Professor of real estate and regeneration Paul Greenhalgh writes how empty shops can affect the High Street.

If empty premises relief is going up, that would indicate that units that were previously occupied are becoming vacant. There is a three-month period, typically, where relief is provided and the local authority doesn’t receive any business rates from a unit like that.

So, on the face of it, that suggests a problem if those numbers go up.

From my research, the bigger potential problem is long-term vacancy.

Some vacancies might be due to businesses moving on, not closing down, they might be expanding and climbing the property ladder.

If that vacated property is then reabsorbed in the local economy that can be quite a positive thing. I think the problem is when the unit continues to be vacant, sometimes for months or even years.

That can start blighting an area.

You sometimes find you get to a tipping point where maybe if one in four shops in a shopping centre are vacant you can tolerate that but when half the shops are closed you start losing footfall and customers and then you’re on a slippery slope.

Paying rates on empty units after relief runs out is a "double whammy" for landlords, who are already losing out on rent and may resort to avoidance tactics.

The common avoidance tactics are quite legitimate, to rent the property to a charity or another not-for-profit group that may be exempt from paying rates.

Some other tactics are maybe more dubious. Empty properties can be let to paper companies that then only hang around for a few months and the company then releases the property again and that generates another three month relief period, and you can keep rotating that round like a carousel.