Council cash to help lift the shutters

Cllr Alistair Hunter says the move is "win, win, win" for the area.
Cllr Alistair Hunter says the move is "win, win, win" for the area.
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DERELICT and unsightly properties in Leven, Buckhaven and Methil are to be targeted in a new regeneration drive.

The amount of empty units in all three of the main Levenmouth areas is on the rise, but Fife Council is stepping in to halt the decline.

To help with this, grants are being offered as an incentive for vacant property owners or tenants of up to £5000.

The money can be used to improve the exterior of the property, carry out building work inside, market vacant properties as investment opportunities, help with legal costs associated with a possible change of use for the property or for the commission of architectural studies.

Members of the Levenmouth area committee heard of the scheme when they met at their monthly meeting in Buckhaven Community Centre on Wednesday where they approved a contribution of £25,000.

The council’s head of enterprise, planning and protective services, Keith Winter, said the average level of vacant units across the main town centres in Fife is at 15.13 per cent.

In Leven the figure has risen from 9.35 per cent in April 2011 to 10.22 per cent in 2012.

The main retail streets of Methil and Buckhaven have a vacancy rate of over 20 per cent.

Mr Winter said: “Without the scheme, the resilience of Leven town centre and the neighbourhood centres as service hubs in a changing and uncertain market will be reduced.

“The diversity of the local economy could be reduced.

“Levenmouth is likely to become less attractive from the perspective of potential investors.”

Although Leven, Methil and Buckhaven are the main areas of priority, the meeting heard that prominent and large vacant sites in the likes of Kennoway or Windygates will be considered for support.

Demand for help to address vacant property is expected to rise in the coming years so, in April of next year, the Scottish Government is set to change the rates relief available for empty, non-domestic property.

Currently commercial properties receive 100 per cent rates relief for the first three months they are empty, with a 50 per cent subsidy thereafter.

From 2013-14 the discount available after three months will drop to 10 per cent to encourage owners to find occupiers for their premises.

Councillor Andrew Rodger told the meeting he hoped the project would be sustainable in the long term.

He added: “We don’t need another shoe shop or a baker in Leven, we need a bit of diversity.

“It’s also important that people support their local shops in this area and don’t head to Kirkcaldy for something they can get here.

“Buy local, shop local and save a job.”

Fellow councillor, Alistair Hunter, said he felt the project was “win, win, win” for Levenmouth.

He added: “This will benefit our High Street and our communities and bring employment.

“The High Street could be full of people again which is a big deal.”

Government help for ‘fresh starts’

NATIONALLY the Scottish Government has grown concerned about the amount of empty commerical properties.

Plans to help bring empty high street units into use have been put forward by the minister for Local Government, Derek Mackay.

Under the proposals new occupants of shops or offices that have been empty for at least a year will be able to apply for a 50 per cent discount on their business rates for 12 months.

The ‘Fresh Start’ scheme hopes to rejuvenate high streets by helping owners and landlords fill empty properties as well as encouraging business start-ups by reducing business rates bills.

Mr Mackay said: “I want to see local high streets across Scotland thriving and empty properties brought back into use across the country.”

The new relief will begin on April 1, 2013.