For retailers, unfair business rate valuations are immoral

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From: Stephen Simon, Property Consultant, Moortown, Leeds.

HAVING read Mary Portas’s report on the death of the High Street (Yorkshire Post, December 14), a number of points should be made.

Firstly, not to blame supermarkets and out of town shopping centres is wrong. Perhaps she should ask traders in Rotherham of the effect of Meadowhall on their trade or retailers in Altrincham of the effect of the Trafford Centre on their shops.

This is but to name two towns in the North of England. There are many more.

Regarding car parking, councils for years have been anti-car park friendly unlike out of town shopping centres and supermarkets where there is ample car parking.

More car parking should be provided in town centres, charges should be reduced and traffic wardens should be less aggressive when it comes to fining motorists.

While there are too many shops, there is a shortage of residential properties.

Perhaps landlords and councils should consider converting some of the empty commercial units into residential usage.

The advantages would be two fold.

Firstly, town centres would become more attractive and secondly, the population of town centres would increase and retailers would benefit from increased trade.

The problem with many town centres is there is not the right mix of tenants. For too long councils have granted planning permission for too many coffee shops, restaurants etc. This only dilutes the business that existing retailers have had over many years.

At the same time, we have seen the arrival of so called “German markets” at Christmas time. The poor suffering retailers who have paid their rent and rates for the rest of the year see their trade suffering at the busiest time of the year.

The next matter that needs to be addressed is the upward only rent reviews clauses which exist in tenants leases. Rents should be reviewed to the current market trading conditions at the time of reviews.

However my main bug bear is the business rating system. Every five years a new rating valuation comes into effect.

The previous valuation was in April 2005 based on rental levels as at April 1, 2003.

The current rateable value list came into effect on the April 1, 2010, based on rental levels as at April 1, 2008.

The problem with this system is that rents have substantially fallen since April 1, 2008, but businesses are stuck with rateable values based on historic rents. This is not just immoral but totally unfair.

Combined with the annual increase of the rate in the pound this is a double whammy. Appeals can be lodged on a material change of circumstances but the depressed economic climate are not grounds for a successful appeal in this country. I believe the system in Scotland is different.

One final point, has anybody considered how much money is taken out of the economy by the amount of lottery draws that are run by Camelot?

Two European draws a week, two National Lottery draws a week, three Thunderball draws a week and a daily five plus one draw. This has got out of hand and the amount of lottery draws must be limited.

To sum up, landlords, councils, planners and the government have got to get together to address some of the points I have made in this letter, otherwise town centres will slowly disappear just like Mary Portas’s report.