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New fight to fill Gloucester's 65 empty retail units

By citizenmike  |  Posted: March 05, 2014

  • Empty.. former Republic store in Eastgate Street

  • Difficult to fill.. the former Marks and Spencer store in Northgate Street

  • Empty... premises in Westgate Street

Comments (7)

FILLING 65 empty retail units in Gloucester spanning across 260,000 sq ft is no easy task – but a new initiative to do just that has been launched.

Council bosses, property owners and shopping centres have teamed up to tackle the blight of empty retail units in the city.

A hit list of available properties – from small to big and everything in between – has been drawn up by Gloucester City Council in a bid to make it easier for firms to eye up prospective new homes for their business.

The list gives the inside picture on how big each unit is and how much it will set back a firm in rent and business rates.

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- 65 retail properties are empty across the city and the Docks area and are available for renting.

- More than 170,000 sq ft of empty retail space in the city waiting to be used.

- A further 90,000 sq ft of retail space at the Docks, Metz Way and Kingsway available for renting.

- More than £700,000 of business rates across the city could be brought in if all of the units were let.

- Cheapest property to let is 16 St John’s Lane at £5,200 per year in rent for 417 sq ft. You will have to pay £1,178 in business rates.

- Most expensive unit is the former Republic store in Eastgate Street which will set you back £203,000 per year in rent, £77,715 in rates and a £65,592 service charge. The rent also excludes insurance and VAT. For your money you can enjoy 5,342 sq ft of retail space.

- City has thousands of square feet of unused first floor space too.

Council leader Paul James said: “We have been gathering this information for a long time. Now we are making it more readily and readily accessible to the many potential businesses.

“There are a string of independent reports that show how strongly we are performing as a city with a great many new businesses starting up and an award winning approach to developing and supporting the economy.

“This is just another part of the comprehensive package of help, advice and assistance that we can offer. It shows potential investors the range of properties that are available and makes it as easy as possible for them to make their moves to one of the fastest developing small cities in the country.”

But the efforts come against the backdrop of firms struggling against sky-high business rates, with an influential parliamentary committee only two days ago warning that the rates are ‘not fit for purpose’ ahead of Chancellor George Osborne’s budget speech in two weeks time.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee warned that business rates ‘are the single biggest threat to the survival of retail businesses on the high street’.

Gloucester is attempting to tackle the rates issue by offering grants of up to £3,500 to new start-ups or firms that are relocating to the city in their first year. The city council is also offering up to £3,000 towards rent. Other grants of up to £10,000 are also being made available to help stimulate the city’s economy.

Jason Robinson, centre manager at The Eastgate shopping centre, said that growth in Gloucester’s retail scene is good news for his centre too. He said: “The Eastgate is managed by a group of highly professional managing agents and asset managers with a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of retail.

“We actively engage with property departments of national retailers to attract them to Gloucester, and work in close harmony with other organisations in and around the city with the aim of enhancing the retail mix.

“We fully support the work of groups like the Economic Development Team and are constantly looking at ways to support each other.

“From our point of view, we help out wherever we can because any growth in the retail scene in Gloucester is also good news for The Eastgate.

“Whilst we do have some empty units, the centre is continually growing from strength to strength. Our void unit rate is well below the national average, currently standing at 11 per cent against the national average of 14 per cent.

“We have good relationships with our retailers and we’re constantly in talks with potential new retailers for the centre – we’re confident that 2014 will be a positive year for not only the centre, but the whole city.”

Other properties may be more difficult to fill. Gloucester City Council have been told that Marks and Spencer’s property department will not budge on the £300,000-per-year asking price for renting their former premises in Northgate Street. The building was recently ruled out as a potential new home for the Eastgate Market because it was deemed too expensive. Any new tenant would also have to deal with clearing an asbestos problem.

'HOW BUSINESS RATES GRANT GOT MY BUSINESS OFF THE GROUND'

BUSINESS rates have become a Catch 22 situation for cities like Gloucester.

If they are too high, they can put off people who want to create a new start-up firm.

But clawing in business rates is also more lucrative for local authorities after the Government introduced the business rates retention scheme in April 2013. It means councils can keep a proportion of business rates revenue as well as growth on the revenue that is generated in their area. Previously, the government took all of the business rates from councils.

The scheme is designed to be a financial incentive for councils to promote economic growth in their area.

Business rates and rent grants are one way in which Gloucester City Council is trying to balance the issue.

Denise Kirby, owner of Poppy and Harry’s children’s store, in Westgate Street, received a £3,000 rates grant to help get her new business off the ground.

She said: “I don’t think I would have considered taking on this shop without the grant. Business rates are a massive killer for independent shops so getting the grant was fabulous. When I first look at the shop I told the estate agent that there’s no way I could take it, but then he heard about this grant.

“It has really helped us and next month we’re celebrating one year in the shop.

“I’ve recommended it to other people who have come into the shop because the council were fantastic. They were really approachable and it is by no means a daunting task. Obviously if someone is going to give you a load of money you need to come up with a good business plan, but they made the process very easy.”

Denise originally ran a market stall and had ambitions of expanding into a shop after outgrowing the space at Eastgate Market.

Check out all the available properties here

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7 comments

  • North Glos EPC  |  March 09 2014, 10:22AM

    Jas37, had you read all my comment you'd have seen that I said "of course the way business rates are set would need changing". So if the powers that be really want to do something to help these businesses then such a change would enable the proposal to be adopted. Also of course making it possible for potential customers to actually get to these retail businesses without fear of hefty charges and penalties would help probably as much. Now that element really is currently within the power of the council.

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  • jas37  |  March 08 2014, 10:33PM

    North Glos EPC, I'm struggling to work out your proposal - Business rates are not set by the City Council so how could your plan be adopted?

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  • North Glos EPC  |  March 07 2014, 12:20AM

    Well jas37 a grant to offset business rates is a welcome move but I doubt it will be enough to make a real difference over the longer term. What I was thinking of was a system whereby the council looks at the business rate income now and effectively gives everyone a reduction by spreading that same income over a full compliment of retail business units. That way we're looking at a better chance for all businesses to succeed without it actually costing local Government any more than it does now by having so many vacant units. Yes of course the way business rates are set would need changing but surely that cannot be impossible. Also of course remember retail businesses need customers so doing something about what seems to be policy of actively discouraging people from coming into the city is counter productive. Yes I'm talking about high parking charges and draconian, and profiteering parking penalty systems, over-zealously enforced by the "parking gestapo" where most revenue comes from short overstays in half empty car parks rather than from unsafe or obstructive parking on the highway. I stopped using the center some years ago for that very reason, and I think I'm just one of many many others who think the same way.

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  • RoadWombat  |  March 07 2014, 12:18AM

    And as another example of a Gloucester City Council non-job, we have an "Equalities Officer" (probably on the same salary as the last two). So that's at least £60,000 that could be given to struggling businesses instead of being wasted on council parasites.

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  • RoadWombat  |  March 07 2014, 12:12AM

    Correct - it is set by central government. The money collected gets paid into a government central pool and redistributed to local authorities depending on population. All Gloucester City council need do, however, is return ALL the business rate money to the businesses (not just a small grant here and there) instead of wasting it on non-jobs, vanity schemes and flawed social engineering schemes. As an example, they advertised a couple of years ago for two (yes TWO!) "Business Improvement Officers" at a starting salary of £23,708. The present incumbent proudly describes the job on "LinkedIn" as: "To assist with the implementation of corporate business improvement initiatives." How's that for a council non-job!?

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  • jas37  |  March 06 2014, 11:02PM

    North Glos EPC As far as I can gather the level of Business rates is still not set by local Council's. The City Council are offering Grants (according to this report) to help offset rates.

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  • North Glos EPC  |  March 06 2014, 10:14AM

    If the council want these sites filled, dramatically reduce the business rates, it will still be more than they get now, and make it easier to park in the area without the constant fear of falling victim to the parking gestapo. In short give any new business a fighting chance of success.

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