By Daniel Hunter

Major retailers are asking local authorities, businesses of all sizes and other interest groups to get involved in putting the heart back into Northern Ireland's high streets, by embracing Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and encouraging the Executive to make it possible to get them up and running quickly.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) is unveiling a discussion paper today (Wednesday) ahead of an appearance before the Executive's Social Development Committee tomorrow (Thursday) in which it will discuss how to revitalise our town centres.

BIDs are partnerships dedicated to improving and promoting specific areas, funded by local businesses which get to have a direct say in which projects are undertaken. They operate around the world in countries including the USA, Germany, Japan and New Zealand.

The Northern Ireland Executive has promised to bring primary legislation forward before the summer which would allow for the creation of BIDs. However it has shown no inclination to use accelerated passage to hasten the process, unlike with the introduction of the Large Retailer Levy.

"Retailers, who are at the heart of our communities, know just how badly efforts are needed to revitalise our high streets. There's a lot of goodwill among businesses to get involved in the necessary projects. We're just waiting for the right framework to be put in place," Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, said.

"BIDs are the perfect answer because they're able to respond to differing local needs. Retailers will happily put their hands in their pockets to support specific schemes which benefit their businesses as well as the local area where they're based.

"Our high streets need action now. Legislation inevitably takes a while to put in place but we're not wasting time. The hope is we can encourage other businesses and local councils to match our enthusiasm for BIDs so they can be put into action as soon as possible."

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