By Kieran O’Mahony
AS Bandon business owners threaten to withhold rates payments if progress on flood relief is not made next year, Cork County Council has suggested their ire is being directed at the wrong authority.
This week Tim Lucey, the chief executive of Cork County Council, reitereated that the County Council was not responsible for flood relief works in the town.
And he added that there will be no relief fund for any ratepayers who were affected by flooding in their premises.
‘Cork County Council on this occasion has responded admirably and flooding isn’t down to us. It’s not a role for us to compensate businesses and there is no relief fund, but we will support them,’ said Mr Lucey.
‘There will be no full or partial rebate and legally it is very difficult to do, and even on principle, we have never done it,’ Mr Lucey told a Cork County Council meeting this week.
‘Business owners can contact our rates department and talk to them, but there will be no full rebate of rates and I want to reiterate that Cork County Council isn’t the body that hasn’t performed here.’
Mr Lucey also told councillors that the Town Development Fund cannot be used to compensate people with rates rebates.
‘The concept of seeking a request for a rates rebate is normally borne out of frustration. We have our cost of businesses fixed to 2021, but we are supportive of local businesses,’ he added.
Within days of the floods hitting Bandon, a new body naming itself the Bandon Business Alliance was set up, with over 60 members all threatening to withdraw the payment of over €1m in commercial rates, unless works for the Bandon flood relief scheme start on time next year. While the members are aware that the relevant body is the OPW, they want Cork County Council to push them on the matter.
In a press statement issued this week, members of the Alliance said they are putting Cork County Council on notice in regards to non-payment of commercial property rates.
‘Despite government pledges in 2009 and repeated appeals from the business community to address the issue, the promised works have still not commenced on the Bandon flood relief scheme. Our rates are to be used by local government to supply services which allow local businesses to function, and it is our view that Cork County Council has failed to protect the Bandon business community.’
‘Should Cork County Council fail to have construction works started by June 30th 2016, we – the Bandon Business Alliance – will not pay commercial property rates until works have commenced,’ the statement added.
On Monday, Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Simon Harris, visited Bandon and met with frustrated business owners. He said tenders for the town’s long-awaited flood relief scheme are due back in the first week of January and that ‘there would be shovels in the ground at the end of May’.
‘I’m here to acknowledge the resilience of the community, but I also want to give an update on the scheme,’ he said. ‘There’s a budget of €25m and getting work started by the end of May is my absolute commitment to the people here and I will be prioritising that,’ he told The Southern Star.
‘I’m very happy to hear that the Council, with the help of a local steering group, will provide monthly updates to local representatives and I think that’s really important – there shouldn’t be any information gaps.’
Minister Harris reiterated that Bandon is a priority scheme and in the interim Cork County Council are planning to carry out some temporary works, which include securing some large pumps, improving and modifying some of the flat valves, and sealing the embankment upstream. He also urged business owners who were affected by the floods to apply for financial assistance as soon as possible, through the Red Cross in Bandon.