The number of Council-owned shop premises standing empty in central Bath has more than doubled in the past twelve months, figures uncovered by Conservatives have shown.
Figures collected quarterly show that the number of city centre shops managed by B&NES Council which are standing vacant has increased from 2.68% in May 2011 to 6.25% in May 2012. The number is up from 1.79% in November 2010, but the largest jump in empty premises has been in the past six months.
The major increase in the number of empty shops, known as ‘voids’, has prompted concerns that the Liberal Democrat-run council is not doing enough to support city-centre traders during the difficult economic climate.
Conservative councillors in Bath are calling on the Council to review the way it manages its shop premises to ensure that it is doing whatever it can to keep shops open and council-run premises occupied.
Cllr Patrick Anketell-Jones (Cons, Lansdown), Conservative Shadow Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, previously ran a shop in central Bath. He said:
“The fact that the number of empty shops has more than doubled in the past year is very worrying and represents a rapid increase in a short space of time. Allowing Council-owned shop premises to stand empty has a double negative effect on our city. Firstly, it costs the Council money in lost revenue from rents, and secondly it drags down the city centre and can have a detrimental impact on the local economy.
“Our concern is that the Council is not providing the flexibility business owners need during difficult economic times. If the Council is too dogmatic in its rent reviews and this forces local business to move out, then as a result this only means the Council loses money.”
Cllr Paul Myers, the Conservative spokesman for Commercial Estate and Community Assets, added:
“These figures also show how vital it is for the Council to push ahead with the previously planned Public Realm improvements, to make Bath even more attractive for residents, visitors, businesses and shop-owners.
“We will be asking the Lib Dem Cabinet to review its approach to letting Council-owned shops, to improve its marketing of city centre premises, and invest in much-needed city centre public realm improvements in order to reverse this downward trend.”