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Commercial real-estate agent: ‘Empty-shop tax will not help’

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TAXING landlords whose shops remain empty is ‘not going to help anybody’, according to the head of a local commercial real-estate agency.

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Jon Carter, the managing director of CBRE, said the problem of empty shops in Jersey’s high street was the result of a lack of retailers wanting to come to the Island, as well as other factors affecting town, such as the way pedestrian traffic has moved west following the opening of the Jersey International Finance Centre.

His company acts on behalf of the owners of the former Next store in Queen Street, which has been empty for more than a year after the retailer moved into its new premises in King Street and New Street.

That empty shop was identified as one of a number of problem spots recently by St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft, who said he was considering taking proposals to the States for a tax on empty shops as a way to encourage landlords to find tenants for empty properties.

He said one of the main issues was that many properties still had leases in place and therefore landlords had no incentive to find new tenants because they were already being paid.

However, Mr Carter said the situation was not as simple as that.

‘Putting a tax on an empty shop and asking the landlord to pay is not going to help anybody,’ he said. ‘Most of the time it isn’t the landlord who is leaving his shop empty.

‘In the majority of cases, like Next, there are leases still in place and the landlord hasn’t the control or the desire, as he, as landlord, is already getting the rent.

‘The problem is that we have a lack of retail occupiers who want to come to the Island due to other factors and also the Queen Street end of town has seen a massive shift in footfall over the last 12 months, with the IFC and other office buildings moving to the Esplanade. Plus, we need to provide more free parking for shoppers or park-and-ride services.’

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He added: ‘Retailers themselves need to do more to attract customers and most of them are doing what they can, but unfortunately internet shopping is so easy – not only for buying but for returning goods as well.

‘Rents are too high, with not enough interest from new or existing retailers to take shops and trade. The level of retail enquiries are very low or specifically targeted to certain size and rents.’

His comments follow a similarly themed response to the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel’s review of the challenges faced by the Island’s retail sector.

In his letter to the panel, Mr Carter gives seven suggestions that could be used to stimulate the retail sector in Jersey.

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They are:

  • Level the playing field by charging GST on all internet purchases.
  • Create more public parking.
  • Provide more on-street parking.
  • Make parking free, especially at weekends.
  • Set up park-and-ride schemes.
  • Allow retailers to determine opening hours, for example, so people can shop after work.
  • Allow Sunday trading for all shops.
Lucy Stephenson

By Lucy Stephenson
author

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