Belfast Telegraph

Empty retail unit scheme helps out its first entrepreneur

By Donna Deeney

The Finance Minister has witnessed the impact of a scheme aimed at filling empty shops and helping retail entrepreneurs get a foot on the ladder.

Sammy Wilson met the first recipient of the the Empty Retail Premises (ERP) discount scheme, which gives small traders who open a new retail business a rates discount if they use premises which have been empty for 12 months or more.

Catriona Jones, who opened gift boutique The Olive Tree when she returned home to Derry after living abroad for 19 years, is the first person to have benefited from the scheme and gets a 50% discount in her rates for her first year in business.

"The ERP scheme was made available from April 1 and relief will be awarded for up to 12 months, helping to revitalise our town centres and core shopping areas," Mr Wilson said.

"I am very encouraged by today's visit and being able to see at first hand the success of this new scheme

"This is exactly the sort of local business we want to help."

Several independent traders in Derry had the opportunity to stress their plight to the minister during a private meeting and he also met with members of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Martin McCrossan, chairman of the Independent Traders Forum, who issued the invite to the minister, added: "The minister saw the benefits of the Empty Retail Premises scheme when he met with Catriona in her new shop.

"It is well documented that most new businesses fail within the first 12 months and hefty rates bills are a big contributing factor, so a scheme like this, which he introduced, will go a long way in helping people during that difficult initial 12 months.

"What we want him to do now is to extend that scheme to include perhaps larger premises and for a longer period and to raise awareness of the benefits that are available to small and medium-sized traders."