Hollow Highstreets: Empty council-owned commercial properties

Introduction

This research looks at the number of commercial properties owned by local authorities that were vacant for either all or some of a 2 year period from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2017. The research includes information on what councils spent insuring, maintaining, refurbishing and providing security for their vacant non-residential properties.

Non-residential properties can include farms, schools and libraries. But they also include commercial properties such as shops and warehouses. This paper highlights that many local authorities are having to spend substantial sums of money to maintain empty properties for a potential future tenant or owner.

This paper cannot claim to provide a comprehensive representation of the scale of empty commercial properties across different local authorities. It does, however, provide an indication of those regions, counties and towns which are especially suffering from emptying high streets and abandoned warehouses, the upkeep of which is paid for by the taxpayer.

 

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Key findings

  • Between January 2016 and December 2017, at least 6,047 council-owned commercial properties were declared vacant for all or part of that time.
  • The total cost of providing security, insurance, maintenance and renovation of these properties was £74,022,381.
  • Insuring these properties cost at least £1,329,907. However, because so many properties are covered by council-wide group insurance policies, the true cost may be substantially higher than this figure suggests.
  • Security costs, which can vary from full-time monitoring or putting up security barriers to occasional check-ups on vacant properties, stood at £7,776,862. The cost of maintaining these properties meanwhile stood at £8,085,664.
  • The cost of renovating vacant commercial properties was £56,829,947. However, £51,086,616 of this figure was covered by just 11 properties. The most expensive renovation undertaken in the time period was of Aberdeen Art Gallery, which has been plagued by delays amid fears costs have spiralled beyond its £30 million budget. The delayed opening has reportedly cost Aberdeen city council hundreds of thousands in lost revenues alone.
  • The area of the UK with the highest number of vacant council-owned commercial properties was Scotland, at 1,146. The English region with the highest number of vacant properties was the East of England with 694.
  • Per person, Scotland and Wales are the areas with the highest number of empty commercial properties. Conversely, the areas with the least empty commercial properties per person are London and Northern Ireland.

 

Click here to read the report