Lochside Garage

Councillors clash over town centre business rates

A ROW has broken out over a proposal to support town centre businesses, including by reducing rates, with some claiming it is unfair on businesses in rural areas.
At the February meeting of the Council last week, Cllr Robert Irvine submitted a motion for the Council to reaffirm its “commitment to develop and support town centre businesses, both with direct engagement and with general town centre activities to aid footfall.”
It also called on the Council to recognise “the need for rate reform and, in doing so, back calls from Retain NI for ‘radical change’ in relation to town centres.”
While many councillors supported the motion, many more had questions, while some said that they were concerned it was too limited and unfair on rural businesses.
Cllr Barry Doherty said he had spend quite a bit of time considering the motion, and while he said “the main thrust and intention is laudable” he felt it needed further discussion as it raised too many questions.
Cllr Josephine Deehan said she accepted the motion had been made in good faith, and she would be supporting it as “town centres are the lifeblood of our communities” and they were currently under enormous pressure.
Cllr Erroll Thompson said while he felt town centres needed help, with changing shopping patterns and other pressures, he felt rate reform was not the only solution and would only be a short term fix.
“In helping town centres, the burden should not be passed on to other rate payers,” he said, adding he would support the motion.
Cllr Sheamus Greene also agreed town centres needed support, but asked for clarity on the wording of the motion, stating to only help town centres would be unfair on rural businesses.
Cllr Greene, who later took to Twitter to state the motion was unfair on farmers, was told a town centre was any area of a town or village that was zoned for commercial businesses.
The motion passed, with 19 votes in favour or it, none against, and 15 abstentions. These abstentions were made up of the Sinn Fein councillors, and Cllr Bernice Swift who also raised concerns about it being unfair on rural areas.

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