St Albans retailers’ rates victory

A LONG-RUNNING campaign to reduce business rates for traders in St Albans reached a happy conclusion this week.

Shop owners on Holywell Hill have fought for four years to have their crippling business rates reduced and after a united appeal to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), an executive agency of HM Revenue and Customs, a reduction was granted.

Paul Hargreaves, chairman of the Holywell Hill action group, said it was a fantastic result for local retailers.

He went on: “Business rates are still my biggest overhead after my rent but this is a great big step in the right direction.

“Unfortunately, the reduction came too late for some of our neighbours like Patons Books, Little Wonders, Claude’s Crepes and Springfield Pharmacy. But we hope that this reduction will help the rest of the independent shops in Holywell Hill and St Albans.”

The St Albans Music Centre, which has had a presence on Holywell Hill for 52 years, voiced concerns earlier this year about its longevity if the business rates were not reduced. Owner, Elizabeth Barber, whose parents established the business, said her rates had increased 120 per cent in the last five years, rising from �500 to �1,124 per month. The increase in rates this year had seen her monthly bill rise by 18 per cent, an additional �175 per month.

Elizabeth said at the time: “My parents established the business 51 years ago and I don’t want to see the hard work that they put in to have been for nothing. With so many negative factors to work against – increased VAT, fuel, parking charges – this is the last thing we need.”

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The good news has been welcomed by MP Anne Main who raised the issue with both the council and the VOA. She said: “In difficult economic times like these, we need to do all we can to help local businesses and I pay tribute to Paul for all his work on the issue.”

Business rates are calculated on a shop’s rateable value which is set by the valuation office. The rateable value is the annual rental value of a property. These valuations occur every five years, the last being in 2008 at a time when the economy was healthy. Soon after this, rents in the Holywell Hill area fell after a number of shops closed.

The VOA said the reduction for 25 shops on Holywell Hill had been granted after they received additional information about the traders’ rents which they had not had in 2008.