A 'STEALTH tax' on empty buildings has led to Swindon Council demolishing one of its sites at a cost to the taxpayer of £430,000 ­ and it is unlikely to be the last.

The site of the former supermarket supply firm, Clare's Retail Equipment, is to be pulled down to avoid paying £110,000 a year in business rates.

From April this year business rate relief on empty properties was cut by the Government, on the basis that it would reduce rents and increase property supply.

But, according to Swindon Council's lead member for resources, the charge is forcing the council to use taxpayers' money on pulling down buildings.

Coun Nick Martin (Con, Shaw and Nine Elms said: "We are spending public money demolishing buildings to avoid this ill-thought out stealth tax.

"We set aside £430,000 in this year's budget for the destruction of one property."

And Coun Martin refused to rule out the possibility that other buildings would go the same way.

He said: "Clares won't be the only one."

Coun Martin also refused to rule out negative effects on Swindon's regeneration plans.

He said: "Swindon, like many other towns across the country, could suffer if regeneration projects are shelved as a result of this.

"We want MPs to take note and for the Government to urgently reapply the relief on empty property."

North Swindon MP, Michael Wills said: "It is a great shame that once again this council has decided to make a serious issue into a political stunt.

"If they really cared about the future of the town centre they would have contacted me about this issue.

"After all, I was responsible for approaching the Government to set up the New Swindon Company in the first place and getting the funding for it.

"It just proves that this council are not seriously interested in the long term future of the town, just political yah-boo."

Coun Martin denied he was making a political stance on the issue and said he was responding to a request to speak by the British Property Federation.

Peter James, chief executive of The New Swindon Company, said: "This will do nothing to help the regeneration of our towns and it simply puts another burden on developers.

"Sites have been demolished to make way for massive regeneration, but charging empty rates means that developments are likely to take even longer and will see smaller businesses face an even tougher time in the current climate."

Mr Wills said: "I am surprised that Peter James should lend his name to such destructive, ill-informed game-playing."