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Newry Chamber has joined a range of Trade Bodies who are urging the Executive to relax regulations further. The bodies are all saying “High Street is not open until all can open.” 

Retail has taken a hit due to the continued cap on the hospitality sector. Statistics from the NI Retail Consortium/Shoppertrak Footfall index shows that while footfall was up significantly in comparison to 2020, shopper numbers were down considerably on the last “normal year”, 2019. On Saturday 1 May, the busiest day of opening weekend, footfall was down by over 16% from where it was in 2019.

Despite a recent return to the shops in Newry, trade still isn't reaching 2019 levels. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

A decline in dwell time has also been reported by retailers reporting shoppers spending less time in high streets and town centres due to a lack of open hospitality options restricting shoppers stopping for a coffee or a meal. 

The trade bodies are urging the Executive to consider the reopening of the hospitality sector when it meets to ensure a bigger footfall and spend from the public on high streets and town centres. 

The joint statement was signed by Chief Executive of Newry Chamber, Colm Shannon, joined NI Retail Consortium (Aodhán Connolly), Retail NI (Glyn Roberts), Banbridge Chamber (Michael Donaghy), Bangor Chamber, (Geoff Thompson), Belfast Chamber, (Simon Hamilton), Causeway Chamber (Karen Yates), Lisburn Chamber (Garry McDonald), Londonderry Chamber (Paul Clancy), Portadown Chamber (Adrian Farrell), and Omagh Chamber (Colm Broderick)

Statement

“As the Executive convenes to review the current restrictions, it is essential that careful consideration of the implications the continued limitations on hospitality are having on the wider high street. 

“Ministers now must work to ensure that the date of reopening for these businesses is guaranteed, with no confusion or frustration over regulations like what occurred last week. City, town and village centres have been hit hard enough over the past 14 months. Now’s the time for the Executive to give these businesses certainty and optimism moving forward and commit to the full reopening of our economy.  

“The limited opening over the past two weeks has been a start and businesses across Northern Ireland have welcomed back customers with open arms. However, until hospitality is fully reopened, footfall, spend and dwell time will be down which will have an impact on the local economy. 

“It is make or break time for the retail, hospitality and leisure industries. Simply put, the high street is not open until we are all open. The strength of the interdependent relationship between our sectors means that there are footfall drivers in each of the industries and there are businesses and workers who rely on those drivers to remain viable. There is no doubt that the continued restrictions on hospitality are having a negative impact on retail and leisure, and hindering the reopening of the economy. 

“We are firm that it is not what you sell which is important but whether you can sell it safely. Our colleagues in hospitality have invested heavily and have gone above and beyond to ensure the correct measures and precautions are in place to safeguard both customers and staff. It is clear hospitality is ready to open fully.”

“We encourage the Executive to engage fully with us well in advance of reopening to ensure all businesses can sustain this reopening period. With the virus threat level lowered to Level 3, and the continued success of the vaccine roll-out, there is no justification to defer reopening. The Executive must remain completely focused and committed to the reopening of the Northern Ireland economy.”

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