Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Margate and empty shops, a Midweek Ramble

 I guess the main local news item this week was that Margate has the most empty shops in the UK, which I guess means that despite The Turner Contemporary the viability of the town is getting worse and not better.

Running a bookshop in Ramsgate for the last 25 years I am only too aware of the problem, but don’t see a solution to the problem of closing retail shops. I guess the problem is worse in seaside towns where the decline started earlier, sometime in the 60s with the coming of the package holiday abroad.
 The problem is twofold at the moment, one part being that with most products there is a greater range and cheaper prices to had online, the other part being the knock on effect of having less shops open in a town, meaning fewer shoppers go there so the existing shops are less busy.

I only suffer from the latter in my bookshop as I look books up online when I price them now and make sure my prices are competitive.
 I would guess though the problem of goods being much cheaper online than they are in shops will cut through retailing in all locations changing our society, which for the last few hundred years has been people living clustered around shops, forming what we now call towns.

My guess is that the out of town shopping centre will be a fairly short-term aberration soon to be made unviable by the internet, the only real exception being places selling food and services like having a haircut. 
 In my area of expertise, the bookselling world, the other side of the coin is the new bookshop, shopping there has for the most part degenerated to going to Waterstones, browsing the books there, finding the one you want, pointing the camera of your iphone at the barcode on the back, pressing the buy it now button, leaving the often shop soiled copy in Waterstones and buying the book for much less that Waterstones hoped to sell it for.

As far as our town centres go, this raises the problem of what you do with the shop buildings, I guess the out of town shopping centres will eventually be bulldozed and returned to farmland.
 One solution here is to convert the shop buildings to residential buildings, I would say a wander around any UK town centre late on a Friday or Saturday night would be enough to show most people that living next to the pavement of a UK town centre, won’t exactly be a bed of roses.

One solution is to fill the resultant residential property with benefit claimants and people who have histories as bad tenants so have very limited options relating to where thy can live.
 The options for landlord of empty shop properties are outlined on various websites, this is an example

What they recommend is an interesting insight into some of the problems of empty shops.

5 tips for landlords on how to avoid tax on empty buildings

Here are some tips on how to get tax relief on your business rates:

1. Use a charity

As mentioned, leasing a shop or empty building to a charity can help you to avoid landlord tax in the thousands as charities pay no or reduced business rates.

2. Demolish the building

The reduced tax relief on business rates was nicknamed the “bomb-site Britain tax” as many landlords scrapped projects and demolished buildings to pay less tax when the levy was introduced. If the building is at the end of its useful life, this may be a way to avoid landlord tax.

3. Vandalism

Buildings that can no longer be occupied don’t pay business rates, but the ‘vandalism’ must be relatively dramatic. It can even include stripping a building back to its shell or taking the roof off. The other option to save landlord tax is to start redeveloping the building, but never finish it.

4. Intermittent occupation

Buildings that have been occupied for six weeks qualify for another three or six months’ tax relief from business rates when they are empty. To let landlords avoid tax, there are companies that are springing up which offer to occupy buildings on short-term leases. To pay less tax, the landlord will pay the tenant to occupy the building rather than the tenant pay rent to the landlord. 
 I guess here in Thanet we are all too familiar with developments that never seem to finish and buildings that get demolished and the sites just left. Seeing that some sort of act of vandalism could have financial advantages to the landlord puts an interesting perspective on property speculation.

I am rambling on here and may add some more thoughts as they occur to me.      

The pictures above come from the book I publish “Margate and Westgate With Birchington 1903-04” you can buy it online at

What you can’t do is buy in Margate as I can’t find a shop there to stock it, if anyone reading this runs a Margate shop I can offer reasonable trade terms and full sale or return.  
Looking at the picture above, click compulsively on it to make it big enough to read, I wonder what the famous Thanet Motorcycle was, I have never encountered one, has anyone else?  

Back to the problem of shops, you can have shop buildings selling food where there is no or little internet competition, you can have other businesses in them where the profit margin is very large, betting shops are a good example here, you can have something subsidised by charity or government grants.  

The problem though is that the main reason that people go to shopping centres is to buy goods at a reasonable price, the betting shops restaurants, barbers etc are there because the real shops are there, without them the shopping centres will die.

To get the real shops back into the shopping centres the expenses of being there have to be comparable to the expenses of selling goods online, that is rent rates insurance light heat etc. 

There is a very long way to go with this one, a tube of artists quality watercolour that costs me about £5.50 both in the local independent art shops and the multiples at Westwood Cross can be bought online at about £4 including postage. 


  1. I really think that High Streets days are numbered, and that the only "solution" is to go back to the pre-WW1 days when they were a mixture of residential and shops. This has been happening to villages for years (go through almost any village in Kent and you'll find a house called "the old post office") as (ironically) people went to towns such as Margate and Ramsgate instead, now it's the bigger towns that are feeling the pinch.

  2. So is that right Michael that despite the Turner Gallery Margate town centre is getting worse? Does that mean that the thousands of extra visitors are having their free entrance, buying a few cup cakes and then heading straight out of town? I know its costing £2 millions a year to keep going and we are in year 2 of 5 for this funding by KCC and the Arts Council but its not looking good after that. I cant see KCC saying that its been a £26 million pound failure though.
    I wait with interest the Portas pilot Margate programme.
    I also wonder if the £10 millions needed for Dreamland will also be a punt in the dark but I guess if that fails it will just become part of the housing development.

    1. You're wrong there, most of them don't bother with the cup cakes.

  3. As a resident of Cliftonville, my heart fills with horror at the thought of filling empty shops with bad tenants, etc.
    "To get the real shops back into the shopping centres the expenses of being there have to be comparable to the expenses of selling goods online, that is rent rates insurance light heat etc." is the only sensible option.
    An interesting read.

  4. I remember Ramsgate town centre when it was a thriving shopping area. People shopped there in their thousands; but then they had no alternative. Now they do. We have Westwood Cross with among other things its free parking and pedestrianisation; and we have the Internet which is convenient, permanently open and generally cheaper. I can recall my grandmother struggling up King St with a heavy basket of shopping, which she had collected after queuing in several shops. I know that she would have preferred the convenience of Westwood Cross or the Internet. Time moves on and things inexorably change. Online shopping will not go away and will prosper. As will the shopping centres as they grow become increasingly more like traffic free villages. The High Street has to change. Just how I do not know.

  5. A quick look at the KCC budget proposals suggests the £2m a year for the Turner Contemporary will be spared, despite council staff cuts, social care cuts etc etc. When will those responsible have the humility to admit they were wrong and accept that the huge expenditure has benefited no-one other than a gilded few?

  6. While it would be foolish to claim that Margate is thriving, it is massively improved on a few years ago. The old town, once deserted, is now mostly occupied. The lower part of the High Street remains a problem, but a wander up the road shows several shops planning redevelopment. Around on the sea front, several shops that have been empty for 10 years or more are coming back to life. I don't know if this is all down to Turner, or if it was the most efficient way of getting life to Margate, but it IS working. The only problem was that it was officially one of the least occupied shopping areas, so it has a long way to go. As has been mentioned above, free parking would help enormously. Chris

    1. The trouble is that most of these new shops don't sell every day goods that would entice shoppers back (correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the only place to buy fresh fruit and veg in Margate now is Morrisons!).

      I also think that Margate should be rebranded as "Margate and Cliftonville" (similar to Brighton and Hove), just so that TC visitors are aware there's more just up the hill from the old town.

  7. Most of the shops in the old town are just glorified junk shops that charge a bit more than elsewhere.

  8. it is so easy to park at out of town centres like Westwood cross but It is really difficult and expensive to to park in cliftonville broadstairs and margate. I think that free parking for up to an hour in these town centres would make a difference. Some people may think there is an ulterior motive in making it difficult to visit the shops in town....


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