Belfast hotel plans falter due to flag trouble

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Plans for a major hotel development in Belfast city centre could be under threat due to the continuing loyalist flag protests MLAs were told, on 7 February 2013.

Joe Jordan of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce told the Assembly's Enterprise Committee that the French hospitality firm, Accor, wanted to pull out of the planned hotel in the city's Dublin Road "purely based on the last nine weeks".

Mr Jordan blamed perceptions of Belfast encouraged about by media coverage.

"If you listen to the media, next to Syria is Northern Ireland," he commented.

Mr Jordan was briefing the committee on a wide range of issues facing businesses in the city centre.

He said the chamber's problems with demonstrations at the City Hall were to do with their frequency and timing "that hit the city economy so hard".

He thanked Belfast City Council, the Stormont Executive and business people who were funding a campaign to get business back into the city centre.

Other matters discussed during the briefing included the Chamber of Trade's aim of attracting John Lewis to open a department store in Belfast, and a call to the City Council to move the Belfast Marathon from a bank holiday Monday to a Sunday.

The Consumer Council also appeared before the committee.

The council's chief executive Antoinette McKeown told members that Northern Ireland's drivers pay more for petrol and car insurance than any other part of the United Kingdom.

More than 80% of Northern Ireland consumers have changed the way they shop, cook and eat due to increased food prices, and 90% were worried about food prices, she said.

She criticised the large supermarket chains, saying there were differences in petrol and diesel prices of as much as six pence depending on where people lived.

Committee chairman Patsy McGlone of the SDLP asked the Consumer Council to monitor prices at the supermarket pumps.

He said the committee would consider inviting the supermarket chains to come to the committee to explain the practice.

The DUP's Paul Frew was concerned about the position of farmers.

He said he was not convinced of the perception that rising food prices were the problem.

The North Antrim MLA said it was hard to tell from the cost of the weekly shop whether the problem was food prices, or the cost of household goods.

He said it was more to do with the squeezing of the supply chain.

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