The business community in Antrim needs to waken up to the challenges of the new super-council, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association has warned.
The group were launching its manifesto Local First, for the Local Government Elections in Antrim with Mayor Councillor Roderick Swann last week.
Local First, supported by Danske Bank, has over 80 recommendations for the new super-council.
Glyn Roberts, NIIRTA Chief Executive and author of the report, said: “By and large the local business community in Antrim needs to wake up to the huge challenges and opportunities that the new Council will offer.
“It could be the change-maker for economic development, radically new town centres, innovation and urban regeneration.”
Mr Roberts said that NIIRTA is very keen to see a reestablished Antrim Traders Group to ensure local business owners develop a enhanced role in shaping the new Councils economic priorities.
“With their enhanced powers this new Antrim Super-council will be a vital player in shaping the future of the local economy and it is essential that the private sector engages with party candidates in this election to ensure that they can hit the ground running when power is transferred in 2015,” Mr Roberts said.
He added: ““Our manifesto, Local First is an economic Programme for Local Government, setting out eighty ideas about how the eleven Councils, working with the NI Executive, can help to create employment, regenerate town centres, revamp car parking and ensure they adopt a fair planning policy.
“NIIRTA wants to see the new Antrim Council set ambitious targets for economic and social regeneration and above all, deliver for the communities that elect them.
“This is not just a retail manifesto, but a programme for economic and social change for Antrim and Newtownabbey.”
Among the eighty recommendations in Local First are:
• Strong Town Centre First Planning Policy;
• Strong partnership Cabinet model for local government;
• Free Wi-Fi by 2020;
• IPhone Apps by 2016;
• Retail Incubators in town centres;
• Council establishing Local Growth Partnership;
• Restructured and enhanced Chambers of Commerce;
• On street Car Parking transferred to Council by 2020;
• Extended Empty Premises Relief qualification from 12 months to 6;
• Community Hub model for Town Centres;
• Digital High Street Strategy for town centres;
Redmond McFadden, Head of Finance Centre for Danske Bank, said: “The eleven newly created councils will undoubtedly become very important players in terms of driving our economy forward. Danske Bank is forecasting 2.3% growth in the Northern Ireland economy for 2014 and 2.4% growth in 2015.
“Despite the obvious hardships that our towns and cities are still facing as we come through recession we are confident enough to say that our economic indicators show that a recovery has most definitely started and is taking root. SMEs are the absolute heartbeat of our local economy and we look forward to continuing to support their growth throughout 2014 and in the years ahead.”