LOCAL traders have given a cautious welcome to plans to encourage new shops in town centres by offering rate rebates, but have warned that there must not be an unfair advantage against established businesses.
A pilot scheme is being rolled out in Newcastle West, Rathkeale and Kilmallock that would provide up to 50% rent rebates to people who open new businesses in vacant units in designated areas.
The scheme, which is being trialled by Limerick County Council, has received a guarded welcome from local politicians. However concerns have also been raised that the scheme may favour new businesses over existing ones, which are already struggling to cover costs and pay rates.
A spokesperson for the Newcastle West Business Association, which represents small traders in the county town, said that the scheme would have to be fair.
“We would welcome any scheme that would be an incentive for new businesses in the town, so long as it’s done on a fair and competitive basis. But if they can afford to bring in this kind of scheme, why not give us all a break?”
The retail incentive scheme, which was first trialled in Limerick city and has now been widened out to three county towns, allows new businesses to claim a rebate of up to 50% of rates in their first year, and up to 25% in their second year. The rebate must go towards covering fit-out costs. The scheme is scheduled to run until December 31, 2014, and the council has said that if it is successful it could be rolled out to other towns.
The plan was brought before a full meeting of Limerick County Council last week, during which the council’s director of planning and economic development, Tom Enright, said that he is “quite satisfied” that the scheme is not anti-competitive, and will not unfairly favour new businesses over old.
While the scheme was welcomed by councillors, some were more cagey about its potential implications than others. Cllr Michael Collins said that while the scheme was positive, “in the tough climate, we need to be mindful of existing businesses, that are struggling to pay their rates”.
Cllr Damien Riedy similarly gave the scheme a cautious welcome, but requested that the scheme also be extended to new manufacturing businesses.
Cllr John Sheahan said that he supported the scheme, as it is important to back “anything that will encourage business in our county”. He said that the programme should be extended into other towns and villages, provided that the new businesses do not provide too great a threat to existing traders.