Julie Galbraith said: “We were thrilled to partner with Retail NI for its Future High Streets Summit. Our town and city centres are thriving hubs of innovation and growth, best evidenced through Northern Ireland’s ever-growing independent retail sector. Supporting our high streets does not just boost jobs and economic activity, it helps build stronger communities that work together to improve livelihoods and build prospects. It was great to get speaking to those business and political leaders in attendance at this morning’s excellent Summit.”