Belfast business groups call for additional support as city centre footfall plummets

Four Belfast business groups have called for additional support for city centre businesses. Picture: Mark Marlow.
Ryan McAleer

BUSINESS leaders in Belfast have said they expect city centre footfall to fall by 100 per cent this week.

In an open letter to elected politicians calling for additional interventions, Belfast Chamber and three of the city's business improvement districts, said that many businesses will miss out on the £10,000 and £25,000 cash grants announced by Stormont for small firms.

They said whilst approximately 22 per cent of businesses across Northern Ireland will be eligible for a £10,000 grant, in the city centre, as few as only 16 per cent of businesses will meet the criteria.

The smaller grant is payable to businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or less.

The £25,000 grant is for retail, tourism and hospitality businesses only, but restricted to premises with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000.

The Belfast business groups have said this test doesn't work for many employers in the city centre, where premises traditionally have a higher NAV (net annual value).

“Many businesses in Belfast have not been eligible for this much needed support even though they have been instructed by Government to close and similar businesses in other parts of the region are getting the grant,” states the letter sent to MPs, MLAs and councillors.

“Whilst we understand that this is an emergency which is affecting everywhere in the region, we believe that it is having a particular acute impact on our city centre where footfalls have dropped off by in excess of 50 per cent in the last week alone and are expected to fall by close to 100 per cent this week.”

Chief Executive of Belfast Chamber, Simon Hamilton, said the Covid-19 pandemic has already had a hugely negative impact on Belfast's economy.

“Belfast city centre has endured a tough few years. We have been trying hard to recover from the devastating impact of the Bank Buildings fire and are now having to contend with Covid-19,” he said.

“On behalf of our members and levy payers, we are asking the city's elected representatives to urge Government and particularly the Executive to consider additional interventions to support businesses like those in Belfast who have been forced to close and cease trading but are not going to be able to avail of some of the support that has been introduced thus far.”

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