Unintended consequences of shops’ business rates relief – June 2017

We’re not alone in believing that the business rates relief on offer to high street charity
shops, and the threshold below which business rates are not paid, is distorting the
commercial property market. It’s a story that we hear from many landlords.
Larger shops are becoming harder to let, a situation affecting landlords in rural towns and
villages.
One hundred percent business rates relief only applies to properties with a rateable value
of less than £12,000 and then is tapered upwards on buildings with a rateable value of
£15,000.
That level of relief is a significant contributor to the viability of small, and especially, rural
businesses.
This gradation, well meant as it was, damages the prospects of small businesses, and
means that they struggle to make the shift into larger premises.
Several years ago, the then Chancellor, George Osborne introduced these rules to favour
small businesses.
At the time, of course, it was widely welcomed by the 600,000 smaller businesses it
affected: hairdressers, corner shops and small independent coffee shops across the land.
A further quarter of a million businesses received some tax relief.
But there have been unintended consequences as the rateable value of property has
increased. The step up from a property with a rateable value of over £15,000 is a big one.
As small businesses move to larger premises, a much greater proportion of their turnover
goes on tax.
At the time of the change, Dr Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:
“The Chancellor listened to our calls to avoid higher business taxes and costs, and moved
to lower them in a number of areas. He has finally taken real action to lessen the crushing
burden of business rates and sharpened incentives for entrepreneurship and investment.”
We believe that the unintended consequence has been to stifle growth and streets filled
with charity and coffee shops.
Charities occupying commercial property are entitled to 80 percent relief, provided the
premises are used wholly or mainly for charitable purposes. This is tremendously useful to
the sector, of course!
The unintended consequence is that other businesses are finding it hard to compete and
find it difficult to afford the rent and increased rates combined.
It penalises small businesses in larger high street retail premises, something that was
highlighted in a report carried out by Mary Portas some years ago.
In 2011 the Government commissioned her to conduct an independent review of how to
revive high streets. She recommended that the number of charity shops on each high
street should be limited and explained that tax relief on charities “builds a disadvantage
into the system… Landlords are choosing the safe option of charity shops and small new
retailers aren’t getting a look in”.
It is widely acknowledged that significant pressure on charities over recent years has
forced them to look at shops to boost their income. It is estimated that there are more than
10,000 across the UK, a number that has doubled in 20 years.
But they are distorting the market because of the tax benefits they receive.
We wouldn’t wish to penalise the charity sector, but the system of tax relief is now so
much out of balance in its favour that it is making life hard for both landlords who want to
let property and to small business that might want to move.
And of course, it does not necessarily follow that running a retail business from larger
premises makes you a bigger business. You could be selling big bulky items, such as
furniture or white goods, and still be a small business.
And the unfairness of this is that some of these smaller businesses have now been taken
out of rating altogether just because they are operating from smaller premises. Jewellers,
for example, can be turning over similar figures to furniture or white goods retailers, but
with greatly reduced overheads. Smaller businesses in larger premises also have to
complete with out of town retail outlets which are being charged at a lower rate per square
foot compaired to the High Street. These out of town retail outlets are often run by large
multiples which can absorb these overheads far more readily.
We would urge the new Government to look urgently at this matter, and see what they can
do to smooth the transition from non payment of business rates and allow small
businesses to trade on equal terms. Perhaps the answer is to increase the rates for out of
town stores and remove the rates for moderately larger premises

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When derelict buildings go to blazes – May 2017

The first May Bank Holiday weekend saw a major fire on the outskirts of Ipswich.
The crews of four fire engines fought a 14-hour battle to get a blaze under control in what is a built-up area off Hadleigh Road.
The crews were frustrated in their attempts by the number of needles and syringes littering the building.
We understand that the police aren’t – as yet – involved in the investigation process. But the number of needles on the site, and the story told by local residents, would lead anyone to believe it was being occupied – to some degree – for unacceptable purposes.
Nobody wins in a situation like this.
It’s a waste of important resources having to deal with a fire – even one that’s in a building that’s most likely earmarked for demolition. (The previous home of Manganese Bronze has been empty for some years and developers are seeking to building 128 houses and a 60 bed care home on the site. We understand that planning permission has yet to be granted by Ipswich Borough and Babergh District councils.)
Had the site been adequately protected and secured, trespass and resulting damage could well have been prevented. A regular inspection could have highlighted what was going on and steps could have been taken to remedy the situation, says our property management expert, Paul Keen.
He says that inevitably there are occasions when commercial property is empty. Sometimes it’s just for days between lettings, but often it can be for longer and then a building can become a magnet for trouble.
Paul said: “It’s often when landlords and land owners are not on the spot and only visit occasionally that issues arise. In our experience, it’s necessary to do regular checks and take immediate action. Damaged perimeter fencing and signs of break-in are the early signs that all is not well!
“While we’re very pleased to hear that nobody was injured, the story could so easily have been different. Incidents like this threaten life and cause serious concern to local neighbours, both business and residents.
“This building had obviously fallen into serious disrepair, but similar problems can arise even in newer and more commercially valuable premises. In such cases the outcome can be catastrophic with huge financial damage, let alone damage to business reputation and confidence.”

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New plans for Ipswich’s Cornhill unveiled April 2017

Plans for the regeneration of the hub of Ipswich’s town centre – the Cornhill – have now been revealed. Following a long consultation process, the views of the public and the experts have been taken into account and a new plan is on the table.
Plans to level the site have gone. In their place we’re promised an attractive water feature and four architectural columns to create a striking sculptural feature.
The project, which will cost approx £3million, is part of a wider initiative to kick-start the town’s economy. Completion of the Cornhill regeneration is planned for late 2018.
Ipswich’s Cornhill has been – at various times – the site of illustrious events, grisly killings and busy market days.
Previously home to a market cross and quite possibly an Anglo Saxon royal home, it’s been the site of livestock and corn markets, bull baiting and burning of martyrs. And it was where the town enthusiastically greeted its FA Cup winning football team back in 1978.
It’s overlooked by glorious civic and commercial architecture… the Town Hall, the old Post Office building, Lloyds Chambers and Grimwades, are gems of the Victorian era.
But these days, it just looks tired and unloved.
For sure, Ipswich has seen better days. Those of us who have lived and worked in Ipswich for decades have seen the town centre decline in recent years. Something’s gone badly wrong and change is long overdue.
Undoubtedly, the face of retailing is changing, thanks to internet shopping, recession and more. That was already happening when Sir Stuart Rose described the area as “depressing”. If anything the situation has become worse.
But some towns – and we only have to look 30 miles down the road to Bury St Edmunds to see it – have weathered that storm. Ipswich has not.
This announcement – and the exciting news that world-renowned architects are to design the Upper Orwell river crossings – suggest that something might be changing.
The bellwethers may well be two lovely buildings facing onto the Cornhill itself: the lovely old redbrick Grimwade building (on the corner of the Cornhill and Westgate Street) and the old Post Office building, which dates back to 1881. Both are in prime locations and crying out to be let on long leases.
Let’s hope that this exciting and bold new development is the catalyst for significant change.
We’ve talked about the need for change for quite long enough now.

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World class architects lined up to design Ipswich bridges – March 2017

The architectural practice headed by Sir Norman Foster, creator of some of the world’s most highly acclaimed modern buildings, has been appointed to design three bridges over the river Orwell in Ipswich.
It’s not the team’s first foray into the town. These were the people behind the world renowned Willis building (now Grade 1 listed), which – quite literally – reflects all the medieval buildings around it.
The competition, run by Suffolk County Council and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), invited entries from five leading architectural firms to design the three bridges.
The approaches from Foster & Partners were considered to have the potential to enhance Ipswich’s waterfront, as well as acting as a catalyst for regeneration of the wider harbour area.
The practice’s head of design, Spencer de Grey, has said that he sees the bridges in a wider urban context, creating new promenades and public spaces between the river front, inner harbour and island.
Foster & Partners has already a number of world-famous bridges to its credit, including the Millennium Bridge in London and the towering Millau Bridge in Provence.
Here at Penn Commercial, we’re delighted with the news. We’re totally in agreement with Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who’s said that the new Upper Orwell crossing is “one of the most important moments in Ipswich for many decades”.
Of course, its functional purpose is to link the east and west banks of the river, thereby relieving vehicle congestion, creating easier throughroutes for pedestrians and help to open up an island site for development as a new technology hub.
But equally, the ambitious plans for the three bridges and the appointment of a world class architectural practice say much about the town and how it sees its future.
And that is an important message for the people of Suffolk. Ipswich has ambition and the drive to take some of its ideas to fruition.
Much has been achieved along the Ipswich waterfront in recent years, but there’s still much to do. The University at the one end, the construction of quality apartments and offices, popular hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes, shops and the thriving marina are all testimony to the leisure, education and business potential of this part of the town.
It’s buzzing with life, thanks to the efforts of local business people and the borough council.
As for the new Upper Orwell crossing… It’s expensive – of course it is.
But the people of Ipswich, many of whom believe that they have been failed by successive councils, have seen their town fall behind its neighbours. They need to know that something is about to change.
Ipswich’s time is coming. Finally, something big is happening. The announcement that a world class architectural practice is to create iconic bridges for our town shouts that loud and clear.

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Small business rate relief is a game changer – December 2016

Every five years or so, the Government adjusts the value of business rates to reflect changes in the property market. It’s due to happen again in 2017 in England, Scotland and Wales. (There are no plans for Northern Ireland yet.)
But if you’re a small business operating from a relatively inexpensive property, April 2017 promises a welcome fillip.
Back in March the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that those occupying properties with a rateable value to £12,000 or less will pay no business rates.
Yes, you read it right!
The Government is permanently doubling SBRR (Small Business Rate Relief) from 50 percent to 100 percent and increasing the thresholds for payment. This’ll benefit a huge number of businesses across the UK.
Businesses with a property with a rateable value of £12,000 and below will receive 100 percent relief (previously 50 percent). This should benefit well over half a million small businesses and save them thousands of pounds a year.
There’ll be tapered relief for businesses with a property with a rateable value between £12,000 and £15,000, affecting a further 50,000 businesses.
Increasing the threshold for the standard business-rates multiplier to a rateable value of £51,000 will take a further 250,000 smaller properties out of the higher rate. This will reduce business rates for many small businesses – including many high-street shops.
So what does it mean for our local businesses?
While the biggest impact of rateable value changes is likely to be in London, where commercial (and indeed all) property prices continue to soar, the impact on our area is likely to be only positive.
It’s a very welcome counterbalance to the double whammy of increased minimum wage levels for staff and the impact of a weaker pound on imported goods.
We’re expecting that it will fuel demand for more small units and retail outlets, encouraging small business to grow and flourish, with fewer fixed overheads.

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As energy efficiency standards deadline approaches: are you ready? – October 2016

We don’t like to scaremonger but… If the property you own isn’t very energy efficient, then time is very definitely running out for you to sort it out!
The Energy Act of 2011 set out the demands: by April 2018 you will not be able to let commercial (or indeed residential) property with the lowest two ratings of EPC (F & G).
So, if you’ve not taken action so far, it’s time to make those changes. You’ve around 18 months left.
The implications of this legislation are significant and affect much of Britain’s older commercial property stock.
And it’s likely that when the new standards come into effect, it’ll only be a short while before the ladder is pulled up even further. This means that it’s absolutely essential that, if your properties are not energy-efficient, that you take urgent steps to remedy the situation.
Failure to do so could render your buildings impossible to let and have a serious impact on their resale value too.
Trading Standards Officers will be enforcing the rules and it’s looking like non-compliance could lead to some serious fines, although – and it’s not clear quite where – there may be some exemptions. One might imagine that could apply to listed buildings for instance.
So, what now if you’re not sure your buildings are compliant?
Firstly, you need to make sure you have a current EPC rating certificate. That’s something we can organise for you very quickly through our energy consultants.
Should your property be found to fall short of the necessary standard, then you need to take urgent action. And again we can help with advice on all aspects.
Maybe some urgent building work needs to be done, and we can help you work out what’s best to achieve the standards required and how to make it happen quickly and cost effectively.
Don’t delay… there’s still time but it is running out!
We can also help you access any government funding that could mitigate the costs and then manage the works for you, so that minimal disruption is caused to you and your tenants.

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Priory House, Friars Bridge Rd, Ipswich: 5 storey office building to let/for sale – August 2016

An attractive and modern building, offering 5 floors of accommodation plus onsite car parking, in the heart of Ipswich’s commercial district is to let from £7.50 per sq ft or for sale through Penn Commercial.
No 2 Friars Bridge Road, now known as Priory House, was previously the Ipswich headquarters of insurance company, Legal & General. It was built in 1990 and is an attractive and functional office space with 22,602 sq ft of space ranged over five floors, which could be set separately or as a whole.
Vanessa Penn of Penn Commercial said: “This is predominantly open plan accommodation, fitted to a very high specification with raised floors, suspended ceilings, recessed lighting, central heating and comfort cooling. The owners are offering full or partial refurbishment to tenants’ specifications as an option.
“The building has two eight-person lifts, toilet facilities on each floor and 19 car spaces in a covered and secured gated underground car park. There is ample council owned car parking within just yards.
“There are four principle office floors, plus a newly refurbished reception area and small office suite at ground level. These four office floors provide good working space with plenty of natural light. They are of similar size – around 5,500 sq ft – although the fourth floor is slightly smaller at just 4,329 sq ft,” she said.
The building is on the corner of Princes Street and Friars Bridge Road, at the heart of the town’s principle office area, and just a short walk from town centre, railway station as well as Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council headquarters.
Neighbouring occupiers include AXA, Willis PLC and Suffolk Life Group. Publishers, Archant, are shortly to be moving to a nearby building and legal firm, Birketts PLC, will soon be moving into new purpose built offices along Princes Street. Further commercial developments are in the pipeline for this area, which adjoins both commercial and administrative quarters of the town.
Individual floors are available to let from £7.50 per sq ft of flexible lease terms.
…ends
For further information please contact:
Vanessa Penn, Penn Commercial, Suite C, Orwell House, Fox’s Marina, The Strand, Ipswich IP2 8NJ. Email: vanessa@penncommercial.co.uk
Tel: 01473 211933.

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Brexit: I wasn’t expecting that… July 2016

The news we woke up to on June 24th was not what most expected. It means that the summer of 2016 will be the subject of history books and analysis for years to come.
Whatever the outcome, whatever our personal views and business reasons for voting one way or another, a seismic shift has already occurred. Within days we had a new prime minister, a new chancellor and – for better or worse – we are facing a future outside the EU.
And life still goes on!
Inevitably there was caution leading up to the referendum. And it’s not surprising that we’re feeling a bit shaken by the outcome. Markets don’t like significant and unexpected change and immediate reaction was uncertainty and the borrowing atmosphere was distinctly chilly.
But it’s thawing now.
This week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest a growth in the UK economy of 0.6 percent in the three months running up to the end of June – higher growth than expected, even by the Bank of England.
Of course, the figures relate to the period leading up to the referendum and it would be foolish to suggest that we can predict the future on that basis alone.
Some commercial property agents saw deals being shelved or cancelled as a result of Brexit. We saw only one such example. There are reports of property being dumped in London, but the market is very different there.
For us, since the early part of July business has been brisk. We’ve seen Amazon take on a huge logistics/warehouse site in Norwich, a variety of business units have been let locally and the sale of land at Orwell Crossing has gone through. We’re seeing very real interest in the Harris Business Park in Ipswich and the Whisstocks development in Woodbridge.
But to return to the national picture… the new Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, believes that the UK is in a strong position for the future, although admitted to the BBC’s economics editor, Kamal Ahmed, that it was “far too early to say how the economy is responding”. It’s a sentiment that was echoed by the British Chambers of Commerce. Common sense suggests they’re absolutely right.
We should remember two things though:
Firstly that the news as yet presents a mixed picture – by no means the doom and gloom forecast by Mr Osborne et al. While the pound has fallen in value, there are signs it is recovering. As are share prices. Lloyds Bank is today blaming bank closures on Brexit, which may be a convenient excuse! Alongside that has comes news – just days ago – of GlaxoSmithKline’s £275 million investment in the UK, despite its pre-referendum warnings that it might not happen.
Secondly we mustn’t make the mistake of talking ourselves into recession. Currently confidence is strong. And we mustn’t let ourselves be frightened or fail to take advantage of the very real opportunities out there. A weaker pound brings its benefits, and many more international markets are open to us.
It may be that people will sit on their hands until things become clearer. Reducing interest rates, as far as that is possible, may well have a positive impact on my own industry. But it must be remembered that property investment is a long game.
My view is that we will see short term pain, but before too long we will see Britain – and my own commercial property industry – bounce back.
And strongly!

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Ipswich: a town for all seasons – June 2016

Let it be said, first and foremost, that I like Ipswich.
Fair enough, many people complain about its lack of decent shops, a lack of joined up thinking about connecting town centre with waterfront, and the disastrous thinking of the 1970s that saw wonderful old buildings and streets destroyed, all in the name of progress.
But there’s a lot to appreciate at the same time. I believe that Ipswich has some of the finest parks and gardens in the UK. (It’s a shame that nobody has thought to connect them up with walking trails, and market them as such, but there you go, but you could apply the same thinking to a lot of the town’s assets.)
It’s got some wonderful old buildings. The Ancient House is one of many Ipswich sites where gloriously spooky paranormal sightings have been reported! The spooky ghost walk that you can book via the Tourist Info Office is a wonderful experience.
But if seeking out diaphanous ladies in grey isn’t your scene, then we’ve got wonderful restaurants too. OK, no Michelin stars, but for a great meal in lovely surroundings, you’re spoilt for choice. The marina is particularly attractive, especially on a summer’s evening, and a trip downriver on one of the commercial boat trips is a delight, whatever the time of year.
Of course, a preponderance of coffee shops isn’t everyone’s idea of a good town centre. But we have all the national chains, as well some gems – really good small independents with real character and charm.
Many of the smaller streets have some charming little retail outlets. You can happily while away your day drifting from interesting shops, to historic buildings, such as the wonderful Christchurch Mansion, and see any number of interesting sculptures celebrating the town’s colourful past.
So, it’s my belief that we shouldn’t get too downhearted about recent hard times. Yes, we’re shortly going to be losing BHS, which occupies a very central position in the town centre (but that’s going to happen to every town centre across the land).
But we’ve got a huge new cinema complex arriving and a bevy of new restaurants to fill the adjacent properties. We’ve got Jack Wills to be moving into the lovely old Croydons’ building (it’ll always be that to me, regardless of who occupies it!)
University Campus Suffolk is being given university status in its own right, and space is being cleared on the old Archant site to make way for further development connecting town centre to waterfront.
Ipswich will long continue to be special. Not as we’ve known it in the past, because the days of the large independent shops like Grimwades, Footmans and Corders have long since gone.
But there is a future, and it’s a bright one.
Talking to a business contact recently who has just returned from a road trip of the United States reminded me that we’re not in danger of going the way of America’s soulless retail model.

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Ipswich’s Mint Quarter is no longer flavour of the decade(s) February 2016

The Cloisters, the Mint Quarter, call it what you will.
Plans for a massive redevelopment of the area of Ipswich bounded by Upper Brook Street, Carr Street and Tacket Street are now dead as the dodo.
It must be 20 years ago that retail property all around was bought up by NCP for regeneration of the eastern end of the town centre. But the huge national car park company is now setting about selling off some of its assets.
The future of the site is now uncertain but, bearing in mind NCP’s core business, more car parking of the high rise variety, is surely a possibility! Since the demolition of Crown Street’s multi-storey it’s been in shorter supply (and the possible closure of the town’s remaining Park & Ride services isn’t going to help on that front!)
But while the Mint Quarter is no more, happily, there is good news on the development front elsewhere in the town.
The Ipswich Vision, published last year, seems to have inspired developers, builders and businesses in general that Ipswich is on the up.
The Civic Quarter, Westgate Quarter, Education Quarter, Waterfront and more are all an integral part of the town’s regeneration plan. Work is progressing, albeit slowly, to turn the town around after a decade of steady decline.
The planned movement of Archant from its site in Lower Brook Street to newer and more appropriately sized premises on the junction of Princes Street and Portman Road will create new opportunities on the vacant site.
A mixed use development here will link town centre with waterfront, a necessity if the town is to capitalise on the success that can be seen in places alongside the river.
The much criticised retail offering in Ipswich can hopefully be turned around, and we’d encourage developers to look at providing the decent sized units that the big chains actually require.
So while we can wave farewell to the dream that was the Mint Quarter, we can also look forward to the future of Ipswich with some confidence as work on so many other areas begins.
We’ve a lot to be optimistic about!

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