Cheshire council's £600,000 rates bill for empty shops
A Cheshire council has had to pay the government a business rates bill of more than £600,000 for empty units in a shopping centre which is 75% unoccupied, it has been revealed.
Ten units at Weaver Square in Northwich are being demolished to cut the bill.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has paid the government £646,556 in business rates on empty units there since it bought the site in 2014.
The council has lodged an appeal with the Valuation Office Agency.
Thirty of Weaver Square's 40 units are empty, the council confirmed.
The council said demolishing 10 of the units would "remove significant financial liability for the council in terms of backlog maintenance and business rates, whilst also preparing the site for future development".
'Changing shopping habits'
"Changing shopping habits" has meant the centre has suffered and will be redeveloped, the council has said.
Long-term proposals were unveiled last year to replace it with housing, a hub for public services and a smaller number of shops. The plans have not yet been finalised.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request from the BBC, the council said it had a "legal obligation" to pay business rates on the units.
It is awaiting the outcome of an appeal against its bill lodged "in recent months", it added.
The complex was bought by the council in 2014, two years after a previous owner creased trading.
Business rates are a tax on properties used for business, set by the government. They are collected by the local council, which sends the majority of each bill to the government.
The council's total bill for the units was £997,556 but recent rule changes meant it was allowed to retain £351,000.
A spokesman for the Valuation Office Agency said it could not comment on "identifiable businesses".