Port-based businesses face rates rise

FIRMS at East Anglian ports could be hit by massive business rate increases following a review of properties at 55 UK ports. A row has erupted at the port of Hull after businesses based there were faced with backdated bills to 2005 and large increases in their rates.

FIRMS at East Anglian ports could be hit by massive business rate increases following a review of properties at 55 UK ports.

A row has erupted at the port of Hull after businesses based there were faced with backdated bills to 2005 and large increases in their rates.

P&O Ferries, which said it faced a backdated bill at its Hull operation of £5million plus £2.4million for the current year, described the situation as “a sorry mess”.

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) said it would be writing to businesses at East Anglian ports at the beginning of next month to inform them of their assessments following the review, which is in the process of being completed. Ipswich, Felixstowe, Harwich and Lowestoft are among the 55 ports affected.


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But a VOA spokesman said it would be “premature for us to comment” on the possible effect of any changes that may occur locally.

It said not all businesses would see a change in their assessment, and that it depended on whether the occupation should have been separately assessed.

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“Following a review of ports, a number of instances were found where properties that should be separately assessed for rates were either not assessed, or were included in the overall port assessment,” a VOA spokesman explained.

“The VOA wrote to all operators in May 2006 explaining the review and requesting information to enable a detailed investigation of their particular circumstances.

“The VOA has now inspected all 55 large statutory ports and is in the process of reviewing which occupations warrant a separate assessment.

“Once the review is complete, any new assessments created will have a rating that will be effective from April 1, 2005 or the date at which any separate occupation was established if later than April 1, 2005.”

The Valuation Office, said it was “in the interests of fairness” that everyone is properly assessed for the payment of rates. The current rating lists were introduced on April 1, 2005, following a revaluation of all non-domestic property, it said.

A spokesman for Associated British Ports, which owns Ipswich and Lowestoft ports, said they were aware that the Valuation Office was undertaking a national review of the business rates levied on ports and their users.

“These charges are independently determined by the Valuation Office and ABP has no control over them. The instigation of these charges, the amounts and applicability, are clearly internal matters between the Valuation Office and the individual businesses that it has determined require separate assessment.

“ABP is obviously concerned about the possibility that these rating adjustments could lead to the loss of business at our ports. We have always maintained the position that the new charges should be both uniformly assessed and levied across all port simultaneously to ensure no competitive advantage can be gained from the process.”

Paul Davey, head of corporate affairs at Felixstowe port, which, like Harwich port, is owned by Hutchison Ports (UK) Ltd, said they it was too early to speculate on what effect the new valuations might have.

“Obviously, we are aware of the changes the Valuation Office is making,” he said.

“We are in contact with the Valuation Office and have been for some time over this, but it's too early to speculate on what the effect may be locally.”

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