Nearly a third of Scottish councils are considering rate aid to boost town centres finds new report
A new report has found that almost a third of Scotland¬ís local authorities are considering offering business rate relief or rent reductions to help address the growing problem of empty shops in town centres.
The Scottish Town Centres report by commercial property agents GVA, which examined retail floorspace development pipeline trends and activity over the last 12 months, shows that the levels of floorspace have reduced as have proposals and applications coming forward at the front end of the pipeline.
With the exception of Edinburgh, Dunfermline and Dumfries, the weak retail market has meant a smaller than expected increase in prime retail yields between June 2011 and June 2012.
In response to the weak outlook for the retail sector, 76% of local authorities surveyed by GVA in Scotland highlighted that over the next 12 months they intended to undertake the preparation of town centre strategies, 57% suggested that they would be increasing flexibility within town centres and 38% would be revising defined town centre boundaries within development plans.
Almost half (48%) of local authorities said they were considering progressing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) arrangements, 33% are discussing deferred/phased payments relative to developer contributions and 29% are considering providing business rate relief/rent reductions.
The lowest vacancy rates in Scottish town centres were 6-7% of floorspace in Livingston and Greenock, compared with the highest rates of 22-28% in Cumbernauld, Glenrothes, Dunfermline and Paisley.
The report found that there has been very little development over the last 12 months and that existing town centre floorspace still dominates out-of-town retail provision in most Scottish cities. Edinburgh was the one exception with significant amounts of retail warehousing located on the outskirts of the city, totalling more in floorspace terms than within the city centre.
The total amount of retail floorspace in the pipeline was reduced by 19,500 sq m since last year but there is still 1,366,696 sq m of floorspace planned across Scotland. However, only 19,771 sq m of tha space is currently under construction.
Retail pipeline activity within the four city regions of Aberdeen City Council, Dundee City Council, Edinburgh City Council and Glasgow City Council showed that Dundee is now subject to more current out-of-town retail activity than in the city centre. GVA said that the trend that was not evident last year and is now the same as the other three city regions.
Based on GVA's independent research of local authorities in Scotland, 21 out of 31 town centre and edge of centre developments identified have stalled. The reasons for this are due to development finance, a lack of developer interest, development viability, site assembly issues and weak occupier demand.
Out of the 31 schemes identified, 45% benefited from planning permission, 26% were at applications stage and 29% were at pre-application, masterplan or local plan allocation stage. More than a third of the schemes were anchored by a foodstore.
Paul Rounce, associate, planning development & regeneration at GVA said: "The key to unblocking the development pipeline is not the production of lengthy documents and strategies, but to create an environment for delivery.
"Close working partnerships between the public and private sectors and key stakeholders, including political consensus, will maximise the ability to deliver successful development and ultimately successful town centres.”
"Each town must be looked at individually as the issues, problems and solutions for a particular town centre will never be directly replicated."
GVA is a member of the Scottish Government's External Advisory Group working to launch the Town Centre Review initiative, aimed at energising activity in Scotland's town centres.
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