Trade body the BRC has warned that a proposed levy on large retail premises in Northern Ireland is likely to hit town centre stores hardest – in direct conflict with its objective.

The BRC flagged the danger ahead of Assembly elections in the province and called on politicians not to undermine the retail sector, which employs 9% of the local workforce.

Town centre stores could end up bearing almost half of the extra tax burden, the BRC calculated.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “New Assembly members must realise retail is not a piggybank to be broken into when extra cash is needed.

“The retail sector will deliver far more for Northern Ireland if it is supported and helped to grow, bringing in investment and creating jobs.

“This proposed tax on large retailers is contradictory. It’s supposed to provide support for town centres but up to 40% of it could be paid by the flagship stores that help make town centres such attractive shopping destinations.”

The BRC also issued a retail manifesto for Wales in advance of Assembly elections there, calling for measures such as a simple and consistently applied planning regime.