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Struggling traders vow to fight council on rent increases

PUBLISHED: 10:43 02 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:45 07 September 2010

STRUGGLING Church Street traders have threatened to take Westminster Council to court if they insist on imposing rent increases in 2009. In July, 18 local shopkeepers presented a petition to the council asking for a rent freeze which they said would make

STRUGGLING Church Street traders have threatened to take Westminster Council to court if they insist on imposing rent increases in 2009.

In July, 18 local shopkeepers presented a petition to the council asking for a rent freeze which they said would make the difference between their firms staying open or going under.

Westminster agreed to review the request, but a draft report seen by the Wood&Vale revealed the idea could now be rejected.

And traders have reacted angrily to the possible rebuff particularly in view of the council's pledges to help small businesses through the current economic crisis.

They have vowed that if the usual 25 per cent hike is enforced in their upcoming rent reviews, they will take the matter to court.

Narjin Patel, 60, who has owned Church Street Warehouse for 24 years, said: "No way will we pay an increase. We'll go to arbitration and fight it. When all the big industries are going bust what chance have we got? We won't pay a penny more - we'll go to court if we have to."

Ismail Ganjeh, who runs Church Street dental practice, said he had already received a letter asking for a further £10,000 on top of his existing rent.

He said: "This is our only hope to come through this hard situation.

"It's going to be very hard for me to pay more and I'm not sure if I can afford to renew the lease if the rent goes up. We provide NHS treatments to the community so we don't make lots of money."

Westminster Council owns 71 shops in Church Street and has 59 separate lettings generating an income of £1.28million a year, which is predicted to rise to £1.4million in 2009. In the council's report, director of property Derek Barnden advised Westminster's finance boss, Cllr Melvyn Caplan, not to approve the requested rent freeze.

The property chief argued that scrapping any rises would cost the council a £128,000 loss in income in 2009/10.

He also said that if the freeze was granted in Church Street, other retailers in Westminster may ask for the same treatment. But Mr Barnden does suggest concessions in cases of hardship, such as allowing tenants to meet increased payments over a longer period rather than paying in one lump sum.

Labour councillor for Church Street Barbara Grahame, who backed the campaign with shopkeepers, said the measures did not go far enough.

"I am very disappointed the council is thinking about increasing shop rents by 25 per cent and not offering more support to small traders in Church Street," she said. "The council has made great claims about what it is doing to help Westminster traders in hard times but I do not see that in practice here."

Mr Barnden said the council was considering the rent freeze along with other options to help traders cope with the economic downturn.

"All of these issues need to be weighed up carefully before a final decision is reached, which is due to be made by Cllr Melvyn Caplan after Christmas," he said.


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