Empty shops in Eastbourne are losing more than half a million pounds a year

Empty shops across Eastbourne are losing taxpayers more than half a million pounds a year, according to newly released data.

Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 3:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 10:35 am
Empty premises where Debenhams use to be in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-200130-110502008

There are more than 100 empty business units in town, creating an expected loss of £544,625 in potential income in 2019/2020 – an investigation has found.

While in 2018/2019, £617,328 of tax relief was granted to empty units in Eastbourne.

This is because under law empty shops, offices, and warehouses do not have to pay business rates for at least three months.

Empty premises where T. J.Hughes use to be in Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-200130-110548008

The aim of this tax relief is to allow the property investment and give landlords time to find a new occupant.

However, one consequence is that when shops and businesses close suddenly, it can result in sizable shortfalls in council funds.

So, while retailers lobby for the burden of business rates to be lightened, councils are becoming increasingly dependent on business rates income as grants from central government are cut.

However, Eastbourne Borough Council said the figures – obtained by the BBC Shared Data Unit – ‘could be considered misleading’.

A spokesperson said, “The figures in the research do not tell the full story and in isolation could be considered misleading.

“In terms of occupancy fluctuations, the stunning new extension to The Beacon resulted in 34 new units.

“It is estimated once all of the new units are occupied it will result in an additional £1.9m in business rates income.

“While trading conditions on the high street are challenging right across the UK, it is testament to the enduring appeal of Eastbourne to the retail sector that the £85 million Beacon extension was delivered.

“Few other towns are able to attract this scale of inward investment.

“The Beacon has generated new employment opportunities, greater prosperity and huge appeal for new brands to move into Eastbourne.

“Most recently, the introduction of the Business Improvement District Levy will see a further £300,000 a year invested in the town centre, driving even more shoppers into Eastbourne, each one benefiting from the award winning work being undertaken as part of the £8.25m Town Centre Improvement Scheme.

“Empty units clearly do have an impact on the levels of income received by all local authorities, but in Eastbourne we are bucking the trend and continue to work hard with our partners to increase shop occupancy and maintain the vibrancy that our town centre is so well known for.”

Town centre manager Luke Johnson, of Eastbourne Business Improvement District (BID), said his last vacancy rate count on January 2 this year found there were 51 vacant premises in Eastbourne town centre.

That represents a rate of 7.9 per cent vacant, Mr Johnson said, which is lower than the national average of 10 per cent vacant units.

However, he said he wouldn’t be able to comment on any of the vacant units outside Eastbourne town centre – which comprises Little Chelsea, Gildredge Road, Cornfield Road, Bolton Road, Terminus Road, Station Parade, Pevensey Road, Langney Road, Seaside Road and the Enterprise and Beacon shopping centres.

Mr Johnson said, “The BID will be investing £1.5 million into the town centre over the next five years to ensure it remains and increases in popularity as an attractive shopping destination for visitors.

“This will be investment in footfall driving events, improved Christmas and winter lighting, lobbying local government over high street improvements, marketing our town and also working alongside the council outreach teams to help lower the rough sleeping numbers across Eastbourne.

“The BID will be working alongside all businesses in our town ccentre in order to deliver initiatives and projects that will make a real positive impact on our high street.

“We also have the exciting phase 2 town centre project starting in January next year that will see Terminus Road pedestrianised from Bolton Road junction up to the end of the old Debenhams unit where it meets Lismore Road, which will significantly help the flow of footfall between the town centre and seafront.”