Councillor promises to investigate shops’ £1,500 licence fees

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: the "open and transparent" chairman of Croydon's planning committee

Paul Scott: councillor as well as chair of community group

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.

Under threat: Station Road in South Norwood

Under threat: Emertons on Station Road in South Norwood

“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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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Business, Community associations, Hamida Ali, Jane Avis, Kathy Bee, Paul Scott, People for Portland Road, South Norwood, Tony Newman, Wayne Lawlor, Woodside and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Councillor promises to investigate shops’ £1,500 licence fees

  1. Well, it sounds like Scott has well and truly put his foot in it this time. It is a shame that him and his colleagues did not follow the proper process and set the fees to cover the actual reasonable costs of enforcement. Sounds like their usual trick of coming up the number they want and then working backwards to get to the question.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a shame that so called Inside Croydon didn’t mention some of the positive news from South Norwood. I’ve copied some in below.

    What is happening in South Norwood?

    Many people are asking what the Council and Community Groups are doing to improve the local area. The list below highlights some recent, current and future projects:

    1. Stanley Halls – Now fully reopened and returned to the community through a long term lease to Stanley People’s Initiative. The organisation is finalising a £3m Heritage Lottery Fund bid to restore the Halls to their former glory and improve access around the buildings. SPI have a new Chair, who replaces Cllr Kathy Bee. (I’m still the Vice-Chair.) Coffee Craft continue to be a great success and there are a wide range of activities and events on, ranging from Yoga to Beer Festivals, and theatre to youth projects.

    2. ‘Public Realm Project’ – works will start early in the new year to transform Market Parade on Portland Road, and turn Station Road into a market square, with smart new pavements, street trees, seating, and public art that celebrates the rich history of South Norwood. It is hoped that the changes to Station Road will really support the fantastic efforts of the Clock Tower Market by giving them more space and a better environment. Work on designing further improvements at the top end of Portland Road will be starting soon.

    3. Pop-up shops on Portland Road – working with a local property owner the Council are getting three long closed shops reopened at the top end of Portland Road, and are supporting 3 new businesses to occupy them later this year. The new shops will add some interesting new opportunities for local shoppers and will hopefully encourage more shoppers, and more businesses to join them. The Council are still looking at converting the disused old toilets into units for new businesses too.

    4. Community Economic Development Plan for South Norwood – in the summer People for Portland Road (PPR), with support from Council officers, made a successful bid to the government for funding and support to work with the community to develop a plan to rejuvenate the local economy in a way that really benefits local people rather than gentrification that pushes them out! It is still in its earliest stages but we hope to bring together many local people to help draw up the plans and help to make them work in the new year.

    5. Portland Road Community Garden – following the success of the Sensible Garden, PPR are working to develop a community garden around the leisure centre and across Enmore Road outside the Woodside Health Centre. We’ve started with the long empty planters outside the health centre and have put up a community notice board outside the pool. Some really exciting plans are emerging for the rest of the area. Funding is coming from PPR, one of the surgeries, and the local councillors ‘ward budget’ from the Council and lots of hard but enjoyable work is coming from the community.

    6. South Norwood Country Park – the friends group FoSNCP continue to do great work in our wonderful Country Park. The bees are continuing to do well and the group’s latest project is to create a wetland area for wading birds. This is also partially funded from the local councillors’ budget.

    7. Planning for the Future of Portland Road – Croydon’s new local plan, that will guide and control development over the next twenty years should be adopted next year. It includes re-designating the shopping parades between Dundee Road and Sandown Road, to give them the same level of protection as for example Market Parade. This area, including the leisure and health centres, will also designated as a Neighbourhood Centre, recognising its importance to the locality and giving it further protection. Stretches of Portland Road are to be designated as Local Heritage Areas, whilst the town centre will remain a conservation area.

    We continue to have the problem of shops being poorly converted into cramped, poor quality flats with external space and nowhere for the occupant’s bins! Unfortunately, the Government has given blanket permission under its ‘permitted development rights’ for empty shops to be converted into flats without having to meet any of the space or other standards that would normally be required. The owners don’t even need planning permission!

    8. Bins and Refuse Collection – the Council are working to tackle the problems with litter and fly tipping along Portland Road and the surrounding streets. We have trialled the split recycling and refuse bins which people living over shops or in flat conversions have been asked to use. Clearly there are problems with this so we are looking at different types of bins. They will soon be introducing a more controlled collection of commercial waste, with businesses only allowed to put their waste over a short time period.

    9. Christmas lights – with funding from local community groups including PPR, local businesses and the local Councillors we will once again have Christmas lights in South Norwood. They will be going up soon!

    10. Working with local landlords – The Council are trying to work with the owners of empty buildings to bring them back into use or where appropriate to redevelop them. Some are willing whilst others are not. There is only certain amount that the Council can do though. Some owners continue to insist on inappropriate and unacceptable planning applications that are regularly being refused. Unfortunately, they have the right to do that! It is good to see that the site of the blown up building on the corner of Addison Road has finally been sold by the people who owned the 6 flats that used to be there. The new owners are we understand keen to get some good quality new homes built there soon.

    11. Building new homes for local people – whilst South Norwood is one of the areas that the new ‘local plan’ identifies for a low number of new homes to help tackle the housing crisis, the Council are looking at a number of sites around the area where new homes could be built and where they would help improve the look of the area and make it safer. This includes the long empty site on Station Road, next to Aldi where new homes above shops are planned to be built next year. The new homes will also help to fund new community facilities too.

    12. Brightening the area up with new artwork – we are looking at a wide range of opportunities to introduce more public art in South Norwood. PPR have commissioned artists to develop ideas for transforming underneath the railway bridge from a gloomy tunnel into an artistic experience. We are now looking for funding.

    There is though a lot more that needs to be done, but everyone can help by supporting local shops and businesses, reporting fly tipping and other environmental crimes, and if you can by getting involved with one of the many local groups working to improve the area.

    I’d also encourage people to support the SNTB’s petition to ‘Save South Norwood’. It raises lots of important issues, some of which are already being addressed. It is important that South Norwood comes together to help solve its problems.

    Paul
    Cllr Paul Scott
    Chair of People for Portland Road

    Like

    • Actually, councillor, we already have all of your bumpf lined up for publication tomorrow morning. Because we like to put you on public record, so that you can be held to account.

      But good of you to confirm your continued conflation of your position as an elected councillor, while chairing the council-funded People for Portland Road and being vice-chair of the (also council-funded) Stanley Halls body.

      Yet somehow, you’ve failed to mention your position as chair of the council’s planning committee, a body with some legal authority and which might, if it exercised its power properly, actually have some role in resolving many of the continuing issues which blight much of the borough, and not just an area you appear to regard as a personal fiefdom.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you might be doing all those things, but you are still trying to charge unjustified licence fees which in your own words are to keep council tax down which is ILLEGAL!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. On the issue of the Street Trading License Fees, the Council can only charge fees for allowing businesses to use public land to sell goods and services from that cover their costs. It is not allowed to make a profit from these charges.

    However, the fees had not been reviewed for a long time. The recent review found that the annual income in 2015/16 from these fees was £27,790 but the cost to Council was £144,108. Croydon tax payers were therefore significantly subsidising those businesses that benefit from trading off public land. Because of the massive cuts being made by the Government to the Council’s funding, it was not felt that this subsidy was affordable any longer. The alternative to raising the fees to cover the costs would have been to cut services or ask residents to pay more council tax. It was felt that it would be fairer if those businesses who benefit from street trading paid the costs.

    The license fees are based upon the floor area requested by the business. It costs £104 per year for each square metre of pavement. £1500 would therefore pay for almost 15 square metres (although the maximum charge is capped £1500). 15 square metres is approximately the area of one and a half car parking spaces – quite a large area. To reduce the cost of the fees a business could therefore simply use less space outside, possibly making better use of its window display area instead. 5 square meters is still quite a lot of display space and would be a third of the cost for example.

    Like

    • We have reported all this before, here: https://insidecroydon.com/2016/04/29/licence-fees-set-to-increase-for-boroughs-street-traders/

      But you are wrong to claim that this is in any way a “subsidy” of traders who use the public highway. It is just the usual council incompetence of failing to levy high enough charges to cover its own costs of administering the scheme.

      You are not allowed, by law, to use the money from this licensing scheme for any purpose other than keeping the streets and pavements in good order, so the notion suggested by you that the council has increased its charges because of central government cuts is misleading.

      This then becomes a matter of governance, and whether the current council administration, advised by the council’s professional staff, have increased the street licence charges in a fair, reasonable and sensible manner.

      Are you seriously suggesting that council charges of £1,500 per year for small traders such as the greengrocers or hardware store, as we have highlighted, represents a “reasonable” ground rent for use of some part of the public highway?

      Are you seriously suggesting that increasing licence fees by 1,700 per cent in barely a year is “reasonable”?

      How do you justify having the £1,500 per year cap – which clearly provides a “subsidy”, as you would have it, to the larger pubs, bars and restaurants who have their tables and awnings strewn across public areas?

      Or are you happy to drive the final nail into the coffin of long-standing small businesses, which always pay their business rates, while you go about your gentrifying agenda in your local area?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think the technical description for Cllr Scott’s response is “bollocks”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Apologies for the length of this response;

    The fees being charged technically are not “Licensing” fees, it is, as suggested by insidecroydon, “Ground Rent”. If the two businesses close or stop trading from the street, the £3k “licensing” fee is no longer retreivable, will other street traders in South Norwood who do pay have this shortfall added on to their next bill in order to cover the £144k administration of the scheme?

    Croydon charge two tiers of fees “North End @ £4/sq.m” & “Non North End @ £2/sq.m” which highlights the point it is rent.

    The C’llor is wrong that it can only charge a fee for “Public Land”. The Council’s own policy ” https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/stpolicy.pdf ” states that a Street Trading Licence Fee is required for the following;

    • any road or footway; any other area, not being within permanently enclosed premises, within 7m of any road or footway to which the public obtain access without payment—
    ­ whether or not they need the consent of the owner or occupier;
    and ­ if they do, whether or not they have obtained it;
    • any part of such road, footway or area;
    • any part of any housing development provided or maintained by a local authority under Part II
    of the Housing Act 1985 (c.68)

    This allows for a fee to be levied on private land. Charging a £1,500 licence fee to someone selling from a forecourt within their own demise but with 7m of a “street” or “highway” may be deemed unreasonable and unenforceable, therefore the “Licence” fee should be set to cover costs for the administration and enforcement of the licensing scheme.

    The administration of a Borough Wide Licensing scheme means the fees payable should not vary dependent upon where in the borough you are, it does vary depending on the type of licence – alcohol, gambling, scrap metal, animal boarding etc. but you will get charged the same fee for running a Cattery in Selsdon as you would in Coulsdon. The Council should have a flat rate “Licence” for those wishing to trade from the “Highway” or as designated by their policy & then under separate negotiation charge rent for the amount of space used, within the Councils demise, at true value based upon open market lettings.

    Local Government Association provides this guidance;
    “Reasonable and proportionate
    The Directive also includes specific requirements that apply to the charging of fees. Charges
    must be reasonable and proportionate to the cost of the processes associated with a licensing
    scheme.
    Councils must not use fees covered by the Directive to make a profit or act as an
    economic deterrent to deter certain business types from operating within an area.”

    http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/5854661/L14-42+fees+guidance+report_05.pdf/5a4e8874-31e2-4158-b0cc-b5f30556c243

    Liked by 1 person

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