Businesses plead over high rates: ‘help us now before it is too late’

STRUGGLING: Sudbury businessman David Thompson says the heart of the town has been taken out by shop closures caused by high rates.
STRUGGLING: Sudbury businessman David Thompson says the heart of the town has been taken out by shop closures caused by high rates.

Traders have repeated pleas for changes to be made to the way business rates are set as shops continue to struggle to survive.

Many stores in Sudbury have claimed the rates they pay are too high and the problem has been blamed for a number of closures.

David Thompson, who runs the Movieshop, Thompson’s Deli and The Salt House Bistro in Gainsborough Street, said the town was “on its knees” and he was being forced to consider selling one of his businesses or shutting it.

“This is a huge issue because small independents like myself are seriously struggling to survive,” he said.

“Brand names which have supported the town over the course of the last five years have given up and supermarkets are being subsidised by the rating authority. The rates need updating and changing.”

Rates are assessed on the valuation of a shop’s annual rental value with amounts varying according to space and window size.

Different zones are also used to measure retail premises with the first part of a shop valued more highly than the rear. Prices are set per square metre according to the zone they are in.

Mr Thompson, who has rented shops in Sudbury for 30 years, said this policy had led to his bistro being valued the same as Prezzo restaurant in the same street.

“There is no consistency at all and it is all about survival, which is very difficult,” he said.

“If things don’t change I may have to consider selling the bistro or closing it. There are an awful lot of businesses that need help.”

Earlier this month, Ian Berry from Kestrel Bookshop in Friars Street, complained about expensive businesses rates which he claimed were out of sync with supermarkets in the area.

Mr Berry said he had contacted South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo who had promised to take up the issue with Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Mr Thompson said he felt Mr Pickles needed to visit Sudbury to get a better idea of the difficulties facing businesses.

“I think he should visit our town which once had a beating heart,” he said.

Jane May, who owns Lady Jane’s department store in Long Melford, agreed and said action was needed to stop high business rates crippling shops.

“It is time something was done or there are just going to be no shops at all,” she said.

“In recent times, we have become a looking shop for people who want to try sizes and colours and then go home and buy the clothes on the internet. The rates are doing nothing to help us.”

Mrs May, who has run her shop for 35 years, said she paid around £300 per square metre per year in rates – supermarkets can be charged around £40. If she did not own the store and needed to pay rent, she would be bankrupt, she added.

“It is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

“We have tried for many years to get the rates down but nobody listens. They should be knocked right down to give businesses a boom and help future businesses start up.

The Free Press was unable to contact Tim Yeo before going to print.