The proposal to exclude petrol station operators in Northern Ireland with more than 300sq m of selling space from the business rate relief is ill-thought-out, according to PRA chairman Brian Madderson.

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“It cannot be justified as all forecourt shops are being affected equally by the Government’s actions to combat Coronavirus and so all forecourt shops must be treated equally irrespective of the size of the selling area,” he stressed.

The Northern Ireland Government recently confirmed its COVID-19 business relief packages extending the rates ‘holiday’ to 12 months for specific retail and hospitality sectors. These included petrol stations with some of the main group operators facing a 70% average volume decline across their network and some smaller, rural stations experiencing a decline of over 80% during the lockdown period.

However, Land & Property Services has subsequently proposed that only petrol stations with forecourt shops having less than 300sq m of selling space will be eligible for the full 12 months rates relief.

Madderson stressed: “The proposal is unfair to operators over 300sq m, who have seen their fuel and food-to-go sales decimated as much as those under 300sq m, as well as to the many small businesses operating concessions/franchises within forecourt shops such as Post Offices, Subway and local butchers/bakers.”

He said such small businesses are being penalised not once but twice: as they are not the rate payer on these stores, they are not eligible for the £10k Small Business Relief Grant; as their landlord is currently excluded from the full 12-month rates relief, they will not be offered any rent reduction

Madderson stressed: “This new proposal is anti-competitive and completely unreasonable. The PRA raised this issue with Finance Minister Conor Murphy nearly two weeks ago, but we have yet to receive any response.

“We are advising our members in Northern Ireland to raise their concerns directly and hope that our concerted efforts and those of their representatives from all parties will help to bring some sense to this administration”.