3.37% Derry rate hike agreed after bid to stall in protest over Magee expansion and rates support grant cut fails

Ratepayers will pay an extra £15.80 on average a year in district rates after a 3.37% rise was struck on Monday despite an attempt to defer the move in protest at the £126m ‘bail-out’ of Ulster University’s Belfast campus.

Tuesday, 11th February 2020, 4:44 pm
The Guildhall in Derry

The increase means the average domestic rates bill for 2020/21 will be £484.62.

The rate was agreed at a special meeting of Derry city & Strabane District Council in the Guildhall yesterday.

But not before Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher requested Council suspend standing orders in order to defer the striking of the rate. He proposed the move as a means of putting pressure on Stormont over the expansion of Magee and over cuts to the Rates Support Grant (RSG), a subsidy paid to more economically deprived areas like Derry.

“We have faced discrimination for 60 years,” said Colr. Gallagher. He claimed the North West was being “shortchanged” while Stormont, within a month of reconvening, had found £126m for UU’s York Street project.

People Before Profit Councillor Eamonn McCann seconded Colr. Gallagher’s proposal and claimed Derry continued to suffer “general neglect” from Stormont, and that deferring the setting of the rate to allow for meetings with central government departments over Magee and RSG would put pressure on Stormont to deliver for Derry.

Chief Executive John Kelpie, however, was asked by Sinn Féin Councillor Mickey Cooper what the legal implications would be if the Council did not strike a rate.

Mr. Kelpie said Council was obliged to strike a rate by February 15 and if it did not central government may step in and set a rate we “don’t agree with”.

Councillor Gallagher’s motion was put to a vote but fell 19 votes to 12 with Sinn Féin, the DUP and UUP voting against a deferral. The SDLP, Independents and People Before Profit voted for, while the Alliance councillors abstained.

The Council went on to strike a rate for 2020/21.

Alfie Dallas, Lead Finance Officer with the Council, said: “For an average domestic ratepayer in this Council area, this represents a District Rate increase of 3.37% that will see the current average domestic district rates bill of £468.82 increase by £15.80 per annum or 30p per week.”

Mr. Kelpie said: “Council is anticipating that a further minimum £50m of match funding from NI Executive will shortly be confirmed, hopefully bringing about investment in a range of innovation and digital projects, the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee, skills projects and major regeneration projects in Strabane Town Centre and along the City riverfront.”

Mayor Michaela Boyle said the increase was “equivalent to an increase of 30p per week for the average ratepayer”.

“Since the inception of the new council Sinn Féin has endeavoured to strike an annual rate which balances the need for meeting statutory pressures and investing in growth but without placing unreasonable demands on homeowners and businesses,” she said.

The rate was struck with the support of Sinn Féin, SDLP, DUP, UUP and Alliance. People Before Profit and a number of independents refused to agree the increase.