Commenting ahead of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on a motion from the Scottish Conservatives’ Gavin Brown MSP calling for the Scottish Government to abandon plans to increase Business Rates bills on empty properties by up to 80%, Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:
“We share the Scottish Government’s ambition to reinvigorate our town centres and to reduce the number of vacant properties on our High Streets. We want to see these premises occupied, either by retail businesses or through change of use to office or residential purposes.
“However the reason we have so many empty properties at present is more due to a lack of demand than prohibitively high rents and therefore if we are to address the problem, the solution must involve stimulation of demand. The Scottish Government’s plan to slash the value of empty property relief will do nothing to stimulate demand and will only serve to increase the financial burden on property owners at a time when we should be working with them to ensure that the supply of property is appropriate for modern town centres.
“The future prosperity of our town centres will require a more healthy mix of retail, office, residential and leisure use and this will require investment from property owners. Increasing their business rates liability by up to 80% will do nothing to assist this process and, indeed, could hinder it.
“If the reduction in Empty Property Relief is intended to reduce the number of vacant premises then it is a poorly judged policy. In England, where Empty Property Relief was axed back in 2008, vacancy levels have soared from 3% to over 14% - evidence that it is lack of demand as a result of the recession that is the major factor in the rise of empty properties.
“We would call upon the Scottish Government to abandon its plans to cut Empty Property Relief and engage in a constructive discussion with local businesses and property owners to identify a credible solution to the blight of empty properties in our town centres.”