The Director of City Regeneration and Development provided the Committee with an update on the programme of work which had been developed in response to the rise in the number of vacant properties across the city centre.
She reported that, given the range of global and local factors, a toolkit approach had been undertaken, which comprised a number of forms of intervention, that included a mix of grant support and Council-led or delivered projects.
She outlined the work which had been undertaken to develop the following strands:
· Retail and Leisure Performance Strategy;
· Matchmaking Service;
· Targeted Acquisition; and
· Capital Grant Pilot Programme – ‘Vacant to Vibrant’.
She explained that the Capital Grant Pilot Programme, ‘Vacant to Vibrant’, had been focussed within the city centre, to maximise its impact, with limited funding, and that, it had been proposed that property owners, businesses and organisations interested in renovating or repurposing a vacant space could apply for a grant and would be expected to contribute a minimum of ten percent match funding while also demonstrating quality assurance and clear commercial viability, which would be evidenced through a robust three-year business and financial plan.
She informed the Committee that the expression of interest process, which had been undertaken to gauge interest and to help shape the grant scheme and the level of support services which would be required, was still in the review stage and that an initial analysis of the responses received had indicated that the level of interest for the grant was likely to exceed the available funding of £700,000 over the identified two year period.
She summarised the findings from the Expression of Interest and reported that the process had also gathered information with regard to the demand for various forms of support for businesses seeking to occupy a vacant space and work had been ongoing to fully consider the range of support required.
She pointed out that the process had identified that access to capital was the most common challenge to occupying vacant space in the city centre, followed closely by rent and rates She asked the Committee to note that the ‘Back in Business’ scheme, which had recently been launched by the Minister for Finance, offering a 50% rates discount for up to two years for the occupation of a vacant shop unit, only applied to premises which were or had previously been used for retail purposes.
· Noted the update in relation to the overall Vacancy Programme, including data; the ‘matchmaking’ service to assist potential occupiers; a revised Retail & Leisure Performance Strategy; targeted acquisition and the ‘Vacant to Vibrant’ grant scheme;
· Noted the outcomes of the Expression of Interest regarding the proposed ‘Vacant to Vibrant’ pilot capital grant scheme, which included the potential demand for both capital funding and wrap around business support services;
· Noted that officers would continue to establish demand for the grant programme and the requirements for wrap around support services (for example, business plan preparation) and that a further report would be brought forward should additional services be required;
· Agreed that the grant application process would open in May / June 2022 and that further updates would be brought back to the Committee;
· Noted that officers would continue to explore other funding opportunities to support the capital grant programme, given the anticipated level of interest; and
· Noted the launch of the Department of Finance’s ‘Back in Business’ scheme offering businesses a 50% rates discount for up to two years if they occupy a vacant shop unit.