More rates relief needed in town centre

ACTION on rates is needed now to help the town centre.

That is the call from Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson following a meeting with Finance Minister Sammy Wilson and traders from Banbridge Chamber of Trade, as well as Lurgan and Portadown.

Jo-Anne recalled her meeting last month with the owner of Banbridge SuperValu, Frank McPolin and Glyn Roberts of NIIRTA, and explained that this was the impetus for her invite to the Minister to come to the constituency.

Mrs Dobson said: “Business owners have approached me to explain that they need help now, as so often their rates bill is their single biggest overhead.

“In relation to commercial rates the finance Minister has an important economic dilemma - to reassess rates now and help to those businesses who are struggling and need help to remain trading, or as he would prefer, to wait for three years.

“However with this option comes the very real fear that those businesses who have manage to remain trading could well end up paying higher rates as the Minister makes up the gap in public finances left by the businesses which have closed.

“Therefore, action on rates is needed now to enable our town centres to continue to grow and expand, creating jobs and sustaining the viable mix of locally owned retailers and multi-national stores. There are many positive signs, and the work of the members of the Chambers of Commerce across the three towns is to be commended for this.

“The issue of commercial rates was highlighted in the recent report by Commercial Property Agency Lisney which showed that the number of empty shops in Northern Ireland was on the rise and that rates were a major issue. The report also pointed out the detach between rates, rents and trading performance. It’s author called for more realistic means of collecting rates to be explored, an issue which was raised at the meeting directly with the Minister.

“Important steps must be taken now to avoid the devastating effects of redundancies on families and the knock-on effect on the local economy as a whole.

“The small business rates relief scheme is helping businesses, but we need more innovative solutions to deliver for those businesses who, at present, fall outside this scheme and in many cases provide an anchor role within our town centres.

“A co-ordinated approach between Stormont Departments is needed to ensure we retain and grow our vibrant town centres.”