Traders' fury at business rates hike
By Lisa CleverdonINDEPENDENT traders in a market town have reacted with anger to soaring business rates, which they fear could force them to close.An increase of up to 20% on last year's business rates has sparked concern among shopkeepers in Newmarket, who warned it was becoming increasing difficult to keep their heads above water.
By Lisa Cleverdon
INDEPENDENT traders in a market town have reacted with anger to soaring business rates, which they fear could force them to close.
An increase of up to 20% on last year's business rates has sparked concern among shopkeepers in Newmarket, who warned it was becoming increasing difficult to keep their heads above water.
Since Christmas three shops have already shut as a result of a dip in the town's economy, which has been blamed on traffic problems and the introduction of controversial car parking charges.
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Val Stedham, owner of Moon's Toymaster in High Street, condemned the "unacceptable" hike in business rates, which she believed was unfair on a town the size of Newmarket.
"This increase in rates is a real threat to businesses in the town. There is nothing in Newmarket that justifies having such a huge rise in business rates and shop owners are going to find it very difficult to sustain their businesses over the next year," she said.
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"This is a small market town and these rates are just not acceptable. There is a limited amount of shops on offer in Newmarket.
"If people are being charged to park in the town, it is common sense that they will choose to shop in bigger towns such as Bury St Edmunds or Cambridge, which have more on offer. The increase in rates is totally insensitive at best, and very damaging at worst."
Jamie Gaskin, manager of Tindalls Stationers, added: "The town has not only lost car parking spaces, but people are now being charged to park here, which is having a real effect on local businesses.
"On top of that we feel that this huge increase in business rates will do the town a lot more damage, and so we are now trying to get it overturned.
"The smaller businesses especially will find it a struggle to meet the rates. Trade has not been very good over the past three to four months anyway and this just feels like a kick in the teeth for traders in the town.
"We are used to seeing increases of only 4% or 5%, and although it is too early to say exactly what impact this new rise will have, it is going to affect a lot of people.
Mrs Stedham and Mr Gaskin have joined other shop owners for a meeting with Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, to discuss their concerns.
Mr Spring said: "I can entirely understand the anxiety that small business people in particular feel about these increases and it is not good timing considering the outstanding issue of car parking charges.
"It is an inordinate increase and I shall be writing to the district valuation office to find out if there is anything that can be done to help the businesses in Newmarket."
No-one from the district valuation office was available for comment at the weekend.