A RADICAL proposal to revive the fortunes of Rochdale’s high street by dramatically reducing business rates is set to go before the council’s cabinet next Monday. (15 December)
The proposed pilot scheme in selected areas of Rochdale town centre will give new businesses moving into an empty shop a massive 80 per cent discount on their business rates for the first year, with a further 50 per cent cut in the second year.
Councillor Richard Farnell, Leader of Rochdale Council, said: “This is a fantastic scheme which will be a huge boost to our high street and major step forward in reviving our town centre.
“Business rates are one of the single biggest obstacles facing new businesses and a key reason why many ultimately fail. Nationally over 31,000 independent shops failed in 2013 alone.
“We cannot reverse the decline on our high street - which is mirrored in towns up and down the country - without dealing with this critical issue. Big reductions in business rates will hopefully see new shops open, help bring more shoppers and breathe new life into the town centre.”
The scheme will cover 23 units which are currently empty on Yorkshire Street, South Parade, The Walk and Baillie Street. It is aimed at tackling the high vacancy rate, which is currently 13.5 per cent nationally and 22.7 per cent in Rochdale town centre.
It follows a raft of measures to help boost trade in the town. From next Saturday (13 December) until 3 January (inclusive) there will be free parking in council-run town centre car parks for anyone arriving after 10am. And from April next year, the council is permanently slashing parking prices by introducing free parking for the first three hours after 10am in all town centre car parks.
Councillor Farnell added: “This pilot scheme will cost £100,000 – but it will be money well spent. Investing in our town centre is a big priority for the council. We are also talking to the owners of empty shops to persuade them to reduce rents which will be another huge incentive for retailers to open up new shops.”
The council’s move comes just days after the Chancellor announced a raft of measures to help retailers in his autumn statement, including a nationwide review of business rates. The council’s pilot will be on top of existing rate relief schemes.
Any new business can apply to be considered under the scheme, which would start in April 2015. The council is hoping that the cut in business rates will encourage a wider variety of quality shops and independent traders to open in the town centre.
Mark Foxley, Rochdale Town Centre Manager, said: “This is great idea. Empty units are the blight of every high street and this will go a long way to addressing this. It’s really hard for businesses when they first open and those first two years are the critical make or break time. Any financial support they can get while they’re building up that all important customer base will be a huge help. This could really revive our high street.”
Any new business opening up will also receive a free support package from Rochdale Council funded Blue Orchid, who offer business support and start up advice.