This is the year of retail reinvention
CHANGE is the only constant in retail. This is a much-used phrase, but in 2019 our retail sector is in for its fastest-ever period of change and reinvention.
This is equally the case for our high streets and town centres. This change will not all be good, as we will see some more significant large retail casualties in 2019. However, we will also see the creation of more confident and dynamic independent retailers, who will be at the cutting edge of a new retail sector, leading toward 21st century town high streets.
Consumer behaviour is rapidly changing, and people want something different from their high streets and I believe that smaller, more agile and tech-savvy retailers who can adapt to this tidal wave of change, will be the ones who will not just survive, but thrive. Government also needs to reboot its policy agenda for the retail sector and for our town centres to meet the challenges ahead.
It's nothing less than disgraceful that we start a second new year with no government in place in Northern Ireland, with not even a date set for all-party talks. This is hugely disruptive for the economy and Northern Ireland is in danger of becoming an international laughing stock.
With much-needed decisions not being made on reform of business rates, infrastructure investment, addressing an ever-growing skills gap and modernisation of our town centres, Northern Ireland is not just lagging behind the rest of the UK and Ireland, it is in real danger of being left behind internationally.
While devolution remains in limbo, our 11 local councils have been doing their level best to fill the gap and provide leadership, despite not having the full ranges of powers to make the real economic changes within their communities.
Retail NI works across all 11 councils, contributing to each of their consultations on local development plans and assisting our members with planning and town centre regeneration.
Local government elections take place in May and Retail NI has already hit the ground running with the publication of our detailed report ‘Regeneration NI', which sets out a comprehensive plan to create 21st century town and city centres.
The regeneration of our town and city centres needs to be the top priority of cCouncils and we will be engaging with them and the local political parties ahead of the elections.
The Belfast Regional and Derry City Deals offer huge opportunities for economic, social and infrastructural regeneration for our two main cities and many of our local towns.
It is hoped the Belfast Regional City Deal will create up to 20,000 new and better jobs, alongside delivering a 10-year programme of inclusive economic growth – including an increase of £470m gross value added (GVA).
This will truly be the year of retail reinvention that will see Northern Ireland's largest sector of industry, perhaps being slightly smaller but more agile, nevertheless a sector, which is vital to the future of our local economy.
:: Glyn Roberts is chief executive of Retail NI