A significant amount of commercial property in Wycombe is lying empty, nearly £8.5m worth, according to data gained via a freedom of information request.
The list comprises commercial property buildings valued over £45,000. Of the 88 properties listed, 61 are in High Wycombe, 20 are in Marlow, 6 are in Bourne End and 1 is at Princes Risborough. Some of the commercial property is being held for expansion or development, such as the Sainsbury’s store in Marlow. At £450,000 it is the most expensive on the list.
According to Wycombe District Council, the ‘commercial property vacancy levels do not come as a surprise given the depths of the recession – the Wycombe district is unfortunately not immune from its impact’. However, new commercial property developments, including hotels, food stores and a recycling centre, are cited as reasons for optimism.
Business rates are underlined as a key issue by the Marlow Chamber of Trade. A glance at Wycombe District Council’s website shows that full rates have to be paid after three or six months, depending on the type of commercial property. Exemptions may apply to listed buildings, small properties, charities, community amateur sports clubs, cases of owner insolvency or where occupancy of a commercial property is prohibited by law. A hardship relief option also exists, where struggling businesses can show how their continued existence benefits the community.
The Chamber is pressing for further assistance, stating that, while take-up of commercial property in Marlow town centre means ‘there are no real vacancies’ in retail units, the ‘Chamber is far from complacent and wants to work with all agencies and businesses to help bring business into the town’. Owners of empty commercial property should be helped by Central Government ‘by allowing full rates relief and then 50 per cent after one year’, suggested a Chamber spokesperson.
The High Wycombe Town Centre Partnership is another organisation keen to boost the occupancy of commercial property in Wycombe. It is involved in a range of initiatives with stakeholders, designed to attract new businesses through collaborations, marketing and promotion of the town. Companies paying a subscription can join and access advice and support, promotional opportunities, networking opportunities, discounted services and more.
Current activities include contributing to a government review into empty commercial property in Wycombe. The prospect of the town becoming a Business Improvement District (BID) has been raised.
BIDs are regions where participating businesses pay an agreed amount in order to fund improvements to their business district. Ideas for improving commercial property are said to include animating empty shop fronts, providing financial support for retail start-ups and generally encouraging an entrepreneurial culture. A proposal that existing commercial property tenants vacate premises and set up in other parts of Wycombe, to create ‘niche retailing in certain areas’, has also been put forward.
BIDs were introduced to the UK in 2003. The Broad Street BID in Birmingham is reportedly one of the most successful. Advocates point to the transformation of Broad St into a vibrant leisure and entertainment destination.
Will that be the future for commercial property in Wycombe?
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