Incentives for landlords: business rates relief

One of the more difficult aspects for empty spaces co-ordinators can be persuading landlords and developers of the benefits of allowing their properties to be used on a temporary basis, particularly for artistic or creative purposes, until a commercial tenant or buyer comes along.

An incentive for landlords participating in Bristol is the tax exemption available when their space is temporarily used while awaiting commercial use. In the UK, the Empty Properties Tax means that if a landlord leaves a property empty for more than six weeks they are required to pay business tax after that period.

But if they allow an eligible community or arts organisation to use the property on a temporary basis, they can pass on the business rates costs to that organisation which, in turn, can claim a business rates relief percentage. 

While other local governments in the UK have scaled systems of rates relief, in Bristol eligible arts organisations can claim the full 100% rate relief. Bristol City Council generously supports arts reuse projects by itself, paying the 25% of all relieved rates required to be submitted annually to central taxation revenue.

Ruth Essex would like to see another incentive for landlords that broadens the definition of a 'public art' contribution under the Planning Act.

Section 106 of the UK's Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the incoming Community Infrastructure Levy from the Planning Act 2008 allow local authorities to negotiate an agreement from a landowner to provide public services and infrastructure. While public art is not specifically highlighted, many local authorities have traditionally taken a 'percent for art' approach.

"If we can work with a more flexible definition of public art services or infrastructure in working with development sites, we could potentially maintain a supply of creative venues or workspaces that coexist with commercial spaces," Ruth Essex suggests. "That would be a huge benefit for the cultural development of our city and the artists who live here."