Empty premises could be costly

MORE than one in 10 business premises in Huntingdonshire stand empty – and the owners will become liable to full business rates later this year. Until now, empty industrial premises, such as factories and warehouses, have been exempt from National Non-Do

MORE than one in 10 business premises in Huntingdonshire stand empty - and the owners will become liable to full business rates later this year.

Until now, empty industrial premises, such as factories and warehouses, have been exempt from "National Non-Domestic Rates", which are assessed by Government valuers and collected by Huntingdonshire District Council on behalf of HM Treasury. Rates on other empty commercial premises are levied at 50 per cent.

But, from April ,industrial premises will attract full NNDR six months after becoming empty, and other premises after three months of vacancy.

Of the 4,500 sites attracting business rates in the district 250 have been empty for more than six months and, if not occupied by then, will be caught in April. NNDR for a further 225 will rise from 50 per cent to 100 per cent, Councillor Terry Rogers, executive councillor for finance, told business chiefs last week.


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Only empty properties with a rateable value of less than £2,200 are exempt. Several of the empty properties that will be caught by the change in the law have been vacant for at least 20 years, Julia Barber, head of revenue services at HDC, told The Hunts Post.

HDC collected £50million in business rates last year and got just £10million back from the Treasury. Although Cambridgeshire County Council will also have benefited from Chancellor Alistair Darling's largesse, along with small sums for the police and fire authorities, a large chunk of the money paid by Huntingdonshire businesses will be propping up under-achieving councils elsewhere in the country, Cllr Rogers complained.

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Each year, shortly before finalising its spending plans for the following municipal year, from April, HDC consults business people about its plans for taxation and spending.

This was another opportunity for Cllr Rogers to complain also about the Government's withholding of £804,000 of what - on its own assessment - the district needs in central grant. That money also goes to prop up inefficient authorities, he says.

In the scheme of government finance, £804,000 may not sound a huge sum. But it is four per cent of the council's annual net spending. Council Tax raises a little over £6million for HDC and - were it not capped - would have to rise by 12.7 per cent to make up the shortfall.

As it is, HDC reckons five per cent is likely to be the Government's magic figure for capping again this year, so it is almost certain to plump for an increase of 4.99 per cent to keep on the right side of the law.

But, although well ahead of inflation on any of the national measures, that is equivalent to an increase of just 11p per week for a Band D property, from which HDC currently takes around £110 a year, Cllr Rogers said. At that rate it is the 18th lowest district council precept in England out of 238 authorities. The highest, at £290, is more than two-and-a-half times greater. The average district levies £155 a year.

On top of this year's £800,000 withholding, the Government has said it will keep back £600,000 in 2009/10 and £400,000 the year after. With the £360,000 still owing from the current year, that leaves Council Tax payers in Huntingdonshire to find more than £2million extra over four years.

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