Shops shut across England thanks to council taxes

September 05, 2012 12:17 PM

One in seven high street shops are now vacant says a new report. Some 10,000 shops have closed over the last two years thanks not only to the recession but a culture of rising charges from local councils, ranging from sky-high business rates to escalating parking fees. The suffering may be worse in the north of the country, with over 20% vacancy rates—that’s one in five shops empty—but that doesn’t help hard-pressed independent shop owners in the South West. Even in Salisbury, which reported a lower than average vacancy rate, there is discontent with how their council manages the high street.

Earlier this year, Lucinda Boddy, a local boutique owner, placed the following notice in her shop window: ‘Closing Down—Goodbye and thank you Salisbury—thank you for your business rates and parking charges—We are off to Lymington where independent shops thrive and there is no such thing as “Park & Ride” or “Parking Ambassadors”.’ She wanted to put the notice in the shop so local shoppers would know exactly her reasons for moving.

‘The parking has had a huge impact. They put the charges up a year ago and we genuinely noticed less people coming in. All my customers complained about it,’ says Boddy. ‘I know retail and High Street shops are suffering across the country in this economy, but the council are not helping us. If they carry on like this, they’ll just have an empty city that no one wants to go to.’

Weirdly, a Wiltshire council spokesman answered her concerns not by pledging a cut in taxes, but by increasing them! He said the local authority was ‘bringing forward proposals for a Business Improvement District, in which firms pay an additional tax or fee to fund upgrades in the area.’ Yet again, councils think they know better how to spend money than local business people.

The same is true in Bath where much loved independent shops have recently shut. The owner of fashion boutique Sassy & Boo in Green Street, who are moving out of the city centre, claimed that ‘Business rates in Bath are more than the whole rent in Tetbury.’  Nearby, On The Video Front says it has also been  ‘driven out by business rates.’

In the meantime, Gloucestershire County Council is ignoring all these warning signs and is appointing a private company to enforce parking charges across six district councils. ‘A single provider will improve the service for customers and save money for all councils,’ says a spokesman. But, as we reported last week, many local traders fear a tougher parking regime will deter shoppers.

Another recent report reveals that the number of parking attendants employed by councils has risen by nearly 6% since 2008. At the same time, 57% of drivers say that parking in their nearest towns has become more difficult than in 2008, discouraging them from high street shopping and pushing them towards the free parking provided by out-of-town shopping centres.

At least, Bob Neill MP, who was until yesterday  Local Government Minister, gets it telling the BBC that ‘There are plenty of other ways for councils to raise extra income or make savings like better procurement and sharing back-office services. We want to see councils use parking to support the High Street and help their local shops prosper. That's why we have ended the last government’s requirements to limit spaces, push up parking charges and encourage aggressive parking enforcement.’

But the Local Government Association (LGA), representing councils in England and Wales, is still banging the same old drum that council parking charges are good for us. ‘With the number of cars on our roads increasing, it’s more crucial than ever that on-street parking is properly managed,’ says their vice-chairman. ‘Councils have worked hard to improve public transport and cycling provision to encourage more people to leave their car at home unless driving is essential.’ Clearly, the ideologically driven environmental war against cars will continue to torture local traders—and many more independent shops will fall vacant across the country as a result.

 One in seven high street shops are now vacant says a new report. Some 10,000 shops have closed over the last two years thanks not only to the recession but a culture of rising charges from local councils, ranging from sky-high business rates to escalating parking fees. The suffering may be worse in the north of the country, with over 20% vacancy rates—that’s one in five shops empty—but that doesn’t help hard-pressed independent shop owners in the South West. Even in Salisbury, which reported a lower than average vacancy rate, there is discontent with how their council manages the high street.

Earlier this year, Lucinda Boddy, a local boutique owner, placed the following notice in her shop window: ‘Closing Down—Goodbye and thank you Salisbury—thank you for your business rates and parking charges—We are off to Lymington where independent shops thrive and there is no such thing as “Park & Ride” or “Parking Ambassadors”.’ She wanted to put the notice in the shop so local shoppers would know exactly her reasons for moving.

‘The parking has had a huge impact. They put the charges up a year ago and we genuinely noticed less people coming in. All my customers complained about it,’ says Boddy. ‘I know retail and High Street shops are suffering across the country in this economy, but the council are not helping us. If they carry on like this, they’ll just have an empty city that no one wants to go to.’

Weirdly, a Wiltshire council spokesman answered her concerns not by pledging a cut in taxes, but by increasing them! He said the local authority was ‘bringing forward proposals for a Business Improvement District, in which firms pay an additional tax or fee to fund upgrades in the area.’ Yet again, councils think they know better how to spend money than local business people.

The same is true in Bath where much loved independent shops have recently shut. The owner of fashion boutique Sassy & Boo in Green Street, who are moving out of the city centre, claimed that ‘Business rates in Bath are more than the whole rent in Tetbury.’  Nearby, On The Video Front says it has also been  ‘driven out by business rates.’

In the meantime, Gloucestershire County Council is ignoring all these warning signs and is appointing a private company to enforce parking charges across six district councils. ‘A single provider will improve the service for customers and save money for all councils,’ says a spokesman. But, as we reported last week, many local traders fear a tougher parking regime will deter shoppers.

Another recent report reveals that the number of parking attendants employed by councils has risen by nearly 6% since 2008. At the same time, 57% of drivers say that parking in their nearest towns has become more difficult than in 2008, discouraging them from high street shopping and pushing them towards the free parking provided by out-of-town shopping centres.

At least, Bob Neill MP, who was until yesterday  Local Government Minister, gets it telling the BBC that ‘There are plenty of other ways for councils to raise extra income or make savings like better procurement and sharing back-office services. We want to see councils use parking to support the High Street and help their local shops prosper. That's why we have ended the last government’s requirements to limit spaces, push up parking charges and encourage aggressive parking enforcement.’

But the Local Government Association (LGA), representing councils in England and Wales, is still banging the same old drum that council parking charges are good for us. ‘With the number of cars on our roads increasing, it’s more crucial than ever that on-street parking is properly managed,’ says their vice-chairman. ‘Councils have worked hard to improve public transport and cycling provision to encourage more people to leave their car at home unless driving is essential.’ Clearly, the ideologically driven environmental war against cars will continue to torture local traders—and many more independent shops will fall vacant across the country as a result.

 

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