Norfolk’s beleaguered high streets could receive a shot in the arm after the chancellor announced a raft of business rates discounts to help retailers.

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During yesterday’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne revealed plans to offer small firms a £1,000 discount on their business rates on top of a cap on future rate increases at 2pc. And to encourage the take up of vacant town centre shops, he unveiled a new reoccupation relief, which will halve the rates for new occupants if the premises have been empty for a year or more. The move could benefit high streets in Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn, and Lowestoft in Suffolk, which have a string of empty shops that qualify for the scheme, a commercial property specialist said.

But Norwich City Council said further investigations would have to be made to assess whether the measures would hit the council’s coffers.

Mr Osborne told the House of Commons: “Business rates impose a heavy burden on businesses of all sizes. Today, we will help ease that burden.”

Adrian Fennel, partner responsible for retail and leisure at Roche Chartered Surveyors, said: “These announcements will be a significant help, and I am very encouraged, but whether it is enough for towns that have been neglected for a long time is another matter. In Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Lowestoft, there is a significant number of properties that have been left vacant for a year or more, then in the next layer of market towns – the likes of Dereham, Fakenham and North Walsham– also have shops that have been empty for at least a year.

“But it is going to take more than just a shot in the arm to fill these premises. 18 months will help kick-start the new shops, but they will have to have a very sustainable business thereafter when they have to pay the full amount.”

The £1,000 business rates discount will apply to retail premises, including pubs, cafes and restaurants, with a rateable value of up to £50,000.

And there was a two per cent cap on the Retail Price Index increase to rates, while small business rates relief was extended until April 2015 and the rules surrounding the relief were relaxed to aid expanding firms.

However, Stefan Gurney, executive director at Norwich Business Improvement District, said the announcements have not got to the heart of the issue, and will bring little benefit to Norwich. In Norwich empty shops is not an issues, because vacancy rates are down to 5.5pc,” he said. “This is a sticky-plaster approach by the government because they realise it needs to be looked at, but what businesses really need is a full rates review.”




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