TAXPAYERS are spending more than £100,000 a year on empty council-owned property in Colchester town centre.

As well as spending £80,000 a year on business rates on the former Keddies building, the council is also shelling out £23,000 a year on the former Jacks and a property in St Botolph’s Street.

Even though the buildings are empty, the council is still liable for the business rates, which the Government takes a share of.

Ron Levy, secretary of Colchester Retail Business Association (Corba), said the council needs to do more proactive in marketing its town centre premises unless they have a long-term use in mind.

“As we in the business community can see, there is not much being done about these properties,” said Mr Levy.

“It should not own properties like this unless they have a specific purpose for them in mind.

“If they do, and that might well be the case, they should come out and tell us all.”

He added: “I can’t help but feel if these properties were pushed by a commercial agent, there would probably be a tenant in them now.”

According to Corba figures, there are 745 shops in the town centre, 8.5 per cent, or 63, of which are vacant.

Colchester Council owns 25 shops in the town centre, two of which are empty, equating to an eight per cent vacancy rate. The national average is about 13 per cent.

Paul Smith, borough councillor responsible for business and resources said the figures show Colchester Council is actually a better landlord than private landlords in the town.

“To criticise the council’s performance when, statistically we are both above the national average and the Colchester average, is disappointing,” he said.

“Looking at the figures would suggest Colchester Council is doing a better job as a landlord than others in the town centre.”

He also said negotiations are under way to bring a new tenant into the St Botolph’s building, next to the Britannia car park.

That property has been empty since January, but it is understood the previous tenant did pay the business rates some time into the New Year. Its yearly business rate is £13,276.39.

Jacks went out of business in February, after 53 years in the town. Its yearly business rate is £9,916.77.

Keddies was bought in 2006 and has been empty since, except for 17 months when it was occupied by community group Slack Space.