WINCHESTER City Council is aiming to help businesses with rate relief from mid-March, a meeting was told.

The Chancellor announced that he would be “cutting bills by one-third for shops with a rateable value below £51,000, benefitting up to 90 per cent of retail properties, for two years from April 2019, subject to state aid limits.”

Portfolio holder for finance Cllr Guy Ashton said if the council is given the details in time the relief would be in the bills sent out in March.

Cllr Ashton said; “Further guidance will be issued by government on how those properties are to be identified and how the relief will be calculated but we are expecting this scheme to be similar to the Retail Relief awarded in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

“It is our intention to award the relief automatically to ratepayers as identified by our business rates team, provided the government guidance allows it. This will eliminate the burden on ratepayers to apply for the relief and will reduce any delays which would be caused otherwise.”

It comes as a new report revealed high street shops around the country closed at a rate of around 14 a day in the first half of the year, while openings were down a third.

It added retailers are battling the worst trading conditions for five years, with the growth of internet shopping and business rates blamed for the challenging climate.

The rise of “in-home leisure” – people preferring to spend free time and entertain at home rather than go out and about – is also suspected of taking a bite out of earnings, according to the study of 500 high streets by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company.

Italian restaurants are said to have been particularly badly hit, while retailers such as Toys R Us and Maplin have gone to the wall.

Ministers have been urged to take action to help Britain’s beleaguered town centres, with experts warning the turmoil is “unlikely to abate”.