A MOVE to reduce empty retail premises in Weymouth and Portland has been welcomed by local business leaders.

Weymouth and Portland councillors have agreed to introduce a Business Rates Reoccupation Relief to try and encourage businesses to move into premises that have been empty for more than 12 months.

Out of 686 retail shops in Weymouth and Portland, 85 of them are currently empty, with 34 empty for over a year.

It is now hoped the new scheme will encourage new businesses to set up in the town and in turn lead to an increase in the amount of shoppers visiting the town.

Under the government-funded scheme, businesses that move into long-term vacant premises between April 1 and March 31 2016 will be given a 50 per cent discount on their rates for 18 months.

Julie Cleaver, president of the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce, said: “This could be excellent news for the regeneration of the Weymouth town centre and retail areas on Portland.

“Anything we can do as a borough to encourage the occupation of the empty units must be a good thing. “Vibrant, busy high streets are a trademark of English culture.

“We love to shop on the high street and we should do everything we can to ensure that our high streets revive and become vibrant again.”

The scheme is not available to all businesses, with betting shops, payday loan companies and pawn brokers being exempt.

The relief available for each property is 50 per cent of the business rates after any other discretionary reliefs have been applied, and will be automatically applied by the local billing authority. A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “The government wants to encourage thriving and diverse town centres and wants to see the number of vacant shops decrease.

“This relief is intended to encourage reoccupation of shops that have been empty for a long period of time and reward businesses that make this happen.”

Alistair Clarke, joint chairman of Weymouth BID, described the rate relief as fantastic.

Mr Clarke said: “The BID is focused on generating footfall within the town, getting more people on to the high street and into the town.

“Our whole focus is bringing people into the town and trying to make it as attractive as possible for the public when they are in it.

“From that point of view, this rate relief is fantastic. Anything that can bring more businesses to the town and help them settle in and be successful is great.”

For more information on the relief, contact the Business Rates Office which is shown on the rates bill.