Town’s empty shops are a business rates burden

Weston High Street - are more shops set to close?

Weston High Street - are more shops set to close? - Credit: Archant

WESTON retail leaders have called for business rates to be slashed after revealing landlords are paying thousands of pounds to the Government for empty properties in the town centre.

Sovereign Centre manager Nick Cooke says high business rates are squeezing retailers across the country, with Weston in particular feeling the brunt.

He has called for the levy to be halved and for more to be done to ease the financial burden of empty units on landlords.

Business rates are based on the open market value of the property as valued in 2008, plus a multiplier from the Government which is set every financial year.

But the market value of many properties has dropped since the last valuation thanks to the economic slump, meaning many businesses are paying more than they should, Mr Cooke argues.

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He said: “If the Government did the valuation again now, the rates would probably have to halve.

“The Government doesn’t want to miss out on that money, but retailers need the relief in this harsh economy. It’s a catch 22.”

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He said empty units are a burden on landlords, because after three months, they are charged at the full rates payable.

He said the empty Currys unit alone draws more than £40,000 in business rates, while the total payable for empty Sovereign Centre units is in excess of £100,000.

He said this could be a reason the High Street often filled empty units with less high-grade stores, adding: “Landlords just look to any retailer to fill the units to pick up that bill.”

Town centre manager Steve Townsend agreed the Government should reduce rates.

He said: “I want a call to action to central Government to reduce business rates.

“If you have 80 shops paying the full rate or 100 shops paying a reduced rate, it may equal out to the same amount of money for the Government.

“But the reduced rate will create a more vibrant town centre with a really good mix of retail offerings.”

John Mayer, chairman of the Weston branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, also called for reductions for smaller firms.

He said: “Business rates are not related to the ability to pay and places a disproportionate burden on small businesses particularly after the large inflationary rises over the past couple of years.

“Government should reconsider the current empty property rate levels and bring back the exemption for small properties.

“It is leaving many small businesses with large bills because their properties cannot be let.

“Temporary doubling of small business rate relief should be made permanent.

“In many cases the cost of business rates now exceeds rent which has come down or at the least remained static in the past four years, and this is particularly true of towns such as Weston, and needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.”

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