A blight on any town are boarded up and obviously defunct shops, with all of the sense of failure and decline they carry and present.
The issue of empty shop units in Oban is high on the agenda of the town’s proposed new Business Improvement District (BID).
BID co-ordinator Pauline Cameron emphasises that there is provision in the Business Plan not only for the BID itself to work on minimizing the impact of empty shop units but also for it to take on a co-ordinating role for other organisations in dealing with the problem.
Speaking after the matter was raised with her last week, she says:
‘The BID’s vision is to create a vibrant and vital town centre. Empty shop units clearly don’t contribute towards achieving that.
‘Right from the start the Steering Group wanted this issue to feature in the Business Plan, and it does. We all understand the negative impact of empty shops on Oban’s trading environment, and the BID will do all it can to tackle the situation.’
If the ballot is successful and the BID gets the go-ahead, it will address empty shop units in two main ways.
Firstly, the Business Plan allocates £14,000 towards window displays and window cleaning for empty shop frontage. The BID company will work with property owners and their estate agents to make the vacant premises as attractive as possible.
The BID would co-ordinate available window space and parties seeking to use it and ensure the proposed displays are of a type and quality to meet the requirements of the scheme. It would also work with the Council to ensure that any temporary use would not be sufficient to trigger a claim that the premises were now occupied and therefore fully rateable.
Then the BID would seek to facilitate dialogue with property owners on the temporary use of shops by community and/or art groups – or indeed by commercial operations. This second way in which the BID would tackle empty shop units is pro-actively encouraging the uptake of vacant premises by acting as a first port of call for all enquiries on the availability of commercial property within the area.
The BID would host an ‘Oban commercial properties’ database on its website, which would include vacant properties’ addresses, available space, rates and estate agent contact details.
Pauline Cameron says:
‘Feedback suggests that having all this information in one place would be a great help to new or re-locating businesses, and similar databases have worked well in other BID areas.
‘Obviously none of our plans can proceed until a successful ballot is secured and a BID Company established. However, while the ballot process is ongoing we are looking to see how we might improve the visual impact of several empty units in the short term.’
Confirmation of the BID’s intention to tackle the issue of empty shop units was welcomed by Argyll and Bute’s Lead Councillor for Oban, Lorn and the Isles, Louise Glen-Lee, saying:
‘The Business Plan was drawn up after lengthy consultation with potential Levy-payers in order to ensure that it targets those areas which matter most to the local business community.
‘I am delighted that – as a result – the BID promises to lead the way on improving Oban’s economy through a practical approach to addressing the real issues facing our town, such as empty shop units.
‘I very much hope that the ballot is successful and that this work can get off the ground as soon as possible.’