A senior Labour councillor has promised to “investigate” whether he can do anything about the eye-watering increases to licensing charges for using pavement areas outside shops in South Norwood, which the owners say could force them to close.
Paul Scott, a councillor for the neighbouring Woodside ward and the chair of the council’s planning committee, was responding to the widespread outrage among local residents to the news, revealed exclusively by Inside Croydon over the weekend, that Emertons, the ironmonger on Station Road, and Clock Tower Fruit and Veg were both considering closing after receiving £1,500 bills from Croydon Council.
A petition raised to save the South Norwood shops has already attracted nearly 500 signatures.
The street licence fee for the small greengrocers’ shop for 2016 represents a 1,700 per cent increase over the previous charge.
As well as an influential figure among his Labour colleagues on the council, Scott also holds the position of chair of the People for Portland Road community group, which has as its mission the revival of the high streets in South Norwood. Scott is the husband of Alison Butler, the deputy leader of the Labour group who, as the cabinet member for regeneration, will have had some say in the increases in licence fees.
“I am investigating whether there is anything we can do about the street trading fees,” Scott said in a message to the People for Portland Road’s social media page on Monday.
“They were kept very low for many years but unfortunately following the massive cuts to the council’s funding, charges like this have had to go up to the same level as the other boroughs already charge. This is to help protect public services and keep the Council Tax as low as possible.
“Obviously big increases like this are particularly difficult for already struggling businesses,” Scott admitted.
“Unfortunately there are limits to what the council is able to do to help in the circumstances.”
Residents have questioned why Scott says that “there are limits to what the council can do”, when those very licence fees which have precipitated the crisis for the traders have been imposed by the current Labour-run council.
And Scott’s contention that the street licence fees “help protect public services” has also been challenged, since the law does not allow local authorities to use the money raised by the licensing scheme to be used for anything other than administering it and maintaining the street.
Scott’s intervention, in any case, looks to be too late to save Emertons. Estate agents have already taken instruction to find new tenants for the shop, which has served the local community as a hardware store for 120 years.
“Obviously, anything that Councillor Scott can do to help the traders is welcome,” one South Norwood resident said. “Thing is, it has taken him two years and the outrage of members of the People for Portland Road group over this issue to even be moved to say he will look into it. People living round here feel that their councillors do very little to help them or represent their interests.”
Woodside ward has three Labour councillors: Scott, plus the clearly very important with other business council leader Tony Newman and Hamida Ali, who was first elected in 2014 and has already been promoted to a cabinet position. South Norwood ward’s councillors are Kathy Bee and Jane Avis, plus Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, the current Mayor of Croydon.
“We’ll be watching closely to see whether, in this matter, Councillor Scott is able to do something with the council which doesn’t result in the closure of long-standing local businesses,” the resident said.
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