Retailers in out-of-town locations often pay higher rates burdens than do their competitors in town and city centres in Northern Ireland, according to a leading firm of surveyors.
The disclosure challenges the assumptions made by some campaigners seeking protection of traditional retailing areas.
“Large out-of-town retailers are paying higher rates per square foot than large retailers in town, but it depends on the strength of the out-of-town location — for example, retailers at Sprucefield are paying far more than those in Lisburn City Centre,” said Nicholas Rose of RHM Commercial.
He said that retailers at the Bloomfield and Springhill shopping centres also pay higher rates than those in Bangor town centre. Mr Rose said that the debate over retail rates had been misled by the arguments put forward by some, who have claimed that inner-city retailers are effectively subsidising out-of-town centres.
“The problem is that people do not compare like with like when they are making these bold assertions,” he explained. “Typically, they compare small shops with large out-of-town foodstores, which is comparing apples and oranges.”
The view that out-of-town retailers are paying more in rates than comparable retailers in urban centres was confirmed by a person closely involved in discussions on the possible imposition of a large retailers’ levy, who spoke anonymously.
However, Glyn Roberts, CEO of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said that it was “absolutely not true” that out-of-town retailers pay more in business rates.
“They are actually paying less per square foot than town centre retailers,” he said. “We don’t believe the rates bill they pay fully reflects the fact that they have free car parking. We believe that car parking should be a factor [in the rates bill].”
A Department of Finance and Personnel spokesperson tried to clarify the situation.
“‘For out-of-town shopping centres that have free car parking, the rateable value of individual shops takes into account the advantages of this free car parking — although it is not accurate to say that business rates are levied on these car parks, per se,” she said.