Junior Ministers welcome launch of High Street Task Force report ‘Delivering a 21st Century High Street’

Date published: 22 March 2022

Junior Ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney have welcomed the publication of the Executive’s High Street Task Force report ‘Delivering a 21st Century High Street’, along with its 14 recommendations.

Junior Minister Declan Kearney; Glyn Roberts, Cathy Reynolds, Seamus McAleavey and Junior Minister Gary Middleton
Junior Minister Declan Kearney; Glyn Roberts, Cathy Reynolds, Seamus McAleavey and Junior Minister Gary Middleton

The Junior Ministers, who are joint chairs of the task force, were presented with the report today by High Street Task Force members Glyn Roberts, Retail NI; Seamus McAleavey, NICVA; and Cathy Reynolds, SOLACE; and paid tribute to the work carried out and the collaboration involved from both inside and outside of government.

Junior Minister Gary Middleton said:

“Our high streets have experienced constant and increasing change, particularly in recent years.

“We want to empower people and communities to reshape and repurpose their local villages, towns and cities, to create a more diverse high street - high streets that are clean, green, family friendly destinations that are welcoming for everyone.

“I want to thank the High Street Task Force for bringing forward this report which has been developed to prioritise those actions that can drive delivery and build momentum.

“A joined-up and collaborative approach must continue over the coming years to deliver high streets, village, town and city centres that are fit for the 21st century and this report provides the next steps for the new Ministers in the next mandate to take forward work to revitalise our village, town and city centres.”

Junior Minister Declan Kearney said:

“We want to see our cities, towns and villages regain and retain their vibrancy, purpose and sense of place.

"High streets of the future should be safe and attractive gathering points for whole communities, where people can live, work, shop, learn, do business, use public services and enjoy their leisure time.

“The High Street Task Force report provides a long-term focus on addressing the transformation of our high streets and recognises that there will be a requirement for a number of short, medium and longer-term interventions.

“I want to thank Task Force for their hard work and commitment to date and commend the joint-working and co-design roles played by departments, retail and other business organisations, trade unions, local councils and the community and voluntary sectors.

“I believe this report and its recommendations can play a vital role in revitalising our high streets.”

Glyn Roberts, Retail NI Chief Executive and Chair of the High Street Task Force – Influencing Policy and Strategy sub-group, said: “This report sets out proposals for a five year reconstruction plan for our high streets, reform of our business rates and the need to improve our retail planning policy.

“We hope that an incoming Executive after the election will hit the ground running with this plan and begin the long road of recovery for our high streets.”

Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA and member of the High Street Task Force – Developing Capacity sub-group, said: “It is obvious change is happening. We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it has speeded up during the Covid pandemic by necessity. Online commerce is the norm and communities need to re-invent there town centres.

“Only a new vision will work as the past is the past. Communities are the heart of the city, town and villages centres. We can build vibrant high streets; places people want to work in, shop in and enjoy themselves in. It is achievable.”

Cathy Reynolds, Director of City Regeneration and Development, Place and Economy Department, Belfast City Council, and representing SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives), said: “Our high streets have experienced significant change and challenges over recent years and it is critical that there is a focused effort to address these challenges and build on opportunities to ensure the future sustainability of our towns and cities. 

“A long term sustained approach is required to ensure high streets are supported to thrive and most importantly survive.”

The High Street Task Force report and its recommendations will be subject to consideration by the next Executive who will determine how it can be aligned with the future Programme for Government.

Notes to editors: 

  1. On 6 August 2020 the Executive Office formed the cross-departmental High Street Task Force, chaired by the Junior Ministers in the Executive Office. The High Street Task Force membership draws from central and local government, academia and business groups. 
  2. The High Street Task Force (HSTF) has the aim to deliver the following agreed vision: “Sustainable city, town and village centres which are thriving places for people to do business, socialise, shop, be creative and use public services as well as being great places to live.”
  3. The Call for Evidence was launched on 25 October 2021 and concluded on 6 December 2021. This was during a period where COVID-19 pandemic restrictions were in place therefore, a range of options to submit evidence were provided which included online facilities such as Citizen Space and a specific email address.  Socially-distanced workshops were also organised across the province to provide an opportunity for debate and discussion and to allow for local issues and concerns to be raised.
  4. Responses rates to the Call for Evidence were as follows:
  • 145 individuals registered for the 9 workshop sessions but there were actually 119 attendees;
  • 34 responses were received through citizen space (17 of these organisational responses and 17 were from individuals); and
  • 30 email responses were received.
  1. Despite the restrictions, there was good participation in the Call for Evidence process from the public, private and third sectors. The evidence collected was sufficient to provide a good sense of the issues that people feel impact on their village, town and city centres.
  2. This report has a long-term focus on addressing the pressing need for the transformation of our high streets.  It recognises that there will be a requirement for a number of short, medium and longer-term interventions to deliver the vision for our High Streets.
  3. The report has been developed by the independent Task Force to prioritise those actions that can drive delivery and build momentum. The Task Force report is not an expression of Government Policy.
  4. The High Street Task Force Report “Delivering a 21st Century High Street” with now be subject to consideration by the NI Executive who will determine how it can be aligned with the future Programme for Government.
  5. The “Delivering a 21st Century High Street” report is on The Executive Office website: www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/high-street-task-force-report-and-recommendations
  6. Membership of the High Streets Task Force comprises:
  • Department for Communities;     
  • Department for Infrastructure;                 
  • Department for the Economy;      
  • Department for Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs;     
  • Department of Finance;                
  • Retail NI;       
  • Hospitality Ulster;         
  • Business Alliance;            
  • NI Local Government Association;         
  • NI Retail Consortium;        
  • Social Enterprise NI;         
  • NI Council for Voluntary Action;             
  • NI Council Irish Congress of Trade Unions;     
  • USDAW;      
  • Federation of Small Businesses;            
  • SOLACE;                 
  • Ulster University;   
  • Queen’s University Belfast; and 
  • Mr Chris Suitor (business owner)

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