£64m bill for empty properties in Merseyside

COMMERCIAL property with a potential annual rental income of more than s150m is lying empty on Merseyside, the Daily Post can reveal.

It means businesses could face combined council tax bills of more than s64m a year for property that is idle and not earning a profit.

A staggering 4,989 properties are empty across the City Region.

And the most valuable apparent white elephants are in the heart of Liverpools commercial district.

There are 15 properties in the city that could attract s1m or more in annual rent, according to values set by the taxman.

The most valuable of them is the Metropolitan Tower situated in Old Hall Street .

London-based property firm Smithpeak Ltd has a long-term lease on the tower from freehold owners Trinity Mirror North West, which publishes the Daily Post.

The Metropolitans Rateable Value a figure fixed by the Governments Valuations Office Agency and based on its potential annual rental income is s6.3m. That means Smithpeak could be stung with a tax bill for more than s3m.

Commercial landlords pay council tax at a rate of either 48.5% or 48.1% of the Rateable Value, depending on the size of the business.

Isle of Man tycoon Albert Gubays Derwent Holdings, which owns empty property on Edge Lane, faces a bill of around s1.9m for one of its vacant lots.

Business leaders warned last night empty properties make areas appear blighted, which in turn puts off potential investors and plunges markets into a downward tailspin. One solution they suggested is to encourage landlords to let offices or shops to charities or social enterprises rent-free by offering to waive the rates.

The plan was the brainchild of Cllr Gary Millar, Liverpools executive member for enterprise and tourism who owns Parr Street Studios. In the economic gloom, he has struggled to find tenants for small offices in Parr Street.

But now he lets charity Blackburne House use the space.

He told the Daily Post: Theres lots of empty property across the city thats not being used that I would like to see being used.

There should be more incentives offered if a propertys empty for a long time. Lets have a business-friendly city and work with Government to offer bigger rent relief than they are now.

Lets start a campaign.

Commercial property owners are victims of measures bought in by Chancellor Alistair Darling that scrapped relief from property tax for vacant lots.

Before April, 2008, industrial landlords paid zero tax as soon as their tenants left. Offices and shops got a 50% reduction after being empty for three months.

But now owners of empty offices and shops pay full property tax after just a three month holiday. Industrial landlords get a six month break but then also get stung for full taxes.

Empty properties with a Rateable Value of less than s15,000 do not get hit for any tax.

Ann Lodge, joint chief executive of Downing, which owns, among others, The Capital on Old Hall Street, said: Empty rates tax is totally out of sync with the realities of the property market and is hampering investment in regeneration. In the current climate the Government should be doing all it can to help kick start the economy not causing businesses further financial strain.

We have always maintained that it is a tax on regeneration.

THE information on empty commercial properties was released by Merseyside councils under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
Natalie Davis, a member of the public, used the FOI website www.whatdotheyknow.com to process her requests. All the raw data can be found at www.bit.ly/emptyproperty

View Merseyside's empty commercial property in a larger map