Belfast Telegraph

Belfast's Chamber of Commerce to lobby Finance Minister

By Clare Weir

Belfast Chamber of Commerce says it is to lobby the Department of Finance and Personnel to ask for a rates rebate for the last three months of 2012 and a 'holiday' for the first half of 2013.

Chamber president Joe Jordan said that businesses were suffering through no fault of their own.

"We still cannot understand why Belfast City Council chose to debate this motion on flags on December 3," he said.

"We will be making representation to Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to ask for a rebate for the last quarter of 2013 and a rates holiday for the first six months of this year. We are also calling for debt relief so that rather than put firms who cannot pay their rates straight into administration, they are given an extension.

"We need to promote Belfast as a city that is still open for business." Meanwhile, the proprietor of a Belfast cafe that shut down last month has put the blame squarely on politicians' shoulders.

In a Facebook post, Colin Brown from Cafe Hero on Royal Avenue said no leadership had been shown from any political party and said he would not be paying rates owed to the council, adding: "A huge thanks to all the members of Belfast City Council for their lack of interest in the people who make Belfast what it is."

Mr Brown said that staff had been let go and the cafe closed because of "protest after protest, one bomb scare and the fear people have of not getting home".

Business rates were last set in 2007 with a review expected by the Department of Finance and Personnel.

Up until the recession hit, rates were around 35% to 40% of the rental level but because rents in many areas have fallen - often because landlords are keen to keep tenants in place - rates now count for a much larger proportion of business overheads.

Last year Surf Mountain, which has premises in Bangor and Lisburn, shut its city centre shop in Brunswick Street because of "outrageous" rates, according to owner Nick Stevenson.