Bolton’s empty shops are costing the town more than £4 million in tax relief each year, as vacant business units now cost the taxpayer more than £1b in England and Wales.

Non-domestic properties are given a three month relief for business rates when they become empty to allow for investment in the space and to give landlords time to find a new tennant.

Some businesses can get extended empty property relief, with industrial premises exempt for an extra three months, and listed buildings exempt indefinitely.

A spokesperson for Bolton Council said: “The council is doing everything it can to bring empty premises in Bolton back into use and to encourage businesses to take them on.

“Things are moving in the right direction. There are lots of developments in the pipeline, through our £1.5 billion masterplan, which will transform Bolton town centre and attract both local and larger companies to open in our town.

“We are also working hard to transform our district centres - Farnworth town centre masterplan was approved last year and work is underway to develop plans for Horwich, Little Lever and Westhoughton.

“Having unused space in a town is not ideal but there are reasons for this. Sometimes properties can become unfit and expensive to bring back into use or could be awaiting demolition.

“Bolton also has a number of listed buildings, probably included in these figures. We also time and time again come up against the issue of absentee landlords.

“We have been using empty properties under our ownership creatively– both BHS and the Magistrates Court have been hubs for filming.”

The total tax relief for empty shops totalled £4.2 million in the most recent financial year, 3.9 per cent of the total business rates income.

Bolton has consistently seen a higher percentage of income from retail units lost to tax relief than average.

The North East has been hit the hardest over the last five years, with tax reliefs costing the area an average of 3.7 per cent, with the North West a close second losing out on 3.5 per cent.

However, not all of the potential income lost through this relief would be kept by the council – under current legislation, half of the rates collected go to the local authority, with the rest going back to the government

Business rates have been a controversial topic for many years, with retailers lobbying for the tax to be lightened.

Rates are the equivalent of council tax for businesses and are paid by shop-owners or, for empty properties, landlords.

Councils have been promised a greater share of business rates as grants from central government are cut, which has left them relying on the income even more.

Bolton is set to receive up to £25 million from the Town's Fund, targeted at transforming and reinvigorating town centres.