WITH rates that have been described as “astronomical” some Banbridge town centre businesses have resorted to downsizing to other nearby locations in the hope of saving money in one of the toughest economic climates for years.
The latest figures show that 15 businesses across the district closed in 2009, and a Leader walkabout just last week found 19 empty units within Banbridge town centre.
Banbridge district has the tenth highest business rate of all 26 councils in Northern Ireland - the local rate is higher than both Lisburn and Belfast.
But it seems that some businesses are managing to avoid closure by downsizing to cut costs on their rates. Simon Shaw, manager of Eden Health in Newry Street told the Leader he hopes to cut his rates by 50 per cent when the store moves across the road.
Mr Shaw, who also has businesses in Ballymena and Lisburn said the rates he pays in Banbridge are “astronomical” in comparison.
“We will effectively half our rates bill by moving,” he said. “There is no point in us holding on to this size of a property. Rates here are roughly between £8,000 and £10,000 a year.”
Mr Shaw said trade in the town centre has been slow for the past year, making it harder for businesses to find the money to pay rates.
“We had a particularly poor time around Easter and a quiet summer. Traditionally winter is busy for us but we are not seeing that increase in trade. We’ve just seen a general drop-off in business in town in the past year - cashlow is a problem. The rates in Banbridge are astronomical I think. We have businesses in Ballymena and Lisburn and the rates are definitely not as bad.”
Another trader has recently moved from Newry Street to Bridge Street, saying she has saved hundreds by moving premises.
““Rates are killing traders,” said the trader, who did not wish to be identified. “I was under real pressure where I was. I was buying in my stock and paying rates and rent and finding there was nothing left - I thought ‘I am getting nothing out of this’. I’ve got a children to look after, all I care about is my family and home.”
The trader said more businesses are now considering moving elsewhere in the town in a bid to cut their rates.
“Traders are catching on to the fact you can go off the beaten track a bit and get cheaper rates while still offering the same service,” she said. “If you’ve built up a customer base and are giving people what they want they will follow you. It’s those shops and businesses that are trying to start up at a time like this that have it the hardest.”
Banbridge District Council has given its backing to a proposal by the Finance Minister which could potentially see 325 businesses benefit from a rate relief scheme.
The scheme, which is due to take effect from April next year, could see the district make a net gain of around £228,000.
Under the scheme - which is currently out for public consultation - Tesco is the only shop within the district liable to pay a rate levy, possibly up to extra £79,000.
A spokeswoman at the council said the district business rate is somewhat higher in Banbridge because there are less businesses in the area.
“The non domestic district rate is determined by the number of businesses that are based in a council area,” said the spokeswoman. “To put it in simple economic terms, the more businesses that pay rates, the lower individual bills will be - as total rates are spread over a larger number of businesses.
“Banbridge has a much smaller industrial base than other council areas and that explains why it has the tenth highest non domestic district rate in Northern Ireland.”