Traders an­gry over bor­ough coun­cil’s ‘lack of sup­port’

The Wokingham Paper - - NEWS SPECIAL - By PHIL CREIGHTON news@wok­ing­ham­pa­per.co.uk

RE­TAIL­ERS are an­gry with the bor­ough coun­cil over a per­ceived lack of help dur­ing the re­gen­er­a­tion works.

Many are re­port­ing mas­sive drops in tak­ings since the work started in Jan­uary this year, as cus­tomers stay away from the town cen­tre.

They want the bor­ough coun­cil to of­fer in­cen­tives to help them through the dif­fi­cult times, and also run a mar­ket­ing cam­paign in­clud­ing ad­ver­tis­ing in The Wokingham Pa­per. Their calls are even more per­ti­nent as The Lex­i­con shop­ping cen­tre in Brack­nell town cen­tre opens to­day, bring­ing big name re­tail­ers in­clud­ing Next, Fat Face and Pri­mark to our neigh­bour­ing town.

Last week, the Wokingham Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion or­gan­ised a meet­ing at Wokingham Town Hall to al­low re­tail­ers to meet with Vail Wil­liams and dis­cuss ways to seek re­bates on rates dur­ing the re­gen­er­a­tion works.

A to­tal of 18 re­tail­ers gath­ered for the meet­ing, which was also attended by town councillors and Bernie Pich from Wokingham Bor­ough Coun­cil.

How­ever, there was anger over a lack of help and that no bor­ough councillors had attended. Some re­tail­ers said that there were told it would take up to two years for any rates re­lief to ar­rive, which could be too late to save them.

Gill Bell from John Bell Car­pets said there were a lot of busi­nesses present at the meet­ing and they came away frus­trated and dis­ap­pointed.

“Our views were not taken into ac­count. There was no councillors there from Wokingham Bor­ough Coun­cil, only Bernie Pich.

“Our councillors should have been pro-ac­tive.”

And Mrs Bell, whose car­pet store has been in Den­mark Street for more than 40 years, added: “I think they should have been in to the busi­nesses be­fore the re­gen­er­a­tion work hap­pened to ask for our ad­vice. When the re­gen­er­a­tion started, they should have been more pro-ac­tive in lis­ten­ing to peo­ple’s sug­ges­tions.

“Sup­port is needed on rates to busi­nesses at risk, par­tic­u­larly small in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers. Some peo­ple, un­less they get help, won’t be able to weather the storm.

“We’ve had a rate in­crease, as ev­ery­one has. Some have seen [rises in the] thou­sands – to pay full busi­ness rates on a con­struc­tion site is not a vi­able op­tion in my opin­ion.”

She added: “I fully sup­port the re­gen­er­a­tion.”

And her views were echoed by Mike Flint from Peach Street’s Wokingham Decor.

“The whole town is dev­as­tated [by re­gen­er­a­tion works] – it’s a quag­mire of sh*te. I’ve been here 30 years and never seen any­thing like it.

“To be ex­pected to pay full busi­ness rates is a joke: there should be some sort of com­pen­sa­tion.”

Mr Flint said that the road­works af­fect­ing the town are also not help­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

“My Mum has not been here [to shop] for 10 years and she only lives in War­grave. Peo­ple used to come here from 10 and 20 miles away.”

Labour coun­cil­lor Andy Croy also feels the Coun­cil should be do­ing more to sup­port its re­tail­ers.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble the Tories won’t give sup­port at this time,” he said. “They could be do­ing some­thing like de­fer­ment of rates.”

And Cllr Lind­say Fer­ris, leader of Wokingham’s Lib­eral Democrats, said that his party hadn’t been in­vited to the rates meet­ing but also ex­pressed fears at the cost of the re­gen­er­a­tion project.

“The costs of this re-de­vel­op­ment is grow­ing like topsy. This year alone the costs have grown by many mil­lions and is now es­ti­mated to cost over £140 mil­lion. I sus­pect this is why the Coun­cil are so re­luc­tant to help the traders.

“What must be re­mem­bered is that there is lit­tle point in this re­de­vel­op­ment if many of our ex­ist­ing traders and busi­nesses are forced out of busi­ness caused by the up­heavals as­so­ci­ated with the re­de­vel­op­ment.

“This would be ironic.” Re­spond­ing to the con­cerns of the re­tail­ers, Cllr Stu­art Munro, ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber for busi­ness and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and re­gen­er­a­tion, said: “Rate re­lief is a gov­ern­ment scheme which we have no in­put into, so we or­gan­ised the meet­ing to ex­plain it to help re­tail­ers.

“They would have to ini­ti­ate the process and for any po­ten­tial re­bate they would have to jus­tify it with ev­i­dence. This is be­cause pub­lic money is in­volved, and tax­pay­ers would le­git­i­mately challenge it if money was given out with­out ev­i­dence.”

And a coun­cil spokesper­son added that bor­ough councillors were aware of the meet­ing, but felt no need to at­tend as it was a spe­cial­ist area of busi­ness rates. They added that councillors had attended pre­vi­ous meet­ings of the Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion and is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing busi­nesses.

They added that sev­eral busi­nesses have had suc­cess boost­ing trade by us­ing their own chan­nels to pro­mote of­fers to draw in cus­tomers.

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