RESIDENTS of the Victoria Square apartments in Belfast city centre have been told they will no longer have to pay rates and will be refunded for any rates which have been paid.

Owners of the apartments, who had been made to pay rates despite being told to leave their homes in 2019 due to structural safety concerns – and have been unable to return since – were also told that any rates arrears which were being pursued against them will also cease.

The decision to refund rates and cancel arrears was taken by Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald.

Earlier this month residents had their case for compensation at the High Court rejected by a senior judge due to a law which states more than six years cannot pass before action is taken. The result of this left residents despondent, with many stating they had poured their life-savings into buying the apartments.

A total of 91 properties were evacuated five years ago and residents have now been informed a total of £170,000 which has been paid in rates will be returned as well as having £396,000 in unpaid rates arrears cancelled.

North Belfast MP John Finucane welcomed the news.

“Thanks to the Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald for this statement and for her commitment to continue to support other ministers in the Executive to help resolve this matter," he said. “This is a positive first step in addressing the ongoing nightmare residents have been facing.”

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said residents must be fully compensated for their losses.