‘Get rents right and we will fill the empty shops’

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LANDLORDS of empty shops in Bury St Edmunds have been told ‘get realistic with your rent and we will fill your shops’.

Gordon Ellis, director of Merrifields Chartered Surveyors, says there is a strong interest from retailers wanting to come to the town but landlords in some cases must be willing to accept that rental values have fallen to 2007 levels and below.

“I think if a landlord is realistic, then they will secure a tenant,” Mr Ellis said.

Mr Ellis also said he believed that Government changes, which mean landlords no longer get a 50 per cent rate concession on empty properties, is beginning to help.

“At the end of the day, who wants empty shops?” Mr Ellis said. “There are deals being done, it is just taking a little longer.”

He was speaking out after councillors and business leaders raised concerns about the number of empty shops in the area of The Buttermarket next to Brentgovel Street – despite a council report which showed Bury has a shop vacancy rate of just 6.9 per cent shop, compared to a national average of 12.7 per cent.

He said: “Every shop we put on the market, we have got interest in. We have offers on 8 Out Risbygate, 11 The Traverse, 46a Abbeygate Street, 47-48 Abbeygate Street, with several offers on some of these properties.

“Offers have been received on The Officers Club, a new planning application has been submitted for the Stead & Simpson shop and I am very confident that early interest will be shown in the Mothercare Unit. So while it may seem doom and gloom that some of these shops are empty, it is not through lack of demand.”

But he also warned that landlords and councillors should change their expectations in terms of the quality of tenant.

“The owners of the arc are very keen to keep a quality retail centre and as such discount retailers are being overlooked and these discount retailers – Poundland, Sports Direct for example – are now located on what was our prime retail area, which can now be argued to be a good secondary pitch. As the town centre has shifted, St Edmundsbury Borough Council and landlords need to change their thinking as to perhaps the quality of tenant and the level of rent that they may achieve in the future, and I believe this is especially so for the Brentgovel Street area.”

Despite this, he said enquires have been received from a range of businesses including confectioneries, restaurants, clothing and gift retailers, to estate agents and financial advisers.

n Barclays Bank has applied for planning permission to create a £2.5 million flagship branch by moving from Abbeygate Street to the former Top Shop site on Cornhill, Bury St Edmunds, while camping, ski and outdoor wear specialist Mountain Warehouse has applied to take on the former Stead and Simpson site next door.