Renfrewshire Council

Council Leader calls on Scottish Government to protect listed buildings

Councillor Mark Macmillan, Leader of Renfrewshire Council, is calling on the Scottish Government to protect empty listed buildings by changing the rules on business rates and providing incentives for owners to bring them back into use.

Currently an owner doesn't have to pay business rates on a listed building if it's unoccupied.

Councillor Macmillan said, "The Scottish Government is reviewing the business rates system. I will be issuing an urgent invitation to the expert panel, that is conducting that review, to visit Paisley.

"Here in Renfrewshire we are rightly proud of our built heritage. Paisley has a higher proportion of listed buildings than anywhere else in Scotland except Edinburgh - there are 122 in the town centre alone. But that has its advantages and disadvantages.

"We are making full use of this heritage and it is a vital strand in our plans to regenerate both Paisley and Renfrewshire. We are also showing the way in terms of what can be achieved with empty listed buildings.

"The council, the Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland have jointly funded a £5million restoration of the Russell Institute. Formerly owned by the NHS, the Russell Institute is one of Paisley's most distinctive buildings.

"In spring 2017, Skills Development Scotland will become the anchor tenant when the building opens as a training and employability hub, bringing around 80 jobs into the town centre. Staff from the council's Invest in Renfrewshire programme - which tackles unemployment and boosts business - will also move in.

"Unfortunately, this positive outcome is not reflected in other listed buildings locally. Many of them are privately owned and have planning permission for redevelopment proposals but they sit empty year after year, becoming a target for vandals and progressively falling into decay.

"Many of the 76 vacant units in Paisley town centre have been empty for years and many are listed. The fabric of these buildings on the ground and upper floors is deteriorating. This has a damaging effect on the perception of these buildings, the town centre as a whole and the demand for these units. This is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue.

"I will be urging the Scottish Government to abolish the business rates exemption enjoyed by empty listed buildings - an exemption which was removed from empty industrial properties in April 2016. I will also be urging the Scottish Government to use Renfrewshire as a pilot local authority to test the impact of these proposals.

"We recognise that listed buildings are difficult and expensive to bring back into use and that owners need an incentive to act. That is why I am proposing a twin track approach. If owners have to pay business rates, then they will have a clear financial incentive to bring their empty buildings back into use.

"But owners can also be encouraged to invest in their properties by potentially offering them short-term relief on those business rates, possibly for the first six or 12 months of a new tenancy.

"The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the business rates system and we will be making our views clear and calling for prompt action."

The Scottish Government review is designed to help support business growth and long term investment and reflect changes in the retail and property market. The deadline for submissions is 7October. A report will be submitted to Ministers in July 2017.

The panel conducting the Business Rates review includes: former RBS executive, Ken Barclay, Nora Senior, Regional Chairman Weber Shandwick, Isobel d'Inverno, from law firm Brodies and Prof Russel Griggs, chairman of the Scottish government's regulatory review group. Ms Senior is also chairman of Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

Commercial properties don't have to pay business rates for the first three months that they are empty. After that they have to pay 90% of the business rates due. Empty industrial properties don't have to pay business rates for the first six months that they are empty. After that they have to pay 90% of the business rates due. Empty listed buildings don't have to pay business rates at all.

The Russell Institute was opened in 1927 and was gifted to Paisley Burgh by Miss Agnes Russell, who wanted it to be used as a child welfare clinic as a memorial to her two brothers.