‘Rates likely to rise by less than three per cent’

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Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council is expected to approve a rate increase of just under three per cent.

Local councillors are due to meet tonight (Thursday, February 9) to strike the district rate for 2017/18.

While the final figure has to be approved by elected representatives, one council source told the Ulster Star that it is “likely to be a rise of just under three per cent.”

Chairman of the Corporate Services Committee, Cllr Owen Gawith, said the council has been “working extremely hard to strike a district rate as low as possible while still delivering and improving upon current services and developing new ones.”

He stressed that the local authority is keen to progress several major infrastructure projects and capital schemes, including upgrading council-owned properties, progressing public realm schemes and developing new sports and community facilities.

“Some of the areas that we have been progressing include the development of the Knockmore Link Road, upgrading of the Dundonald International Ice Bowl, the Public Realm Scheme in Hillsborough and the Lisburn Linkages Scheme, upgrades at the Carryduff Recycling Centre and Barbour Play area and replacement pitches at Dromara and Hillsborough. The council is also working to ensure new hotel development in the Lisburn and Castlereagh area,” he said.

“Capital schemes scheduled to begin this year include the development of the council’s first 3G soccer pitch at Laurelhill Sportszone and new community facilities at the former Dunmurry High School site.

“Three masterplans - for Moat Park, The Billy Neill Soccer Centre of Excellence and Hydebank playing pitches - are due to begin and the council also has ambitious plans for a Carryduff Greenway. A new scheme at Stockdam Glen Linear Park is planned, as is a Community Sports Hub at Ballybeen.”

Cllr Gawith added: “I would like to assure residents that the council has worked very hard to ensure as low a rate position as is feasibly possible if Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council is to forge ahead with its plans to maintain and improve upon its services to the residents of Lisburn Castlereagh.”

Speaking ahead of tonight’s meeting, DUP group leader Alderman James Tinsley couldn’t comment on the exact figure members were likely to agree on, but he revealed that “Lisburn and Castlereagh is still on target to have the lowest rates in Northern Ireland.”

“We have been working hard on this, along with the officers, for several months and it has been through all the various committees and we’ve been trying our best to keep any rise to a minimum,” he said.

“We want to keep the rates as low as possible but still ensure that we can continue to provide first class services and make investments in various areas.”

Councillor Alexander Redpath, deputy leader of the UUP group, commented: “The striking of the rate follows several months of preparation by staff and elected members. Each committee has met to discuss their proposed budgets and there have been several special meetings of the Corporate Services committee to evaluate these proposals in detail. At all stages of the process there is an emphasis on identifying savings and keeping the rate to an absolute minimum.”

With the regional rate - the portion of the domestic rate set by the NI Executive - not yet confirmed, the exact impact on people’s annual rates bills isn’t yet known.

And given the current political situation at Stormont, the Department of Finance has said there could be a delay in rates bills, normally delivered in April, being issued this year.

“Resourcing of public services will continue. If the setting of the regional rate is delayed and bills are unable to issue in April, it should still be possible to provide ratepayers with the normal option of 10 instalments. Also, those wishing to pay in full once they receive their bill, will still receive the discount,” a department spokesman said.

“Any delay in the issuing of rate bills will not impact on councils. Councils are statutorily entitled to payment from the Finance Department in respect of rates after their district rate is struck and that will continue.”