'Carve-up' storm after Belfast shopping centre and its £4m of rates moved to new council
Executive ministers have been accused of a “smash and grab raid” over the councils shake-up in the greater Belfast area.
The accusation comes as it was confirmed the Forestside shopping centre will go into the new Lisburn and Castlereagh Council, rather than Belfast as originally planned.
The complex brings with it more than £4m in rates, with Lisburn ratepayers being told it will save them from an increase.
Belfast councillor Pat McCarthy insisted the decision “makes no sense whatsoever”.
“This is just another smash and grab raid by the Executive who just take what they want,” the SDLP Laganbank representative argued.
“What has Forestside to do with Lisburn city? It is 15 miles to Lisburn from Forestside, which is just four miles from the centre of Belfast. The natural boundary here is the dual carriageway just on the far side from Forestside, but instead we have this usual carve-up between these parties.
“Where is the logic in this?”
DUP MLA Paul Givan welcomed the news that the Executive had overturned the original Local Government Boundary Commission proposal on Forestside and nearby Castlereagh Council HQ.
“The original proposal would have stripped the new council of millions of pounds in rates income resulting in a massive increase in rates for the new council to pay for the important services provided by local government,” he said.
“I and my colleagues opposed this proposal at every stage as the commercial rates base of Castlereagh Council is vital to the delivery of services in this area, and without it Lisburn ratepayers would have borne the financial consequences through an increase in the rates bill of hundreds of pounds.
“Lisburn has the third lowest rates bill in Northern Ireland but this was in jeopardy as result of the Boundary Commission.
“The changes made by the Executive to overturn the proposal is the correct decision,” he added.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: “The department has not to date carried out any rates modelling embracing the impact of moving the Forestside development into the proposed Lisburn and Castlereagh local government district.
“Clearly, where Forestside is or is not located has an impact both on rates levels and on the costs of services.”
He said the Stormont environment committee would examine the issue, hopefully before summer, adding: “If councils or others have views on the boundaries, they will have the opportunity to advise the committee.”
The shift of Forestside from the Belfast City Council area stems from a DUP/Sinn Fein deal in the Executive.
Who won the retail complex was always a major prize in the long-delayed revamp of the current 26 councils into 11.
In the initial Local Government Boundary Commission proposals it was clearly included in the new bigger Belfast authority, but will now fall into merged Lisburn/Castlereagh Council.
The present Castlereagh headquarters is actually just across the road from the outlet.
But, it may be that the full extent of the deal which allowed the impasse over local government reform to be cleared has not yet emerged.