Business incentive scheme to take the bare look off our towns

Westmeath County Council’s new Business Incentive Scheme will improve the vitality of towns and villages by bringing unused properties back into use and helping to generate economic activity.

The details of the new scheme, due to be implemented on January 1, were nailed down by the council’s committee on economic development and enterprise on Monday, and just have to be agreed by the full council this Monday (December 15 ).

The Business Incentive Scheme (BIS ) is a three-year grant scheme to incentivise the reuse of vacant premises. The council will pay a grant of 40 per cent of the annual commercial rate, in the first year, to anyone who occupies a vacant commercial property. The grant would reduce to 30 per cent in the second year, and 20 per cent in the third year.

Some conditions have been agreed in order to prevent abuse of the scheme; these include that the property must have been vacant for a minimum period of six months immediately prior to October 1, 2014; the property must be owned by the applicant or subject to a minimum 12-month lease; and all rates, contributions, and local authority charges must be paid in full at the time of the application.

While no business types will be excluded from the scheme, the property must have the appropriate permissions for the proposed use.

The council also intended to include a clause whereby the grant would not be payable to an applicant who closes an existing business to move into a qualifying property, but councillors felt this condition was overly restrictive.

“We don’t want people moving two doors up the street to get the grant,” said the council’s director of services Barry Kehoe. However he agreed to remove this condition after Cllr John Shaw suggested that businesses upsizing to bigger premises should also be able to benefit.

Cllrs Aidan Davitt and John Dolan also suggested the grant be paid on a quarterly basis to those who spread their payment of rates over the year.

“We are open to pay people [the grant] based on the way they pay us,” confirmed Mr Kehoe, who said he was trying to keep the scheme as simple as possible so it will be easy to avail of.

Cllr Davitt commended the council on the “very streamlined scheme”.

“The more hoops people have to jump through, the more problems we will have,” he said.

The scheme will be implemented on January 1, and reviewed on an annual basis.

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