Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, wants to relax planning rules so that town centre shops can be converted into homes quickly, after acceptance that some high streets in the UK are dying in their traditional form.Good news, yes?
Based on official figures, the Government would miss out on £1bn in business rates payments over the next decade if just a quarter of the empty shops in Britain are converted into houses and flats.Oh. Well, every cloud, and all that.
The estimated tax loss is based on the shortfall councils will face from council tax paid by the occupants of the new homes, compared to the business rates paid by retailers or lands when it was a commercial property.You mean, ‘when it was an occupied commercial property’..?
The problem is, it isn't. And won’t be. In Southend, the grandly refurbished Victoria Circus development is still more than half empty. Those shops it did attract in, like Boots and Next, vacated premises in the High Street, leaving holes that are only partially filled to this day.
Jerry Schurder, head of rating at Gerald Eve, said converting retail property into homes could create “havoc” for councils.
He said: “Making conversions easier could have a very positive effect on towns that have seen a permanent contraction in the retail sector, but only a foolish council would use its powers to reduce its income base.”It’s current income base is zero. Unless it can attract a business in to pay those business rates, it might have to settle for council tax.
Something is always better than nothing, surely?