THE owners of empty shops should be hit with higher business rates to get Barrow town centre moving again, a meeting has been told.

Hiking rates for the owners of empty shops could stop them standing empty for so long, according to Cllr Rory McClure.

His call follows new national laws which allows councils to triple council tax on any house left empty for several years.

Cllr McClure said the Government should consider extending that policy to business rates to stop a glut of empty shops.

He said any income generated could then be used to reduce business rates for those taking on a shop in a move which could revive the high street.

Cllr McClure said: “The high street is a concern, throughout Cumbria and not just Barrow. There are properties on the high street and not just in Barrow, which are standing empty for long, long periods of time. If we could then reduce business rates in any way to get people into the high street, that would help,” said Cllr McClure, the Conservative opposition leader on Barrow Council.

Barrow Council collects business rates – also called non-domestic rates - on behalf of the Government but does not set the figures. It collects £22.7 million on behalf of the Government but keeps £3.7 million which goes towards its £10 million-a-year budget for services.

Executive director Phil Huck said the council owned 10 town centre properties including the town hall, car parks and open spaces, but only two retail units. Mr Huck said: “Of the 10 we have only two are currently vacant, and in total the number of vacant properties we have represents two per cent of the vacancies in the town centre.” Mr Huck said it was a “complete urban myth,” that the council could control vacancies in the high street.

“Both agents selling properties and the people who own them, need to take more responsibility for ensuring those empty properties are properly looked after and marketed,” he said. The council has made the town centre a high priority and is drafting a town centre masterplan.