St Albans street traders launch fight against harsh council fees

Charlie Powell from Soko Coffee

Charlie Powell from Soko Coffee - Credit: Archant

TWO of the city’s most notable mobile traders have launched a petition to lower stifling council fees that they claim are inhibiting their businesses.

Soko Coffee and the Pudding Stop, otherwise known as Charlie Powell and Johnny Shepherd, have so far scored around 150 signatures within a week of kicking off their campaign to reduce St Albans district council’s charges on application fees for street traders.

The St Albans City Station-based pair have to pay £750 year on year for a “processing fee” to trade but claim the council cannot tell them what it is for, making it unreasonable in their eyes.

Charlie said: “They are allowed to charge a reasonable fee, but that’s the thing we’re picking at as we don’t really believe it is reasonable at an annual £750.

“I think I wouldn’t mind paying £750 if it was going somewhere useful but they can’t justify where it’s going.”

The council’s legal department previously told the Herts Advertiser that the fees reflected the necessary work for processing the application and include an assessment of the site.

But Charlie recently carried out research on other council’s fees as a comparison and found them to be much less, with Bristol charging £422.50, South Cambridgeshire £410, Edinburgh £334 and Durham £258.50.

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Not only that, the more geared towards street traders councils have been, the more vibrant and diverse she found the cities to be: “It’s not just about the fees but also about nurturing the businesses that make a difference.

“I think if the council want to prevent St Albans from becoming a clone town, the council needs to encourage and nurture the things and the people that make the city special.”

She went on: “I’ve been here for five years so I’ve given them [the council] nearly £4,000, which for a small business is just extortionate. In principle I could have used that to go towards staffing a couple of days a week, employing someone locally or potentially funding another van.”

Charlie said the council had not aided her business venture: “I was 22/23 when I started and I jumped in the deep end. I could have done with a bit of guidance – in St Albans no one was selling coffee out of a vehicle.”

The trading duo is hoping to get 1,000 signatures which they can then present to a council scrutiny committee on October 3: “We need the local residents to get behind it, the more signitures we have the more strength we have behind us.

“There’s been such a positive response to it and everyone’s been really supportive so far. My customers are ace – I couldn’t have done this for five years without them.”

One supporter, Claire Ruffing, wrote on the petition’s online page: “Charging this admin fee is outrageous in the first place!

“St Albans, as does many other towns, thrives on street traders bringing good food, community and atmosphere with them.

“Reducing the affordability of trading will kill the high quality street food we are lucky enough to have and turn the town into an empty shell.”

To sign the petition visit: