Fifteen out of 26 local councils in Northern Ireland have announced they will not be increasing business rates for 2014/15.

The district councils all set their business rates by 15 February annually, with the majority keeping them at the previous year’s rate or lower.

Three councils decided to reduce business rates for 2014/15: Omagh (-1.5%), Ballymoney (-0.25%) and Castlereagh (0.18%).

Of those that did announce a rise in rates, the highest increase was 2.75% in Larne, followed by 2.58% in Derry.

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts praised the councils for their decision.

“High business rates remains one of the top concerns of our members and it is welcome that so many councils have listened to their concerns by keeping their rates down for 2014/15 down,” he said. “In particular, Ballymoney, Omagh and Castlereagh councils deserve praise for actually passing a reduced business rate.”

He urged all levels of government to follow suit: “It is critical in these early stages of economic recovery that government at every level, keeps all forms of taxation on small businesses as low as possible to support new investment and jobs.

“In recent years we have made considerable progress on rates, with the introduction of the Small Business Rates Relief and Empty Premises Rate Relief schemes. This progress needs to be built upon by the ongoing rates revaluation putting local small businesses and town centres first.”

The decision follows recent Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) figures which showed a year-on-year footfall drop of -8.7% in December, compared to the UK average of -2.4%.

NIRC director Aodhán Connolly said household budgets in Northern Ireland were under “the greatest pressure” of any UK region, but also attributed the drop to changing consumer behaviour.

“Increased online browsing and buying and use of services like click and collect has undoubtedly filtered through to these figures,” he said.