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Skipton traders 'struggling to cope with high business rates'
11:00am Friday 4th October 2013 in News
Traders are angry after a controversial article in the Sunday Times portrayed Skipton in a very negative light.
However, many support the paper’s claims that excessively high business rates are causing severe problems for the town.
The article, headlined “Skipton bears the scars of unfair business rates”, states that many independent shops have been “replaced by betting shops, chain stores, charities – or left empty”.
It also claims there are no butchers shops in the town when actually there are four – Drake and Macefields, Stanforth’s, Farmhouse Fayre and Sutcliffe’s.
A picture of Victoria Square with the caption “Missing flocks: shoppers used to crowd Skipton” will surprise locals who regularly have to negotiate a town centre packed with tourists.
Christine Monksfield, owner of the Candle Shop in the centre of Skipton was horrified by how she was portrayed in the article – particularly as she never spoke to the paper.
They actually interviewed her husband, Christopher, who said the quotes – which included the claim that there were no butchers in the town – were totally inaccurate and damaging to their reputation.
He said: “It’s not what I told them. They phoned me up and I was happy to talk about the business rates being too high.
“Skipton is a busy town, it’s a great town, but the economic situation being what it is means times are harder for businesses. But the business rates aren’t reflecting that. They are far too high.
“What I actually said was that if businesses keep being put under this pressure, then there’s a danger we’ll lose more independent shops.
“I then made the point that the only butchers we’d have left would be at Morrisons or Tesco.”
Christine added: “We love Skipton, we would never want to do it down. We use all of the local shops, even the butchers, so to suggest that we didn’t know they existed is ludicrous.”
Skipton Town Council’s chief officer Dave Parker said: “I was gobsmacked by the article. I don’t recognise the town from it at all.
“The town centre is a busy place. In terms of vacancies we are well below the national average, and the proportion of independent retailers is higher than most places.
“The chief executive of the Associaton of Town Centre Management recently held Skipton up as the blueprint of how to do things to keep a town centre thriving.”
Janet Collins, owner of The Mill Shop in Rope Walk, said she agreed with a lot of the article. She said: “You only have to walk up and down the town to see that people aren’t carrying shopping bags. This summer they’ve come out and enjoyed the sunshine, had a drink and an ice cream, but if you looked in the shops they’ve been empty.
“Skipton shops have been working hard and are doing better than most to survive the current financial climate, but many are still giving up and walking away.
“CDC and our MP really need to look at how badly independent shops are being squeezed. People are still clinging on, but businesses are certainly not thriving.”
Mrs Collins also said there were too many charity shops in the town, and landlords were seeing them as a safe option. She added that breaks in business rates also gives them an unfair advantage.
David Smurthwaite, strategic manager planning and regeneration at Craven District Council said that business rates are set by central government and CDC has only limited ability to support special cases.
He added: “We actively encourage all eligible businesses to apply for small business rate relief, but it is well known that the cost of business rates has increased as the economy has declined, so it is now more common for businesses to be paying higher business rates than rent.
“It is a great testament to the work of everyone in Skipton that we have fared better than most with the national retail vacancy rate just over 14 per cent while Skipton’s 7.5 per cent is only slightly higher than Cambridge – the best performing town in the country.”
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