COUNCIL HIKES RATES BY 5.98%

ARDS and North Down Council has hiked its share of coming rates bills by almost 6%.

The local authority unanimously agreed a 5.98% increase in both household and business rates during a special meeting on Tuesday night.

The rates hikes comes into force at the start of April, and were stated to be the equivalent of a £33 rise in the average household’s annual bill and £300 for the average business.

That’s well above the current rate of inflation, which stands at 4%.

It’s also the second high rates increase in two years, following on from a 6.8% hike in 2023.

Once again, the council needs the money to keep essential services going at their current level, instead of splurging on big projects.

The local authority is paying for increased wage bills, trying to cope with rising energy costs and expenses from inflation, and also needs to build up its cash reserves.

As a result, the council is cutting budgets that could be used to start regeneration projects in favour of coming up with long-term strategies and frameworks.

Projects will be worked up on paper, ready to be submitted when applications for external funding sources open, while new aims around economic and environmental sustainability are to be brought in.

The council also wants to look at cutting its own costs, pointing to the controversial booking system at Household Recycling Centres as an effective method of reducing landfill fees.

This autumn, the local authority wants to launch a revamp of domestic bin collections, hoping to knock the waste fees it pays down even further.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Jennifer Gilmour mentioned the planned revamp of a two-mile stretch of Bangor’s Waterfront and the continuing development of greenway networks around Ards as coming large projects in the area.

Between them, those have already lined up tens of millions of pounds in outside funding, however, rather than exclusively being paid for by the council.

The Mayor said that the council will continue to run programmes aimed at people hoping to start or expand their businesses, and wants to develop the borough’s social enterprise sector.

“The budget set enables us to maintain the core programmes that make a difference across the community,” she said, adding that the council is about to bring in a new corporate plan aimed at ‘working towards a sustainable borough’.

“Any increase in bills is never a good news story, whether it be for households or businesses,” said Mrs Gilmour, “but I want to reassure our ratepayers that we will continue to scrutinise council spending.

“We remain committed to making further efficiency savings wherever possible, while maintaining and enhancing our services and continuing to invest in our borough.”