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Questions raised over Mercury Hotel rates

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By Christie Breen
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Questions raised over Mercury Hotel rates

MOFFAT’S derelict Mercury Inn has cost the town almost £1 million in missing business rates, it has been claimed.

Community councillor and Mercury campaigner Mick Barker has been on a mission to get action taken at the abandoned hotel, and has been looking into the handling of the site.

Mick presented his findings at Tuesday’s meeting of Moffat and District Community Council.

He has found that after the inn’s closure in 1999 it was bought by the Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) for £450,000 (the equivalent of £1 million in today’s economy). Ownership was subsequently transferred between two EWM companies in 2011, at a value then of £350,000 (£550,000 in today’s money), meaning that half of the building’s value dissipated in 12 years.

Mick also looked into the Mercury’s business rates, which he estimated based on similar sized hotels in Moffat and the condition of Mercury when it closed. And he believes that the inn’s rateable value per room, per year was £1400. The Mercury’s 58 rooms at £1400 a room equates to an overall rateable value of £81,200 per year. As the current rates charge is about 50p to the £1, then the actual rates bill they would have been charged by Dumfries and Galloway Council would be about £40,000 – and over the last 24 years that equates to a total of £960,000 in today’s money.

But the EWM and its subsidiaries have not paid these contributions as the council listed the site’s rateable value as zero in the years 2000, 2017 and 2023.

After presenting his findings, Mick said: “This is an absolute economic and social nonsense. Instead of charging them a surcharge on their business rates to discourage neglect, the council has reduced the owners’ bill to zero precisely because of the owners’ deliberate neglect of the building.

“By deploying this valuation strategy, the council has and is actually encouraging businesses to let buildings fall into disrepair.

“Meantime, Moffat’s other excellent hotels provide work for our residents, incentives and opportunities for tourism, invest in our infrastructure and return taxes to the council and government, and they, as well as us via our council tax, have ended up making up the charges that haven’t been levied against the Mercury.

“Whatever it is that’s required, whatever the way to do it is, we need the council to get on and do it, and not continuously demonstrate an ongoing lack of results, as it continues to do, day after day while these eyesores continue to blight the region.”

Responding, a spokesperson for the local authority said: “Dumfries and Galloway Council has been carrying out a range of activities regarding the Mercury Hotel in Moffat. This has included regular meetings with the Moffat and District Community Council, ongoing engagement with the property owners, and assessments of the building.

“The ultimate responsibility for maintaining the property sits with the building owners. We continue to engage with both the owner of the Mercury Hotel site, and the local Community Council, in an effort to enable resolution to the issue.

“Due to the complex nature of vacant and derelict land and property, responsibility for responding to, and acting on issues raised sits across council services. As part of the Vacant and Derelict Land and Property Strategy, an action plan has been put in place, with several milestones already achieved.

“A procedure for dealing with derelict sites has been finalised ahead of publication. This will be shared on the council’s new dedicated vacant and derelict land webpage, which has been created to provide information to local residents, community groups, potential developers and more.”

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