“The most grossly regressive tax”

General Scene of small shop on High Street in Chatteris to go with rates story
General Scene of small shop on High Street in Chatteris to go with rates story

A would-be shopkeeper is rethinking buying a Chatteris business after discovering it comes with an annual rates bill of nearly £5,000.

David Martin and his wife Janet, were hoping to relocate from Derbyshire to the Fenland town and open an antique shop in the property in High Street next to Budgens.

But with only weeks to go before the purchase of the property was due for completion Mr Martin discovered the rateable value was £10,750, which means a business rates bill of £4,966.50 a year for the Martins.

On top of that they would also have to pay Council Tax for the Band B residential part of the property, as well as all the other bills, meaning the couple would have to be making around £500 a week just to break even.

“I couldn’t believe how much the business rates payable on the property were. I have done some research and found a similar sized shop in the centre of Great Yarmouth with a rateable value of around a third of the Chatteris shop - so why is that?

“It is no wonder High Streets are becoming like ghost towns, how can businesses survive with this kind of bill hanging around their necks. I have tried contacting the Valuation Office, which sets the rateable value to see if I can appeal against the amount. I have been told I can only appeal once I have bought the property, but that’s not very helpful because I could end up buying the shop and lose the appeal and still have to pay the huge rates bill,” said Mr Martin.

Chatteris councillor Florence Newell, tried to intervene on the Martins behalf, but found she could not help.

“It’s very frustrating because the shop has been empty for several years and it would be nice to see it occupied and put to good use,” she said.

Alan Melton, Fenland Council Leader, added: “In my view the business rates is the most grossly regressive tax of all, as businesses get hardly anything in return.

“We can do absolutely nothing about the charges as they are set by Customs and Revenue. Fenland like all district councils is responsible for collecting the rates, but we pass 100 per cent of it on to the government.

“That is set to change as the government is looking to change legislation so the local councils keep 50 per cent of the amount collected, if and when that happens we will have some flexibility to do something, but are hands are tied at the moment.”

He agreed with Mr Martin that High Streets are badly in decline and said many years ago he closed a family shop business he ran in Chatteris High Street when the business rates were almost trebled overnight.

“It is unfeasible to expect businesses to survive in this current climate when they face such huge bills. The government has even recognised that by allowing business premises to be converted for residential use, which seems crazy. Why they don’t do something I don’t know,” he added.