Cap on business rates could help 'ghost town' high street

6:44pm Friday 6th December 2013

By Ruth Halkon

Business owners in Borehamwood’s “ghost town” high street have given a guarded welcome to the business rate cap.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced yesterday in his Autumn Statement that increases in business rates would be capped at two per cent instead of being linked with inflation.

Business rates were set to rise by 3.2 per cent next year, based on September's Retail Prices Index measure of inflation.

The chancellor said the cap could save businesses up to £3,375.

Mr Osborne also pledged to introduce a "reoccupation relief" - halving business rates for businesses moving into vacant premises.

Edwin Nelken, who owns Nelken Jewellers in Shenley Road, said he felt the cap was a “start in the right direction”.

However he said rents were still far too high, forcing many shops out of business, and capping business rates would not solve that problem.

He said: “Any increase in business rates is too much. I pay £30,000 a year in rent and £10,000 in business rates. This cap won’t make things dramatically better.”

There are currently 17 empty shops in Borehamwood's high street, and business owners believe the problem began when business rates began to rise five years ago, with some seeing an increase of 35 per cent since 2008.

Bharat Vyas, who owns Insight Opticians in Shenley Road, has been on the high street since 1977, when Shenley Road was bustling.

In that time he has seen the number of empty shops on the high street increase dramatically, with 17 now lying deserted.

He said: “All the walking trade has gone. People go to Tesco or The Boulevard, they don’t come here anymore.

“At the moment rates are just too high and they keep going up and up. I pay £9,000 a year meaning it is very difficult to make ends meet. The council gives us 18 months to pay, but it’s still very hard to find the money.

“It’s a good thing the Chancellor is doing something to cap businesses rates, hopefully it will attract new shops to the area.”

Hertsmere Connect, which represents businesses in Hertsmere, has welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to finally act on business rates.

Chief executive of Hertsmere Connect and Watford and West Herts Chamber of Commerce Ian Welland said: “This announcement to cap business rates is extremely positive.

“The general feeling of business is that the measures perhaps need to be stronger to boost companies and indeed help cash flow and investment.

“Hertsmere Connect agrees the Chancellor could have been more ambitious, but at least the pressure is on to reform the business rates system.”

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