About 1,800 commercial premises in the district are standing empty in what has been described as a “lost opportunity” for the economy and regeneration of Bradford.
Latest figures, obtained under Freedom of Information rules, show that these commercial premises have a rateable value of £26.5 million.
The leader of Bradford Council, Councillor David Green, told the Telegraph & Argus: “The issue of business rates is important to the Council’s coffers but it’s the lost opportunity for the economic development and regeneration of the district that is equally as crucial.
“If we have got empty commercial properties, then it’s a missed opportunity for the Bradford economy and a much wider issue than simply the collection of business rates.”
His comments come as the Council is preparing to take control of its business rates from April.
At the moment, business rates are collected locally and given to the Government, which then redistributes them back to authorities as part of the formula grant. In recent years Bradford has collected about half of the amount it receives back – which in 2010/2011 was a difference of £117m.
Each authority is expected to be given a fair starting point based on this year’s funding, with a system of top-ups and tariffs put in place to distribute the rates. Bradford is expected to make use of the top-up system.
Out of the 1,800 empty commercial properties, 267 command a rateable value of £20,000 a year or more. This includes 46 properties over £50,000, 36 over £100,00, six over £200,000, seven over £300,000 and three over £400,000.
Coun Green added that there were a number of “carrots” the authority had at its disposal, including the new £35m city centre growth zone and the Super Connected Cities broadband project. The growth zone is designed to support new and existing businesses and help create jobs by offering rate relief.
“Within the boundaries of the growth zone, there are a large number of commercial properties that are empty that would fit in within the scheme. I think this will be a great incentive for people to bring back a lot of these properties into use.
“Outside of the city centre, we clearly need to work with the owners of these buildings to bring them back into a use that’s profitable.”
Councillor Glen Miller, the leader of the Conservative group on the Council, said: “It is unfortunate that even at the best of times there will be empty business properties, but clearly in light of the current economic climate things are worse than normally the case.
“We must all hope and do whatever we can to help the district and the wider country out of the recession and back into growth. To this end the Conservative group will support the City Centre Growth Zone and any initiatives which have a realistic prospect of assisting in the achievement of this aim.”
Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: “What we need is a proper approach to managing what is the decline of some of these commercial properties.”
She said a number of smaller commercial properties began life as homes, and that a “taxation lever” needed to be found that would encourage property owners to convert them back again.
Val Summerscales, of Bradford Chamber of Trade, said one issue was commercial properties not being fit for purpose, which left businesses looking for modern or purpose-built premises instead.