The Local Data Company report, backed by the British Property Federation (BPF), shows Margate to be one of the worst hit areas with vacancies increasing from five per cent to 25 per cent, while Derby is up from eight per cent to 22 per cent.
Despite these statistics, the government has continued to tax empty properties by making the lease holders pay full business rates. The BPF wants to scrap empty property rates (EPR) as well as re-think on changing the planning use of buildings to enable empty shops to be more efficiently used for non-retail pursuits.
The EPR tax is paid by whoever owns the lease, meaning that occupiers are also affected if they have a long-term lease. The BPF has said it’s the equivalent of making the unemployed pay income tax.
The Local Data Company survey is unequivocal evidence of how badly the property and retail sectors have been hit and demonstrates clearly how the situation has worsened since the government brought in EPR in April 2008. The report was carried out across over 700 town centres and is the most in-depth of its kind.
Liz Peace, BPF chief executive commented: “We need to encourage a review of change of uses as it’s pointless having shops stand empty because planners have some vision of resuscitating high streets back to the bustling 1930s.
"We’re in a very sharp downturn and while these things do happen in cycles, this is the first time that a recession has occurred with internet sales at such a high point.”
She continued: “With new openings down by half, it’s clear that landlords are simply not able to fill vacant shops. Taxing them on this hardship simply reduces investment in other areas and means more jobs will be lost as a greater number of firms are pushed under.
“The nature of property is that it is a cyclical market and few were surprised when out-of-date retailers began suffering. With so many big names dropping, it has shown that no one is invincible.”