‘Fifth highest’ rates rise comes under fresh fire

Banbridge District Council has come under fresh fire for its recent rates hike after it emerged as the fifth highest increase among the province’s 26 local authorities.

On a table of Northern Ireland domestic rates rises, Banbridge’s 1.7% increase sits just south of Armagh council’s 1.89% hike.

Three local authorities broke the two per cent barrier to take the top slots .

Strabane struck a rate of 2.50%; Derry, 2.59% and table-topping Larne, 2.76%.

The Banbridge figure - an improvement on the 2% previously proposed - won the backing of all the district council’s component parties, bar one.

The DUP contingent opposed the 1.7% rise, its councillors arguing unsuccessfully in favour of striking a 1% increase.

Councillor Jim McElroy led the DUP group in claiming there were potential additional savings of £90,000 to be made across the board.

These savings, they said, would be enough to facilitate shaving an additional 0.7% off the increase.

Mr McElroy seized on the example of the district’s loss-making leisure centres to make the DUP case.

He noted that, according to estimates, the centresin Banbridge, Dromore, Gilford and Rathfriland were between them facing losses totalling almost £1.5m in 2014/15.

“We were just trying to lessen the rates burden, given the recession and the state of the country, but they wouldn’t come down one inch,” he said afterwards.

Mr McElroy denied suggestions he and his party colleagues were in any way “against the leisure centres”.

Only the DUP councillors present voted for Mr McElroy’s proposed 1% rates rise.

The Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance contingents backed Councillor Joan Baird’s proposal of 1.7%.

Councillors variously hailed the figure as fair, reasonable and below inflation.

With Banbridge’s place in the pecking order since established, Mr McElroy’s party colleague, Dromore Councillor Paul Rankin, this week spoke out in criticism of the local increase.

“I am disappointed,” he said, “that Banbridge District Council is placed fifth highest out of the 26 Councils in regards to rate increases.

“Normally, we would fall around the mid-table point.

“This is why the DUP group pushed for a 0%-1% rate increase.

“Unfortunately we were defeated as the majority of councillors voted in favour of a 1.7% increase.”