Rates plan

Union Street group offers firms ‘generous’ benefits

Bob Keiller: ‘Rarely a better time for this’

Businesses are being lured to Aberdeen’s flagging Union Street with a package of incentives described as the most generous anywhere in the UK.

New occupiers taking on long-term vacant units will benefit from up to two years rent and business rate free under a support package drawn-up by the Our Union Street group.

Grants of up to £35,000 are also being offered to incoming businesses to restore the Granite Mile to its former glory.

The community-led Our Union Street organisation, led by entrepreneur and former FTSE 100 chief executive Bob Keiller, was set-up in March to arrest soaring vacancy rates and plummeting footfall.

Since then, the group has received more than 10,000 ideas from the public and engaged with hundreds of local groups and organisations to plot a new future for the street.

Five key action areas will be published next month, but ahead of the launch the group has secured private funding to incentivise new businesses to join the city centre renaissance.

How the packages will be structured

Of the 43 vacant units on Union Street, all but two are eligible for Fresh Start Relief, which gives the occupier a 12-month period without having to pay business rates.

Those grants will be topped up to two years, funded by Our Union Street, on eligible units where landlords agree to offer the equivalent of two years’ rent free.

Taken together, this would give a new occupiers 24-months within a tenancy to establish their business without having to pay rent or rates.

The support will supplement a new £500,000 Empty Shops Grant Scheme being provided by Aberdeen City Council between now and 2025.

The scheme offers grant awards of up to 50% of project costs, up to £35,000, towards eligible physical works required for internal reconfiguration of vacant shops on Union Street to enable reoccupation by new businesses and tenants.  

Local companies are also rallying around the plans by offering additional sweeteners, including marketing support and free internet supply.

Mr Keiller said he believes the collective package on offer now ranks as one of the best anywhere in the UK.

‘Bringing sparkle back’

He said: “We’ve spent several months listening to what the city wants – and people unanimously want to see the units which line Union Street brought back to life with new occupiers.

“We want to attract and incubate a vibrant new set of businesses to bring footfall, excitement and sparkle back to the Granite Mile.

“To do this, we need to create an environment which is attractive to the best emerging entrepreneurs both locally and nationally – one which takes the risk out of the high street and allows firms time to find their feet.

“We believe the package put together here will catch the eye of business owners across the UK and we look forward with working with local landlords and property agents to create new beginnings for multiple businesses on our high street.”

Never a better time

Mr Keiller said there has rarely been a better time to locate on Union Street after a dramatic downward shift in rateable values.

He added: “One of the misconceptions we’ve observed is people think it is expensive to locate on Union Street. However, the reality is very different following the most recent rates revaluation, which has seen the rateable value of many premises fall by more than a third.

“Aberdeen City Council has also, uniquely among its peer cities, cut many vacant property reliefs from 100% to just 10%, meaning that the owners of vacant premises are now having to pay rates. This means that it is in a landlord’s interest to get deals done, which we believe will also bring rents down.

“Everyone has a part to play if we are to bring prosperity back to this street; we need landlords to be pragmatic about rentals, we need agents to be upfront about what units cost and how much can be saved, and we ultimately need to public to come out and support all of the brilliant businesses on Union Street both today and in the future.”

About Our Union Street

Our Union Street is a community-led, not-for-profit organisation which is seeking to restore pride and prosperity to Union Street, which sits at the heart of Aberdeen City Centre.

It has been set-up by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen City Council and Opportunity North East, with additional support from Shell, which recently relocated to the street.

AB15 Limited – owned and run by Bob Keiller and his business partner Derrick Thomson – is also funding the organisation, and both businessmen have committed to running the organisation free of charge.

Our Union Street has its headquarters in Union Terrace Gardens, from which it will soon co-ordinate a volunteer-led clean up of the street, alongside a strategic marketing effort to attract new businesses and projects to the street.

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