Report calls for action on rates to help rejuvenate Elgin town centre

A report on the health of Elgin Town Centre is calling for action from the Scottish Government in addressing the issue of property rateable values.

The ‘town centre health check’ study was undertaken earlier this year by Professor Cliff Hague, who is chairman of the built Environment Forum Scotland, and Gemma Wild, heritage and design officer with the Scottish Civic Trust (SCT).

In his report Professor Hague warns that Elgin is under pressure, pointing to vacancies among former retail units in the town centre that are particularly noticeable on secondary streets.

The report says: “Around the Plainstones upper levers are under-utilised and there is recognition among stakeholders that charity shops and bargain stores can give the centre a down-market feel.  Faced with the alternative of vacancy this is something they are prepared to live with.”

Professor Hague acknowledges the work of Elgin Bid and their ambitions for the town centre, but warns that some of the threats to progress originate from matters that are outwith their control.

His report goes on to commend Moray Council and other agencies but is calling for action from the Scottish Government, citing high rateable values in the town centre as something that discourages new business ventures.

The report came on the same day that Moray’s MSP, Richard Lochhead, commended plans by the Scottish Government to provide all local authorities, including Moray Council, greater opportunities to adjust business rates relief packages that would better suit local needs.

That plan will see the business rates system improved by making it more transparent and providing businesses with access to simple, clear information about rates and valuations.

Mr Lochhead said: “The Small Business Bonus Scheme remains an essential lifeline to companies in Moray where almost 2000 businesses have benefited from £2.3million in rates relief.

“This action plan will help in our continuing to deliver a rates system that supports sustainable economic growth and includes a proposal that would give Moray Council and other Scottish local authorities the power to set local rates reliefs so allowing them to respond to local needs.

“It underlines the commitment of the Scottish Government to retain the Small Business Bonus Scheme and to match anything that is available in other parts of the UK.

“The plan will retain all current exemption provision including those to key sectors such as agriculture which is vital in a rural community such as Moray, while there will be a review of the application processes for rates relief to ensure that they are simple, transparent and streamlined.

“I note also that COSLA see this plan as a positive step towards empowering our Councils to respond to local business needs and is very much in line with their own vision for Scottish Local Government.”