Long Melford: Business rates “crippling” independent shops

Richard Kemp

Richard Kemp - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Traders in a picturesque west Suffolk village are calling for help with business rates after it was revealed that some are paying more than store owners in nearby towns.

Apart from its history, Long Melford is renowned for it long high street lined with independent boutiques and niche businesses.

But some local shopkeepers believe they are getting a raw deal compared to towns such as Halstead in north Essex, which has a bigger population and a greater footfall.

A group of them have joined forces with local councillor Richard Kemp to organise a meeting with officers from Babergh and Mid Suffolk district authorities, and representatives from the Government’s valuation office which sets business rates.

Mr Kemp said: “Business rates aren’t imposed by the district councils but by national Government, which seems to have a system that doesn’t reflect in any way the financial capacity to pay them. At the moment, the only way to address the issue is via a drawn out appeals mechanism.

“People in Long Melford with small shops who have come from Sudbury or Halstead are paying more here for their rates and that is simply not fair.

“We have arranged to get them to come to talk to us about how we can encourage small businesses to become more viable.”

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Mr Kemp is a landlord with four commercial properties in the village. He added: “We do our bit by keeping the rents down to encourage people to thrive but some of the rates exceed the rents that we charge.”

Georgia Oakey who co-owns Evans gifts and interiors in Hall Street moved the business to the village two years ago. Her mother started Evans in Halstead in the 1970s.

Mrs Oakey said: “The Halstead shop had a much bigger frontage and square footage than this one so I was really surprised to find that the rates are higher here in Long Melford where there are a lot less chimney pots and footfall.

“It is a lovely village but we do feel like we are battling against the odds all the time.

“We are very proud to be a village that’s not full of multiples and we need to hold on to the individual businesses here.”

Mrs Oakey described the Government’s introduction of a £1,000 rate reduction for shops, pubs and restaurants with a rateable value below £50,000 for two years from April as a “short term measure” that does not address the long term issues with the rating system.

She added: “The bar has been set too high and it’s crippling the shop owners along the high street by doubling our outgoings.”

Another Long Melford business owner Sean Garnham of Nutmeg for Men had been in discussions with south Suffolk MP Tim Yeo about his rates before Mr Yeo was deselected.