Southwold and Reydon Society says independent character is area’s key attraction
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016
One major concern of the society and our 350 members is the survival of Southwold High Street as a unique attraction made up largely of independent shops.
Recent property speculation has enlarged retail premises in order to attract national chains who will pay significantly increased rents. This has caused rents to rise throughout the high street and forced a number of independent shops to close.
The threat accelerated with the 2017 revaluation of business rates which reflects the rental value of retail premises. Our butcher, for example, is faced with a rise in rates of £1,000 per month as rates are adjusted upwards over the next five years. Southwold, with increases averaging 140pc, faces the highest increase in retail business rates in the country. The government has introduced some further reliefs but these will only soften the blow in the first years of the increases but will not stop the full effects over the five year period.
The Conservative Manifesto promised a fundamental review of business rates but the Queen's Speech offered very little. We will be lobbying our local MPs and the government for effective action to ensure businesses are taxed according to their means, not the value of the premises they occupy. Unless this happens, we will see further erosion of the independent character of Southwold High Street, one of the key attractions for the visitors who make the economy of the town sustainable.
Planning is a continuing concern. By the time this column appears, the Waveney planning committee will have decided its response to a major application from Saint Felix School to develop some 70 houses on one of its playing fields. Waveney planning officers have recommended approval even though the application breaches key local and national planning policies to protect the countryside. Officers have accepted the school's case that this is an enabling application and therefore a permitted exception to the rules. We disagree strongly with this view and have written to the planning committee with our detailed reasons. We hope our elected councillors will continue to protect our environment.