Belfast Chamber calls for extended Sunday trading and hospitality zones to boost Covid recovery

Hospitality boss Michael Stewart, who has taken on the role as Belfast Chamber's new president.
Hospitality boss Michael Stewart, who has taken on the role as Belfast Chamber's new president.

THE new president of Belfast Chamber has called for extended Sunday opening hours and new ‘hospitality zones’ as part of a 15 step plan to help the city recover from the impact of coronavirus.

Hospitality boss Michael Stewart took over the role from hotelier Rajesh Rana last week.

The owner of House Belfast on Botanic Avenue, the new president has been one of the best known figures in the city’s hospitality scene for decades.

While he accepted that it was hard to to conceive of a more challenging time to take on the role, he said Belfast Chamber was not only seeking to assist the recovery from Covid-19, but use the crisis as the impetus to create a better city.

The business group yesterday published the ‘Building Belfast Back Better’ document. It includes seven short-term steps and eight longer term aims for improving the city.

The initial steps include longer trading hours on Sundays and designating open and public spaces as covered ‘hospitality zones’. The Chamber has also said Belfast should learn from cities like Vancouver and Rotterdam, by using parking bays in front of bars and restaurants as temporary seating areas.

It also wants to make Belfast a ‘Christmas capital’, which among other initiatives, would involve an expanded Christmas market, using other locations around the city centre.

The 15 policies cover a range of investment measures and interventions to stimulate the economy and city living.

The new president said achieving the ambitions will require a considerable joint effort by the private and the public sectors.

“We don’t yet know the scale of the impact on the economy,” said Mr Stewart. “But we can predict with some certainty that we will enter a recession, many jobs will go and lots of businesses may not survive.

“It would be the easiest thing in the world to look at a scenario like the one we are in and be pessimistic.

“Coming so soon after the financial crash and the uncertainty ceased by Brexit, this was absolutely the last thing that Belfast’s economy needed.

“But, of course, there is little we can do about what created this crisis. What we can do is bring the same sort of discipline and determination we did to tackling the coronavirus and apply it to the pursuit of economic recovery.”


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