Traders voice frustration over unrest

Traders voice frustration over unrest

Belfast traders have met at a city hotel to voice their frustration over poor sales linked to the Union Flag unrest.

Some retailers have been hit by a slump in trade - through cancelled restaurant reservations or a lack of customers - since the civil disorder began in early December.

According to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), an estimated £15m was lost to the economy over Christmas because shoppers avoided Belfast.

There was standing room only at the Europa Hotel meeting on Wednesday night as traders expressed their anger.

UTV business reporter Naomi McMullan said there was "anger over the way the flag situation had been handled with many saying that politicians are "out of touch" with what is happening to traders.

"Now, all of this, is of course partly to put pressure on the council and Stormont to do something to help them. There was a feeling this is something that needs to be fixed not next month, but now," she said.

One restaurateur Simon McCance, of Ginger Bistro, has had to cut his staffs' hours - despite having an overall good year of trading.

"The last thing I want to do is to try and rejig my business - and I shouldn't have to after the year that we've had.

"People are already losing hours," he continued.

"It's happening in all sections of the restaurant whether it's the floor or the kitchen. Yes, people are losing money."

A number of suggestions put forward at the meeting including a type of compensation scheme, however, nothing has been confirmed.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is to meet NI's leaders and also Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore later on Thursday for talks about the protests.

Ms Villiers met with community and church leaders in east Belfast the previous day.

She called for politicians to tackle sectarianism, adding that it was important for all political representatives to be forthright in condemning violence and calling for real progress on building a shared society.

"I am encouraging them to continue to work together and send out a signal strongly that Northern Ireland is open for business," she said.

Meanwhile, further trade disruption is expected in Belfast city centre later this month when more new bus lanes are introduced.

Phase two of the Belfast on the Move scheme begins on 28 January.

It will involve changes to lanes in Great Victoria Street, Fisherwick Place, Grosvenor Road, College Avenue, College Square East, Wellington Place, Donegall Square North, Donegall Square East and Chichester Street.

Cycle tracks will be introduced in Victoria Street and Ann Street, and there will be resurfacing work in College Square North, Durham Street and Grosvenor Road. The work is expected to be finished by the summer.

Many drivers complained of congestion in the city when the first set of lanes were opened last September.


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