Belfast Telegraph

Rates deal on empty shops to be offered

By Clare Weir

A new policy which gives rates relief to those who occupy long-term vacant shops - the first of its kind in the UK - has been launched.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson outlined his proposals during an amendment to the Rates (Amendment) Bill which is currently passing through the Assembly.

The bill contains a provision to grant 50% relief on long-term empty shops where the property is first occupied during the 2012/13 rating year.

This measure is in addition to the window display concession that was part of the original package of measures proposed alongside the extension of the small business rate relief scheme and the levy on our largest shops.

This provision will allow the use of shop fronts or shop window displays, for non-commercial purposes, with ratepayers continuing to receive 50% empty property relief or an exclusion if that is applicable.

The money generated will help fund rate relief for small businesses in Northern Ireland.

The measures have been largely overshadowed by the headline-grabbing large retail levy.

The minister (below) said that the new plans could help stimulate the local economy.

"This proposal is a brand new policy and will see Northern Ireland leading the way as it does not operate in any other part of the UK," he said.

"Northern Ireland has some of the worst vacancy figures in the UK and it is important that we take immediate steps to rectify this.

"This will not solve the problem, as it is not simply the economic downturn that is causing it - with internet shopping and major superstores stocking an ever growing diversity of products, the retail industry has radically changed. We have simply too many traditional shops and many will never return to retail use.

"However, I want to give those with a future, an opportunity or a fighting chance to get back into business and help maintain the commercial and social core of our towns and cities."