Owners of empty commercial properties in Northern Ireland are now entitled to relief, in a scheme aimed at reducing the number of empty shops, offices and factories. Since 1 April 2012, commercial property owners will be entitled to a 50% reduction in rates for up to 12 months once a long-term empty property has been filled, a saving aimed at reducing the number of boarded up shops and offices causing a blight to Northern Ireland’s high streets.
The number of empty commercial properties in Northern Ireland has been rising year on year, with shops, offices, factories and even supermarkets laying empty in many towns and cities. Areas full of empty commercial properties result in damage to local economies and are stalling economic growth, with many high streets in Northern Ireland towns looking like ghost towns; a situation many fear will only get worse.
Having already resisted calls to reduce the 50% rate imposed on empty commercial properties, the Northern Ireland Finance Minister has announced plans for the 50% rate reduction for commercial property owners who manage to fill long-term empty premises to reduce the “downward spiral,” which is damaging both business and community life in Northern Ireland’s towns and cities.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said: “I have listened carefully to concerns from the local business community about the high number of empty shops in our town centres. Local traders are not only continuing to face harsh economic times, but also a revolution in retailing, with online shopping and bigger stores taking an increasing share of consumer spending.”
He said the relief, available from the Land and Property Services (LPS) will effectively allow for 50% rate relief for up to a year once a long-term empty retail premises becomes occupied.
“This relief is unique in the UK and it is to encourage long term empty shops and other retail premises back into business. I urge anyone thinking of setting up a business in an empty retail unit to consider applying for this concession, to help them get established in the difficult first year. The new business doesn’t have to be retail, it doesn’t have to be town centre and the premises don’t necessarily have to be a traditional shop. Just ask Land & Property Services and they will be happy to advise you about applying,” added Mr Wilson.
However, due to EU legislation, which limits state aid to business, the relief is subject to a threshold of 50% only in relation to the net annual value of the property, and where the property is rented but the landlord is paying the rates, the landlord must pass the benefit on to the tenants.
Trade associations across Northern Ireland have welcomed the empty property relief. Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said: “These proposals for first year 50% rate relief for companies taking up empty retail proprieties will help both address the problem of vacant shops and support new start businesses in their first critical year of trading. Both this initiative and extending the Small Business Rate Relief schemes are strongly welcomed from our members given the challenging economic climate.”
While President of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, Joe Jordan said: “The Chamber was delighted with the Minister’s response to the consultation for the rating of commercial properties. In particular we would like to remind all potential investors to the city that they can avail of 50% rates reduction for one year providing that the property has been vacant for a period of 12 months or more and when last used was used for retail purposes. This is a substantial financial incentive for businesses seeking to locate in one of the most exciting and dynamic regional cities in the UK and Ireland.”
Owners of empty properties in Northern Ireland should already have been sent details of the Empty Premises Relief from the Land and Property Services. However, for those that haven’t and want to apply, application forms are available by calling the LPS helpline on 0300 200 7801, or by visiting the Northern Ireland Business Information website: http://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/emptypremises