WREXHAM could become a ‘ghost town’ unless business rates are reviewed, it has been warned.

It comes as a group of councillors have demanded a radical overhaul of town centre business rates to kick-start the area’s economy.

Wrexham has a number of empty shops and was hit towards the end of last year by the withdrawal of several major high street retailers from the flagship Eagles Meadow shopping centre.

Meanwhile, small business owners are also said to be struggling with the financial burden.

Cllr Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru’s group leader, said the main complaints from local shopkeepers included the high cost of business rates.

He and his colleagues are now asking the Welsh Government and Valuation Office Agency to review all property values.

The Leader:

Plaid Cymru group leader Marc Jones

Cllr Jones, who represents a large part of the town centre, said: “Small businesses and landlords alike complain that business rates in the town centre are out of all proportion to the footfall and income generated in that area.

“This is largely due to changing shopping habits, with people spending more online, in out-of-town shopping centres and the large supermarkets.

“Despite this, shops in the traditional town centre and high street are still being clobbered with premium rateable values and therefore higher-than-necessary rates.

“Our call is simple – for Welsh town centres to be given a kickstart by ensuring business rates better reflect the radical changes in our shopping habits.

“If we don’t make that change, our high streets will become ghost towns.”

The Welsh Government has launched a £23 million fund over the next two years to enable councils to reduce rates for businesses by up to £2,500.

However, while Cllr Jones described it as ‘a small step in the right direction’, he said it did not address the fundamental shift in shopping habits.

In response to his comments, a spokesperson for the Cardiff Bay administration said the funding was in addition to the £210 million it provides every year to support businesses with their non-domestic rates bills.

They said: “We are committed to supporting businesses in Wales.

“More than three quarters of ratepayers in Wales receive support and more than half of business pay no rates at all.

“We are also exploring a number of options to strengthen the non-domestic rates system in Wales.

“In October we published plans to develop non domestic rates, including proposals to tackle fraud and avoidance; changes to the frequency of revaluations and a review of the appeals system.

“We have already made a number of short-term changes to develop a bespoke Welsh non domestic rates system, including placing our small business rates relief scheme on a permanent footing; changing the basis for uprating the multiplier, consulting on improvements to the administration of rates and bringing forward the next non-domestic rates revaluation in Wales.”