The council’s licensing committee has endorsed increases in fees for street trading licences, albeit at rates reduced from the original proposals.
It is the first change for nearly a decade in the charges for shops, cafes and restaurants which choose to extend their premises on to the public highway. Facing austerity cuts on a range of council services, the council felt it had to increase the amounts charged to at least cover its costs of administration.
The proposal caused a state of near panic among some vested commercial interests, who appeared outraged that they should actually have to pay for using the borough’s pavements for their businesses. This led to the launch of a Tory-backed petition (another one) from the Glee Club’s favourite coffee shop.
The Town Hall meeting on Wednesday night was told by a council official that the figures for increased charges used in the petition by the coffee shop founder – who tried to suggest that their charges would increase by 2,500 per cent – had been grossly inflated. “A bit like their prices,” one wag muttered audibly during the presentation.
The licensing committee will review the effect on demand for street trading licences in a year’s time to see how the increase from a flat annual fee of £89 to a rate based how much space traders use – at £104 per square metre per year – impacts on demand. The revised proposals now include a maximum charge of £1,500 per year. Higher fees will apply in the very centre of Croydon.
New applicants will pay only £26 per square metre in the first year of operation. Temporary street events staged around the borough will pay £10 per stall per day. The charges do not apply to Surrey Street market, where traders operate under a different system.
The council’s licensing officer admitted that there was a “risk” that the amount and or size requirements of street trading licenses could fall. Simon Brew, the deeply under-whelming Tory councillor for Purley, worried that demand would fall “significantly”. He did not offer any evidence for his fears.
Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling argued that the rates proposed compared favourably to those paid by firms per square foot in offices and shops around Croydon.
One Crystal Palace pub was represented at the meeting, whose manager said that it would consider removing its benches from the pavement outside its premises when the charge is introduced. Jane Avis, the committee chair, made the point that, even at the increased rates, Croydon’s street licensing charges were lower than those in neighbouring boroughs. The pub representative admitted that they had not known this.
Shirley ward’s Conservative councillor Sue Bennett argued for a tapering of the increased charges over a period of years, with the need to provide more help for small businesses. Avis pointed out that the Conservatives had last changed the rate charged to street traders in 2007 and that the subsidy to traders had added up to £1.2million in the last nine years. “The council can no longer afford to take that money out of front-line services to aid businesses,” she said.
Apart from the pub manager, only five other traders showed up for the meeting. The proposals were carried by the seven Labour councillors against the wishes of the five Tory councillors.
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