Council’s unique business rates pilot leads to high street revival in Rochdale

posted 11 Aug 2015, 02:58 by Rochdale TC   [ updated 11 Aug 2015, 03:02 ]
Chris Lesbirel is looking forward to bringing his business to Rochdale for the first time

Another new business is on its way to Rochdale, thanks to an innovative business rates reduction scheme set up by the council.

The premises, at 66 Yorkshire Street, which will be home to North West shoe repair company Shoemaster, is one of a number of sites which have been newly let under the scheme.

The £100,000 pilot scheme, launched earlier this year, has already seen the vacancy rate in Rochdale town centre fall by more than half from 27 per cent (14 per cent above the national average) to just 11 per cent.

Owner of Shoemaster, Chris Lesbirel, has now signed a long-term lease at number 66 after taking advantage of the scheme, which reduces rates for new businesses coming into Rochdale town centre by 80 per cent in the first year and 50 per cent in year two.

Shoemaster is the seventh business to come on board as part of the scheme, with a further four vacant units being occupied outside the initiative during the time it has been running, signalling growing confidence in Rochdale’s retail sector.

Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Rochdale, like towns up and down the country, has seen its high street suffer in recent years and we wanted to do something radical to address this. I’m delighted that the scheme is going so well and that it’s clearly had a knock-on effect, with businesses coming in despite not being eligible for the discount. They know that having more shops on the high street will have positive impact on their trade and are keen to come to Rochdale because of our business friendly approach and improving town centre. This will go hand in hand with our new free parking policy to help get Rochdale town centre back on the right track.”

Councils can apply local discretionary business rates discounts over and above those already put in place by government, but have to bear some of the cost themselves.

Chris, who started trading in 1986, already owns six other Shoemaster branches across the North West, but was lured to Rochdale by the council scheme.

He said: “I was delighted to discover that the discount scheme would apply to my business. It basically made the difference between me opening my business in Rochdale or not.

“It’s important that high street fixes are long-term like this council scheme. A lot of landlords offer short term rent discounts over Christmas, but with that you get a new shop in and they’re gone after six weeks. It’s no use. A two year scheme is a fantastic idea because once your discount finishes, you’ve already built up that all-important customer goodwill. You’re not having to contend with huge rates at that really challenging time when you’re first getting established.”

Chris, who has spent £30,000 on new equipment for the shop and is going to employ a local apprentice to work with store manager Colin Whitehead, added: “I really like Rochdale. It’s got a good vibe about it and there’s a lot of improvement work going on in the town centre.”

Retail agent, Glenn Drake-Owen, from Breakey Nuttall, who helped bring Shoemaster to Rochdale, said: “There’s no question that without this intervention from the council, this property would have remained empty. Rents on commercial premises in the north of England have reduced in recent years, but rates have remained high, effectively acting as a barrier to many businesses. It’s fantastic to see a new independent business opening in Rochdale town centre and I think it will make a great addition to the high street.”

Shoemaster is expected to open for business on Monday 17 August.

For more information on the business rate sale, please visit: www.rochdale.gov.uk/bizratesale

Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, hands the keys to Chris in readiness for the shop’s opening next week
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