Guest post by Peter Holland...
A few weeks ago I was looking for an office on Ann Street in Belfast. It was a warm, pleasant day and I strolled to one end of the pedestrianized street. Not finding the premises I turned and walked in the other direction. Reaching the end of the street I turned again and once more retraced my steps, by now, increasingly hot and irritable. There were no numbers on any of the doors, not a single one.
Ann Street is an extreme example but in the environs of Belfast city centre perhaps only one in six business premises displays a street door number. I have asked in a couple of shops why they don’t have a number on their doors and the reply is a shrug of the shoulders and a “don’t know”.
The week later I was handed a flyer for a business on Botanic Avenue. It had the name of the business, the street (Botanic Avenue) and the door number. But sure enough on the actual business premises there was no door number and none on those neighbouring it.
I’m baffled. Internet shopping is so easy that anything impeding on-street retailing has an impact. When businesses advertise they use their street and door numbers. I haven’t seen anyone write the address as, “we’re somewhere on Royal Avenue - good luck finding it”. Some of the ‘no-number premises’ have recently been refitted, so someone had to say ‘don’t bother’ when asked whether they wanted the number to go on the door or the signage.
This is more than a problem for individual premises. Google Streetview can locate business premises if door numbers are visible. Tourists, visitors or just those in an unfamiliar part of the city can orientate themselves by the direction door numbers ascend or descend.
There is a law, 'The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995'. Section 11 mandates the procedures for naming streets and marking door numbers. It is even a summary offence if a door isn’t marked with a number - that is, after the council has asked for it to be done, which it hasn’t.
Belfast City Council replied to my query, writing that, ‘if it caused confusion, it would investigate’. Belfast Chamber of Commerce and Belfast City Centre Management have yet to reply.
Has the Belfast on-street retailer given up trying to fight Internet shopping? Is the lack of door numbers a manifestation of the lack of direction of the wider political process? Perhaps it’s a rejection of regimentation? Or is it just local shops for local people and Belfast settling into the role of the largest village in Ireland? Answers please on a postcard to… oh never mind.