Officials in Rochdale are proposing a pilot scheme to revive the fortunes of its town centre with up to an 80% discount on business rates.
The proposal, which will go before the cabinet today, will give businesses moving into an empty shop in selected areas of the town centre an 80% discount on their business rates for the first year, with a further 50% cut in the second year.
Council leader Richard Farnell, 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% nationally and 22.7% in Rochdale town centre.
The council said this pilot will be on top of existing rate relief schemes and it would start in April 2015.
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.”
The town has also offered free parking in council-run town centre car parks after 10am from December 13 until January 3, 2015, in a bid to boost trade during the peak Christmas period.
Councillor Farnell said: “This pilot scheme will cost £100,000 – but it will be money well spent. Investing in our town centre is a big priority for us. 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.”