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Empty shops tax for St Helier?

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A NEW tax on empty shops is being considered by the Constable of St Helier as a way to force landlords to take action to help Jersey’s struggling high street, the JEP can today reveal.

Austin Reed

A year after the closure of the Next store in Queen Street, Constable Simon Crowcroft (pictured right) said it was time to take action in order to boost the retail sector and help smaller companies keen to secure a presence in town.

Earlier this year it was reported that the number of empty shops in town was at a ten-year high and the situation has not improved in the months since. The former Thomas Cook building and Mothercare remain empty, although it is understood that a tenant has been lined up for the latter. And last week it was announced that the iQ Apple store would be moving into the empty former M&S Home shop in Liberty Wharf early next year, leaving behind another vacant shop in the Beresford Street area.

However, it is not all bad news for Jersey’s highstreet, as this week the Card Factory, brought to the Island by SandpiperCI, opened on King Street, while New Look confirmed that the Jersey store was not among the 100 of its shops that are at risk of closure in the wake of declining sales.

Mr Crowcroft and his parish team say they have worked hard to encourage and incentivise landlords to use vacant space for pop-up shops and other events but more now needed to be done.

‘I have been looking with the town centre manager at the problem we have with empty shops. The problem is quite simply that, we understand, some landlords are still getting their income when these shops close, as there are still leases that have to be paid, so there is no real incentive for property companies to find a new tenant, because they are getting paid anyway,’ he said.

‘Really, what we want to do as a municipality is to incentivise property companies to re-let these empty shops, because there are people who want to move into them. But property companies have no incentive to lower their rents. So I think we need to bring pressure to bear on property owners who are not releasing these sites.’

He added that he was developing a proposal for a tax on empty shops to potentially take to the States for debate. Although he has no firm details of what such a tax could entail as yet, he said similar systems were run in other places and would be easy to replicate.

And the Constable said the regeneration around Charing Cross using a mixture of public and private investment showed what could be done when such partnerships were in place.

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Asked if attention now needed to be paid to the north of town, he said: ‘There have been some stubborn properties on Bath Street, that sort of area, that have been empty some time. Certainly I think we do need to perhaps do more. But then you could argue that that the north of town hasn’t had the investment, public or private, that was promised in the North of Town Masterplan. If that happened, then property owners would probably find their properties being more sought after.’

Meanwhile, the idea of an empty-property tax was raised yesterday at a hearing of the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel.

Paul Eastwood, Deputy Comptroller of Taxes, said that property taxes were run through the rates system, so effectively parishes had control over them.

‘We haven’t specifically looked at an empty property tax,’ he said. ‘It is worth saying that taxation of property at the moment is through the rates system.’

Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
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