A meeting of key city centre stakeholders was held earlier this week to bring forward a number of positive initiatives aimed at co-ordinating the phased and safe recovery of Derry’s city centre.
The meeting, facilitated by Derry City and Strabane District Council, comprised of representatives from the key statutory partners including the Department for Infrastructure and Department for Communities, the PSNI, the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Inner City Trust, City Centre Initiative, Ulster University, North West Regional College, Visit Derry, sectoral representatives from Retail, Tourism and Hospitality as well as senior officials from a range of Council directorates.
The stakeholders met to jointly agree a co-ordinated approach to a planned recovery for reopening the city centre.
At the virtual meeting this week, the stakeholders unanimously agreed to proactively progress collectively with a number of key interventions to ensure that the commercial and heritage core of Derry City Centre is a safe, vibrant and attractive space, that is ready to welcome citizens, visitors and businesses.
The stakeholders were very supportive of looking at new creative and innovative ways at providing more space and a safe environment that will enhance the city centre visitor experience as we move forward into the recovery phase.
A key element of the discussions was the recognition that any reopening plans would be led by Government legislation and Department of Health advice, and the plans will be scheduled, proportionate and cautious, with the health and safety of workers and the wider public very much to the fore.
Among the initiatives discussed by the group was the recent announcement by the Department for Infrastructure to install new riverfront walking and cycling measures along the Quay and Foyle Embankment.
The important role played by Council’s Business team through its Business Boost programme and COVID Business Advice and Information Service to offer advice and assistance to businesses as they prepare for recovery and to reopen their businesses over the summer months, was also discussed.
The stakeholders heard from Council’s Environment team about the work being done to carry out extensive a deep cleaning and sanitisation programme across the city and how plans are at an advanced stage to commence with the Council’s annual summer planting scheme and the public realm dressing programme over the summer period.
Details of how Council’s Environmental Health team continues to provide advice and assistance to businesses in terms of their legislative requirements on health and safety and licensing as part of their planned recovery, was outlined at the meeting.
It was acknowledged that the local tourism and hospitality sectors had been severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis and would require the most support if it is to recover. Those attending the meeting heard about the very proactive work being carried out by the tourism team at Council in partnership with Visit Derry and those involved in the food, tourism and hospitality sector to put into place adequate steps that will allow them to reopen so they can attract business and tourism.
It was agreed that if the city centre is to reopen to its full capacity and attract workers, visitors and the general public, a number of key areas of work need to be carried out to assist in building consumer confidence.
It was noted that the provision of clear guidance for both Citizens and Businesses on the regulations and steps necessary to safely open the city centre were urgently needed. The stakeholders agreed that they would work collectively to identify the physical measures and improvements in outdoor space required to facilitate the reopening of commercial premises and to work proactively with businesses and sectoral groups in a flexible and dynamic manner to resolve challenges that may exist around street trading and licensing.
Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney described the meeting as very beneficial and a positive step forward in providing a co-ordinated and proactive approach to reopening the city centre in a phased and planned manner.He said the group would meet regularly over the days and weeks ahead to advance with the plans.
Paul Clancy, CEO, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce commented: “Londonderry Chamber is delighted to contribute to and be part of the plans around recovery. We would like to thank Derry City and Strabane District Council for taking the initiative in facilitating this meeting. Today key stakeholders started to share views and ideas of how best we move forward with one common purpose, co-ordinating the phased and safe recovery of Derry’s city centre”
Jim Roddy, City Centre Manager and Chief Executive of City Centre Initiative, said: “This meeting was an excellent opportunity to begin planning the way forward for our city centre, ensuring it remains safe and economically active. While we all understand there is a clear need and desire for arrangements and time scales to be put in place to ensure our city centre businesses can operate fully again, we know that this must be done in a safe and economically viable way. We also know this must be done in accordance with guidance from the Executive, in partnership with our statutory stakeholders and with our businesses. We, by working in partnership, and thinking creatively want to give people positivity in preparation for reopening and assurance that our city centre can fully function in a safe, clean, vibrant and economic way as me move through this difficult time.”