A grant scheme is to be introduced from January to encourage new businesses to occupy vacant retail units in South Tipperary’s towns and villages.
The Commercial Incentive Scheme is being rolled out by South Tipperary Co. Council in a bid to boost retail activity in town and village centres that are currently blighted with vacant commercial premises.
The grants will be provided for the occupation of a vacant ground floor retail unit up to a maximum of three years.
This grants scheme and the creation of a new county retail development fund to help existing retails traders improve the performance of their businesses were given the green light by South Tipperary Co. Council elected members at their monthly meeting last week.
The two schemes form part of the Council’s new two year retail plan called “Sustaining and Growing Retail Activity in South Tipperary 2012 -2014 that was unanimously approved by councillors at the meeting.
Cllr. Michael Murphy, Chairman of the Council’s Physical and Economic Planning and Development Committee, said the retail plan was an honest attempt to do as much as the Council could for this important section of the county’s economy.
He outlined that the Commercial Incentive Scheme grants will be equivalent to 75% of the annual rate payable in the first year a new business occupies a premises, 50% in the second year and 25% in the third year.
He stressed that the grant scheme will be structured in such a way as not to lead to the displacement of existing businesses.
The Fine Gael councillor also explained that the Retail Development Fund will finance a number of actions recommended in the retail plan including hiring a retail marketing expert to work with traders, the creation of a marketing strategy for each town and the development of “product packages” to make towns more attractive to shoppers.
The Council’s Director of Planning Sinead Carr outlined that under the Development Fund, they hoped to organise a seminar for retail enterprises in rural villages on ways they an increase their businesses such as using e-retailing. The Council could also promote a shop local campaign where consumers would be encouraged to spend E10 a week more in local businesses.
Council senior executive planner Sonja Reidy said the Commercial Incentive Scheme arose from the increasing number of vacant shops in town and village centres and this in turn meant lower rates revenue for the Council as the owners of vacant commercial premises were entitled to claim a rates rebate.
She said the Council examined similar incentive schemes in place in Limerick, Drogheda and Dundalk and also the rates incentive scheme proposed by Carrick-on-Suir Town Council when drawing up this grants scheme.
Applicants and their business premises must meet a series of qualifying criteria to avail of the grants.
The premises must primarily be a ground floor unit located on lands zoned for town or village centre use and it must have been vacant and offered on the open market for sale or lease for a minimum of four months prior to its occupation.
The business unit must be owned by the applicant or subject to a minimum 12 month lease and all rates, contribution and local authority charges must be fully paid up.
Alongside this, the business seeking the grant must not displace any existing enterprises in the town or village and it must be occupying the premises for a minimum of six months within 12 months of the application.
Welcoming the grant scheme, Co. Council Chairman Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said it was a very real and common sense effort to do something in very difficult times for the commercial sector. And he said the retail plan was one of the most important reports to come before the Council in a long time. Carrick-on-Suir FF Cllr Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan said she was delighted with the retail plan but was disappointed it wasn’t brought in a few years ago when more people were willing to invest in new businesses.
“What you have put in place could have addressed the problems in the smaller towns but unfortunately now we might have missed the boat on a lot of it,” she said.
Her Clonmel party colleague Cllr Siobhan Ambrose wondered if the Commercial Incentive Scheme left the Council open to legal challenge from hard pressed existing businesses that were paying quite a sizeable amount of money in rates when they saw other businesses getting this “very gracious and attractive scheme”.
She called for the the scheme and Retail Development Fund to be “married together” because she felt the grant supports needed to be made available to existing enterprises.
Tipperary Town publican Denis Leahy criticised the current level of commercial rates, which were a huge charge for existing businesses to pay at a time when there was declining consumer demand throughout the country.