The Northern Ireland Assembly has introduced an empty property rates relief scheme in an attempt to limit the number of long-term vacant premises.

Any business that moves into a premises that has been previously used for retail purposes and has been unoccupied for 12 months or more can avail of rate relief of up to 50% for its first year.

If a business is renting the premises to a landlord who pays the rates, the landlord must also pass on the benefit to the tenants.

Finance minister Sammy Wilson hoped the relief would help rejuevenate beleagured local communities. “The situation is getting worse and we’ve got to work together to address this downward spiral,” he said. “It’s not good for business, not good for consumer choice and it’s not good for community life.”

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts urged businesses to take advantage of the relief. “These proposals for first yerar 50% rate relief for companies taking up retail properties will both address the problem of vacant shops and support new start businesses in their first critical year of trading,” he said.

Businesses can apply for the rates relief grant through the NI Business Info website,