Traders quiz Minister on rates, parking and how to revitalise town centre

THERE could be some relief for motorists and traders in Banbridge as Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed he is in talks with the department in charge of parking to address the controversial fees.

During a visit to Banbridge last week, Mr Wilson told traders, politicians and other local representatives at a round table discussion in the Old Town Hall, that he was “in talks with” Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to look at options for an extension to free parking.

While nothing was confirmed, Banbridge Chamber President Joe Quail said the meeting was positive.

“It was useful to have certain things explained to us in terms of rates relief measures that are already in place,” said Mr Quail.

“If there any budding entrepreneurs out there they may wish to know about the vacant rate relief scheme whereby someone renting a unit that has been empty for more than a year can save 50 per cent on their rates in the first year of their business. That’s a real incentive.”

In terms of car parking Mr Quail said the Chamber was hopeful some kind of positive development in that area may be made.

“We were glad to hear the Assembly are working together to try and resolve this issue.

“They are looking at extensions of the length of time for free parking or making the first hour free.”

Mr Quail said the Chamber would like to meet representatives from the DRD to discuss the possibilities around car parking.

During the event the Minister highlighted the Executive’s ongoing support for town and city centres.

He said, “The Executive has recognised the difficulty that businesses have endured and have agreed that the Regional Rate should be frozen in real terms through to the 2014/15 rating year, meaning that business rate increases are well below the rest of the UK.

“I have listened to the views of the local business community about the high number of empty shops in our town centres.”

Mr Wilson went on to outline measures his department has already introduced to “revitalise town centres”

The measures include the vacant rates relief scheme, small business rates relief, and rates help for 630 businesses in the district.

Mr Wilson said he “cannot work miracles” but wants to help local traders as best he can.

“I do want to give local traders a fighting chance, as they are not only faced with reduced consumer spending but competition from the internet.

“Unless this issue is given the priority it deserves the distinctive character of our historic town centres, like Banbridge, will be lost.”

The Minister said he wants to see a joined-up approach from all departments and commended the Department of Social Development for their help in the public realm scheme in Banbridge.

“This sort of initiative is essential if the town centre is to remain a vibrant and good place for business.” he said.