It doesn’t take too long to spot an empty shop in Nottingham. A walk through the city centre reveals fake window-dressing or boarding on one out of every four shop fronts. But the level of other empty business properties is also proving to be a cause for concern.
A survey by the Local Data Company in February showed the city has the highest number of empty shops in the East Midlands at 23.6 per cent – more than eight points above the reported national average.
In addition, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 show the city holds 125 vacant commercial properties with a rateable value above £40,000. Meanwhile, Derby – a city four fifths the size of Nottingham – has almost half the number of vacant premises.
The list included 56 office properties, 24 large shop sites, 11 warehouses and eight factory buildings, while the most affected wards were Radford and Park, Bridge and St Anne’s.
Graham Chapman, deputy leader of the Council and portfolio-holder for resources, economic development and reputation, agreed the abundance of empty and outdated office space was a serious issue.
“I think that it is a problem – particularly if we are going to attract new people. What they are looking for is new office development,” he explained.
“Paradoxically the recession has meant a number of people have started businesses up, and some of that office space could be used for smaller firms and start-ups.
If the price was reasonable the space could be divided and let out to smaller businesses, as we have done with council-owned buildings.”
Another idea is to create student accommodation from converted office space, including Lawrence House in Talbot Street, Eastwood.
“There is currently quite a bit of interest in student lettings, and there are a number of applications for conversion to student halls,” he said.
“It is very beneficial because it deflates the student housing market in normal houses and gets students out of the three to four bedroom houses which are much more appropriate for families.”
He added that Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to lower the threshold for empty properties eligible to pay business rates would put further pressure on smaller businesses.
From April 21, commercial properties with a rateable value over £2,600 will be charged full rates after three months, while industrial properties will be charged after six.
John Dowson, head of policy and representation at Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The number of empty shops and offices is understandable given people’s responses to the recession. There is always going to be a proportion that are not utilised – whether in Nottingham or elsewhere.
“Having empty properties can attract new businesses, but it does create more of a negative impression of a city.”
In order to lessen the impact of nearly a quarter of the city’s shops being empty, the council has resorted to window-dressing vacant buildings – though some believe it sends out the wrong impression.
Natasha Johnson-Richards is the director and founder of not-for-profit IT training centre Go Digit All, in Bridgeway, The Meadows, which offers training, advice and outreach services to the unemployed.
Mrs Johnson-Richards said: “It is just cosmetics. Sometimes the council seems like it would rather leave a building empty than put it to good use. We have made planning applications for buildings in the Meadows that have been empty for more than eight years, but we have been turned down.”
“I think more should be done to allow charities and not-for-profit organisations to rent these places in stead of letting them go to waste.”
“It would also help people who are out of work to find employment.”
Regeneration of the city
Mr Chapman claimed the proposed redevelopments of both Broadmarsh and Victoria Centre – two of the city’s biggest shopping hubs – accounted for a number of the empty city-centre shops, as store spaces have not been replaced.
“We expect there will be quite a bit of hope for Nottingham in terms of interest for Victoria and Broadmarsh in redevelopment, and they will fill a lot of that empty property in the long run.”
The £500 million Broadmarsh redevelopment is being organised by property group Westfield, while the Capital Shopping Centres-owned Victoria Centre development will cost £200 million. The two projects will create 7,000 new jobs, and will both be finished by winter 2015.
Lorraine Baggs, Invest in Nottingham trade and investment manager, said: “We don’t feel that the city is in a period of stagnation and that there is some confidence in the commercial property market returning.
“The range of properties currently empty are an opportunity for the city as it does give us a good range of properties to target potential inward investors.
She said significant deals from the past year included bringing E.ON, Bonnington Plastics and Jamie’s Italian to the city.
A few of Nottingham’s highest rated empty commercial properties
Former HMV store
6 to 8, Wheeler Gate, city centre
Rateable value: £370,000
Liable: HMV UK
Taken over from Zavvi in February 2009, but closed in January as part of HMV’s first wave of nationwide closures after a disappointing Christmas. The retail giant holds on to another two stores in the city – though 40 stores will be closed this year.
Victoria Centre properties
Milton Street, city centre
Rateable value: £312,500
Liable: Victoria Centre Partnership
Four empty shop spaces as well as five floors of offices on Milton Street. Another shop space in the centre has been empty since February. Regeneration plans include a 200,000 sq ft department store and up to 50 new shops.
York House offices
Mansfield Road, city centre
Rateable value: £301,500
Liable: CSC Properties Investment
The headquarters for BBC East Midlands headquarters before becoming the home of Nottingham Trent’s journalism course until relocation to Chaucer Street last July. There are plans to demolish it as part of the Victoria Centre redevelopment.
Queen’s Drive, Bridge
Rateable value: £239,000
Liable: Davidsons Developments
A landmark building on the main route into the city. Previously occupied by BRB (Residuary), a Government-owned company looking after the interests of the disbanded British Railways Board.
* Nottingham City Council approved plans for an office project called the Portal to be built at Furlong House on June 22