The chief executive of ABC Council has pledged to do all he can to help retailers, while claiming the council is not to blame for rates increases.
Roger Wilson made the remarks in a statement where he also expressed his deep disappointment following the closure of Rathfriland retail business, Stewart and James Mica Hardware.
He said: “I believe that our local shops, and in particular smaller, independent outlets, are a key driver of entrepreneurship, employment and skills and are an important driver of our local economy.
“There are few business sectors as important to the community as retail – it provides a vital service and mainstay for town centres and rural communities and many retailers will undoubtedly share my concern about the pressures which are currently being faced. I would like to personally reassure those working in the retail sector in Rathfriland, and the wider community that the council is doing everything within its power to maintain the vitality of local towns and to ensure the sustainability of this important sector in the face of a challenging retail and consumer environment.
“It remains a key council priority to continue in our drive to support a wide range of targeted initiatives and events which will enable the local retail sector to grow and we remain committed to this and we continue to invest in this area.
The chief executive also addressed the issue of rates revaluation throughout the district.
“I note, with much disappointment, that in this particular case, the recent rates revaluation had been cited as a main reason for its closure.
“This process of revaluing commercial rates, which is led and collected by Land and Property Services and overseen directly by the Department of Finance and Personnel, has seen a significant rise in rate bills for some businesses in some areas and I would encourage those concerned to consider their circumstances and their right to appeal to the LPS.
“For rates which are controlled by the council, despite facing additional cost pressures, unlike many councils, this year we struck a lower district rate (0.92%) than the previous year (1.78%). In contrast, the regional rate set by Stormont was 1.7% - resulting in a combined increase of 1.31% (Rates bills are made of two parts - the regional rate set by central government and the district rate set by councils).
“The viability of town centres like Rathfriland is essential to the health of the local economy and I look forward to leading the council in continuing to deliver on the commitments outlined and the work already under way.
“The closure of this family-run business, which has been an important part of the town for many years, will be a considerable loss to Jim and his wife Barbara, and to the entire community.
“They have worked hard for many years serving Rathfriland and the wider area and have generously supported many events, initiatives and sporting activity, underlining their commitment and support to the community.”