Hearing the views and experiences of all our citizens, including our business and community representatives, is crucial in realising our shared vision for thriving high streets, deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Junior Minister Gary Middleton have said.
The Ministers were speaking as they visited Magherafelt town centre to launch a call for evidence, seeking views that will help shape the way forward in creating vibrant and sustainable city, town and village centres.
The call for evidence is part of a series of engagement exercises being taken forward by the High Street Task Force, which is co-chaired by Executive Office Junior Ministers, Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "We want our high streets to be sustainable, thriving places. As an Executive, we are committed to finding ways to support positive change that will create opportunities, support local jobs, develop our economy and improve people's lives. And our High Street Task Force is working together to help make our town, city and village centres places where people can do business, socialise, shop, be creative and use public services - as well as being great places to live.
"While there are many common and shared challenges, we recognise that every high street is different and has its own character, personality and needs that will each require bespoke local solutions.
"That's why we want to hear views and evidence from far and wide, across both urban and rural areas. I would urge everyone with an interest in the future of their local high street to respond to the call for evidence and share your views."
Junior Minister Gary Middleton said: "High streets and small businesses are the backbone of our local economy and we want to see them thrive now and into the future. The High Streets are much more than simply places to shop and access services, they are, for many, a focal point for the community.
"Restoring the vibrancy of our high streets is a significant challenge, especially as we emerge from the lockdown. The Executive's immediate priority has been opening up high streets and rolling out a COVID recovery strategy.
"The High Street Task Force has a longer-term focus on addressing the pressing need for the transformation of our high streets in response to fundamental societal and economic changes. This call for evidence provides an important opportunity for everyone to have their say and influence the vision that will be required to breathe new life into our high streets and deliver results at street level.
"I encourage the widest possible engagement and sharing of views and experiences as the call for evidence gets under way."
Glyn Roberts Chair of the HSTF Policy Subgroup and Retail NI CEO said: "We would strongly encourage our business community and wider civic society to put forward their ideas on what success looks like for 21st century High Streets. It is very clear that our end goal is High Streets that are clean, green, family friendly destinations that people want to shop, socialise, live and work in."
Derek McCallan Chair of the Capacity Subgroup said: "High Streets transformation will materially contribute to a new economy for Northern Ireland. That's why legislation, funding, capacity building and local community driven action must combine to make it happen."
The call for evidence document is available on The Executive Office website.
Responses to the call for evidence may also be provided via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The call for evidence process will run from 25 October to 6 December 2021.
Notes to editors:
1. The High Street Task Force (HSTF) has been identifying challenges and considering solutions to continue to make our city centres, towns and villages thriving and sustainable places. Secretariat support for the HSTF is being provided by the Department for Communities.
2. The Call for Evidence identifies challenges and seeks views on solutions to continue to make our city centres, towns and villages thriving and sustainable places.
3. The HSTF Call for Evidence sets out the Executive's current understanding of the issues and then asks respondents for any evidence they have that either supports or challenges initial thoughts and/or addresses any evidence gaps. This evidence can take many forms, including research and evaluation reports, practitioner knowledge and expertise and service user experiences.
4.Following the launch of the Call for Evidence officials will undertake a programme of engagement over the 6-week period to ensure the views of all stakeholders are reflected in the analysis. This includes a focus among others, on section 75 groups. We will seek the widest possible engagement and sharing of views.
5.The findings from the call for evidence, together with other data, will inform a draft report and recommendations that will be subject to full public consultation and equality considerations before a final report is presented for agreement by the Executive, by Spring 2022.
6. Membership of the High Street Task Force comprises:
- Department for Communities;
- Department for Infrastructure;
- Department for the Economy;
- Department for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs;
- Department of Finance;
- Retail NI;
- Hospitality Ulster;
- Business Alliance;
- NI Local Government Association;
- NI Retail Consortium;
- Social Enterprise NI;
- NI Council for Voluntary Action;
- NI Council Irish Congress of Trade Unions;
- Federation of Small Businesses;
- Ulster University;
- Queen's University Belfast; and
- Mr Chris Suitor (business owner).
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