Agenda item

Agenda item


To consider a report by the Head of Planning and Public Protection and the Head of Finance and Property to provide information regarding the current state of our town centres, the remedial action taken to date and future initiatives to redress the challenges businesses face (copy attached).



The Lead Member for Finance, Performance and Strategic Assets, Councillor Julian Thompson-Hill, introduced the Post Covid Recovery in Town Centres and NNDR report (previously circulated).


The report detailed the number of vacant business premises in Town Centres and National Non-Domestic Rates (NNDR) initiatives.  The report also highlighted the challenges town centre businesses faced across the county and approaches being taken to address those.


Whilst the total number of Empty Properties within the Council’s area had increased from 267 properties (April 2020) to 294 properties (Sept 2021), the total amount of Business Rates properties had also increased from 4,361 properties (April 2020) to 4,455 properties (Sept 2021). The empty properties represented 6.7% of the overall 4,455 Business Rates properties.


There were different exemptions from empty property rates, such as within the 3 or 6-month initial empty period, Insolvency, below the chargeable Rateable Value threshold, listed buildings, land, telecommunication masts and prohibited by law. Appendix 1 of the report showed the breakdown of the empty properties and associated exemptions.


There were two key Welsh Government (WG) initiatives which provided support to certain classes of Businesses through relief schemes.  Those initiatives would reduce or even nullify the Business Rates liability.


The two schemes were:

·         The Small Business Rates Relief Scheme, which awarded up to 100% relief, for Businesses with a Rateable Value below £6,000 and were on a tapered reduction from £12,000 to £6,000 Rateable Value.

·         The Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Rates Relief Scheme, which provided a 100% reduction in Business Rates for qualifying Businesses in 2020/21 and 2021/22


There was a further option for Local Authorities to award a reduction in rates payable, utilising the powers granted under the Localism Act 2011. This would be through awarding a discretionary relief. However, the full cost of any award under this scheme would be paid by the Council.


A further issue with an award under the Localism Act was that other Businesses could claim that the Council had created an anti-competitive environment, in that it was subsidising some ratepayers, thus disadvantaging others.


Whilst relief schemes were available, there had still been shops closing both locally and nationally, which led to a number of properties then becoming empty.  There were four main reasons for this:

·         Whilst the Business Rates charge had been reduced property rents had not seen an equivalent reduction and, in many cases, there had been no rent reduction offered by landlords.

·         Some larger companies had moved individual shops into larger premises e.g. Carphone Warehouse, closed in Prestatyn Retail Park and Rhyl, and being subsumed into the larger premises at the Clwyd Retail Park in Rhyl.

·         Other shop units had closed too and had a presence in another shop, such as Argos in Sainsbury’s or Costa Coffee being part of a garage.

·         The switch to online shopping had been further accelerated by Covid19. Many businesses, particularly banks had closed many branches due to people utilising online services. Additionally, customers now utilised retail shops either as a pick up or drop off point far more, having ordered the goods via the internet.


Footfall data for towns had been included in Appendix 3. The data showed the clear negative impact Covid-19 had on town centres due to government guidance on trading and travel restrictions.


Economic and Business Development (EBD) had commissioned a business survey in order to gain an understanding of the challenges that businesses were facing as a result of Covid-19. The launch had been aligned with the conclusion of furlough to provide a greater insight.  A report of the findings would be available in early 2022.


The Transforming Towns (TT)Thematic programme gave Local Authorities in Wales a broad and flexible package of support, aimed at revitalising town centres throughout Wales. The programme followed a ‘Town Centres first’ approach to regeneration, and was conferred and prioritised at a regional level. In the instance of North Wales, prioritisation was overseen by the Regional Regeneration Officers’ Group, compromising of the six local authorities. Projects currently being delivered through this package included Llangollen 2020 Castle Street, Hummingbird Denbigh, Queens Market Phase 1 & Rhyl Town Centre Gateway Phase 1


EBD was supporting the application for the Levelling Up Fund. The purpose of the Fund was to invest in infrastructure, including regeneration of town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets.


Rhyl had been selected by the Welsh Government as one of four pilot towns for the Town Centre Entrepreneurship Fund. The fund offered up-to £10k per business in the way of revenue to start up or relocate in the town. To date 22 businesses had expressed an interest, and the applications were being processed by Business Wales.


During discussions, the following points were raised:

·         During busy times of the year, certain areas were experiencing a high footfall and a suggestion of transportation from town to town for visitors could alleviate the “honeypot” scenarios.  It was confirmed that officers were looking at creative options to encourage visitors to explore different towns including contacting commercial operators to discuss the possibility of transport.

·         It was confirmed that addressing and filling empty business properties were a priority of both DCC and the Welsh Government.

·         A suggestion of an update to all Member Area Group (MAG) meetings on a regular basis could be viable and a way of keeping all members informed rather than waiting for the item to be presented at Scrutiny Committee.  Officers confirmed a regular update (e.g.: every 3 months) could be provided to MAG meetings and that this information could include updates on regeneration projects and Levelling Up Fund initiatives.

·         Pop up shops were being trialled in Rhyl.  These would give small traders and start-up businesses the opportunity to showcase their products and business.

·         To encourage businesses from the outskirts of towns into the town centres was a priority of the Welsh Government. There was a scheme called “Town Centre First” run by the Welsh Government and that information would be circulated to members.  The Town Centre First Scheme did link into the Local Development Plan (LDP) work for the future of Denbighshire.

·         It was queried whether some businesses were reticent to join schemes or to change their operating hours or business models with a view to capitalise on modern day living practices, some of which had changed considerably since the onset of the pandemic, but it was confirmed businesses would be given encouragement to adapt.  DCC were to carry out a specific survey relating to this, the results of which would be circulated to members.

·         The two Digital Projects were:

o   Smart Towns Maybetech - The project would be run in conjunction with Menter Môn, Rhyl Business Improvement District (BID) and the technology provider Maybetech and would provide a digital platform for town centre businesses in Rhyl. Rhyl had been selected as a pilot location for the adoption of new technology to enhance the town’s competitiveness and sustainability.  The platform provided businesses with insightful data to help inform business decisions to recover and grow

o   Denbighshire County Council Digital Grant Scheme - The scheme provided financial assistance to businesses to adopt digital technology to improve productivity, stability and growth. The scheme was open to businesses county wide who undertook a review of their business with Superfast Business Wales as the subject matter experts. The findings of the review assisted with the grant application to which a decision was made, and on which packages were funded

·      Officers advised that survey results were only an element of the information they used to help signpost small to medium sized town centre business to support packages available to them.  Other data sets, such as footfall information was also used.  They also encouraged members to inform the Service if they were aware of empty business premises within their wards which did not appear in the list held by the Council;

·      Whilst every effort was being made to help support local businesses to survive and thrive in the wake of the pandemic, a number of businesses had been hit hard and dependent upon the nature of their business may continue to struggle for some considerable time until some resemblance of ‘business as usual’ and consumer confidence returned.


At the conclusion of an in-depth discussion the Committee:


RESOLVED that subject to the above comments and observations to receive the information on work underway to support the post Covid-19 recovery of the County’s town centres, national non-domestic rates (NNDR) initiatives and to reduce the number of vacant business premises.


Supporting documents: