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Publican voices concern over massive Orange parade as retailers hope for minimal disruption

Publican John Bittles raises concerns ahead of the loyal orders' centenary parade. Picture by Mal McCann

RETAILERS' representatives last night said they were hopeful today's massive loyal order parade in Belfast will have a minimum impact on trade across the city centre.

UP to 25,000 people and 130 bands are expected to take part in the afternoon parade to mark Northern Ireland's centenary, with potentially twice as many lining the route from Stormont to Belfast City Hall.

The event was due to take place last year but was postponed due to restrictions associated with coronavirus.

A number of retailers in the city centre have already signalled that they will close early, while one bar owner has voiced concern about the impact of the parade on trade.

The Irish News yesterday reported how Belfast City Centre Management (BCCM) made representations to the Parades Commission, warning that the march would have an "adverse impact" on businesses.

According to the Parades Commission's determination, BCCM suggested that "parades, especially large parades, into the city centre have an adverse impact on commercial activity, discourage footfall into the city centre and this significantly affects retail sales on Saturday afternoons and impacts negatively on the night time economy".

The owner of Bittles Bar on Upper Church Lane told The Irish News he had concerns that the parade would discourage both his regulars and tourists from venturing into the city centre.

John Bittles said that while he respected people's right to march, he felt the scale of the event was unsuited to the city centre. He said there were also concerns that some of the tens of thousands travelling to watch the parade would "get out of hand".

"My regulars come from every part of this city but I fear tomorrow they may stay closer to home," he said.

"I don't the think livelihood of retailers and the hospitality industry was considered when they decided to hold something of this scale on a Saturday afternoon – by far the busiest time of the week for me."

The city centre bar owner said he was "still playing catch-up", having been closed for a prolonged period during the pandemic.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the parade was "bigger than normal" but he remained hopeful that it would "not cause too much disruption to trade".

"We are aware that a number of city centre retailers have decided to close early as a result of the parade," Mr Roberts said.

"That being said a number of retailers on the parade route are expecting to be busy with trade from spectators and I hope the day goes well for all concerned".

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland said it had been actively encouraging participants and spectators of the parade to support the retailers in the city centre and along the route.

"While it is unfortunate that some shops feel the need to close their premises, we do understand they wish to avoid disruption to their staff," a spokesman said.

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