Empty business premises could boost local economy

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Plans to boost Argyll and Bute’s economy by bringing empty business properties back into use across the area are continuing to progress.

At a meeting of Argyll and Bute Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, councillors received an update on new powers that allow local authorities to change the levels of relief available to empty business premises and reviewed feedback from a public consultation on the issue.

Empty industrial properties can get 100% relief from non-domestic rates for the first six months they lie vacant and a 10% discount after that. Most empty properties benefit from 50% relief in the first three months followed by 10% relief thereafter. However, some businesses can get 100% relief for the whole time a property is unoccupied if they meet specific criteria such as being listed buildings, the owner is deceased, the rateable value is lower than £1,700, insolvency or occupation of the property is prohibited by law.

In 2019, the Scottish Government committed to devolving Empty Property Relief (EPR) to councils in time for the next revaluation. However, both the revaluation and the devolution of EPR were delayed because of the pandemic and a new date was for 1 April 2023.

The Policy and Resources Committee agreed that from April 2023 to March 2024, the existing rules for EPR would continue, mirroring the Scottish Government scheme and would be reviewed prior to 2024/2025.

In January, the Scottish Government announced funding of £608,000 per annum for Argyll and Bute for each of the three financial years from 2023/2024 to 2025/2026 as a contribution towards the cost of EPR in the area.

The new policy is designed to maximise the use of these funds to revitalise local communities.

A consultation with stakeholders, including members of the public, property owners, community organisations and elected members, ended in August and the council has now evaluated the feedback. A full report on the revised policy will go forward to the council for further discussion in November.

Councillor Gary Mulvaney, the council’s Policy Lead for Finance and Commercial Services, said: “There are empty properties of different kinds across Argyll and Bute that we would like to see brought back into use to create increased footfall in our town centres, create employment opportunities, serve as affordable housing or deliver other benefits for people in our local communities.

“By breathing new life into empty properties, we can create an environment that supports entrepreneurship, encourages investment, and enhances the overall appeal of our towns.

“The consultation with local communities provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities around these properties. The clear message from stakeholders across the area was that there is a strong desire for such properties to be revitalised and brought back into use for the benefit of the community.”

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