Struggling community amateur sports club are to benefit from enhanced rates relief.
New legislation introduced in the Assembly will allow the Department of Finance to put community sports on the same footing as community halls – by granting 100% rates relief to “unlicensed club premises and associated sporting facilities”.
It is something which had been highlighted back in July by Newry and Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan, who encouraged sports clubs to make their voices heard.
Finance Minister Mervyn Storey has now introduced legislation.
The practical details will be consulted upon over the coming weeks to allow those affected by the changes to have their say.
The legislation may not go as far as many would have wanted, as 80% sport and recreation relief will remain for those clubs that have bars and catering.
Minister Storey said he welcomed the committee’s support of this “short but important Bill”, as well as “their work in highlighting issues of competition between sports clubs and local bars, restaurants and hotels”.
He went on: “I believe the proposals I am bringing forward strike the right balance in protecting local commercial interests and supporting the inspiring work that our amateur sports clubs do in our local areas.”
Local MLA Cathal Boylan, in earlier encouraging amateur sporting organisations in the area to make submissions, said Sinn Fein proposals for an amendment to the 1977 Rates Order would see certain amateur sporting organisations exempt from paying rates.
“There is no question about the profound positive effects sport can have on both individuals, in terms of physical and mental health, and communities, in terms of good relations and community spirit,” he said. “This Bill, while only having a minimal effect on overall rates intake, would provide amateur sporting organisations with a huge boost, allowing them to channel already stretched funds into things like facility upgrades, new equipment and investing in young people.”
With the legislation coming forward this week, Minister Storey also revealed another new policy he is taking forward.
“This Bill also contains a new measure, suggested by a local businessman, which will disregard the commercial use of window displays in empty shops to allow the shop to continue to be treated as vacant for rating purposes.
“This is a novel but modest initiative, which compliments other rating policies here. These include, the empty shops rates concession – which has helped 525 new ventures set up since 2012; a standard empty property rate of 50%, compared to 100% in England and Wales and 90% in Scotland; a regional rate freeze and the extension of small business rate relief for at least another year.
“All of these local measures have enabled the rating system to play its part in addressing the high levels of vacancy found in many of our towns and cities.”
The Rates (Amendment) Bill is currently scheduled for accelerated passage. It should reach its Final Stage in the Assembly at the start of February and Royal Assent shortly afterwards.