Colchester Borough Council has paid £600,000 in Business Rates for its empty commercial properties, with some properties vacant for more than a decade. Local man Ben Locker sent a freedom of information request to the council and was shocked at what he found out.
Three public toilet sites have been closed for more than three years, with two of them closed for more than ten years, at a cost of over £5,000 per year. They have so far wasted a combined £26,000. Four empty warehouses and a transit shed have cost the taxpayer nearly £96,000 and have all been empty for more than six years.
The cost to the taxpayer for this shameful waste of our money is £128, 760 per year in unnecessary Business Rates. Altogether, vacant commercial properties owned by Colchester Borough Council have cost us £602,800, and this figure is only expected to rise.
The council’s cabinet proposed a 1.97% council tax hike earlier this year. They have also come under heavy criticism from a diffuse coalition of elderly residents, concerned citizens, local activists and the opposition parties on the council, for their repeated attempts to close the £76,000 per year Abbots activity centre.
Prior to 2007, empty properties were exempt from Business Rates. But now all empty commercial and industrial properties are liable to pay tax. Where councils own the property, this means taxpayers can be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Clearly this is an outrageous state of affairs. Rather than continue to waste taxpayers money on unused commercial properties, the council should either make use of them or sell them to someone who can. And rather than taxing empty properties for engaging in their non-existent daily business, the Government ought to scrap empty property rates completely.