ALMOST a third of Scotland’s local authorities are looking to offer business rates relief or rent reductions to help tackle the growing problem of empty shops in town centres.
The offer of help for struggling high streets is one alarming trend noted in the latest Scottish town centres report from commercial property consultant GVA.
Last month, architect Malcolm Fraser was appointed by the Scottish Government to lead a task force charged with reversing a trend that has seen businesses move to the outskirts, leaving lifeless town centres characterised by vacant shops and economic decline.
The National Review of Town Centres is due to report its findings to the Scottish Government in March and will address issues such as planning, rents and rates, competition and empty properties.
Paul Rounce, GVA’s planning, development and regeneration associate, said: “The key to unblocking the development pipeline is not the production of lengthy documents and strategies, but to create an environment for delivery.”
He added: “Each town must be looked at individually as the issues, problems and solutions for a particular town centre will never be directly replicated.”
GVA’s report found that 76 per cent of local councils are planning to prepare “town centre strategies” over the next 12 months, while 29 per cent may provide rates relief or reduce rents. The firm said overall rents for retail properties are expected to fall 2.5 per cent this year, with Aberdeen suffering the sharpest fall of 4.3 per cent, compared with just 0.8 per cent in Edinburgh.
Although signs are beginning to emerge of a recovery in the retail sector, with the British Retail Consortium reporting a 1.5 per cent increase in sales last month as shoppers stocked up on warmer clothing, the high street has taken a battering in recent months with chains such as Clinton Cards, Game Group and JJB Sports going into administration.
Donald Shaw, a real estate partner at Dundas & Wilson, said the law currently dictates that rateable values must be related to rents at the pre-recession date of April 2008, and “businesses are saddled with rateable values which are now well out of line with achievable rents”.
Derek Mackay, the minister for local government and planning, has told Holyrood that the Scottish Government plans to review business rates “later this year” and CBI Scotland called on ministers to introduce more “predictability and certainty” to the system rather than imposing ad hoc taxes such as the £95 million business rates retail levy for larger stores.
The employers’ organisation said: “Never again should ministers be able to refuse to publish impact assessments for their additional taxes – as they did with the retail levy and the £36m empty premises rates rise – and which flew in the face of the government’s very own best practice guidance and better regulation agenda.
“We also want to see rateable values and thresholds for reliefs published well in advance of the next commercial property revaluation due in 2015, and ministers should similarly commit to consulting on transitional relief well before the revaluation.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east