We must keep character in city

Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
Peterborough Telegraph's Man behind the mic column by Paul Stainton, BBC Radio Cambridgeshire host - peterboroughtoday.co.uk
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The headlines have literally screamed out from the front pages of the tabloids over the last few days - “Bloodbath on the high streets,” “A ticking time bomb for small businesses”.

Warnings of impending doom for the little guys are everywhere following the government’s review of business rates.

According to the Federation of Small Business, one fifth of those facing higher rates are considering closing their doors and packing it all in and who can blame them? So, are we heading for the cliff edge when it comes to small, locally run businesses? One day, in the not too distant future, will the centre of our city be populated entirely by a giant Mc’Wagamamanandoland and their corporate counterparts?

Once upon a time Peterborough city centre was full of high quality and much loved independent businesses (The Dinky Sweet Shop, Mac Fisheries, Shelton’s, HJ Farrow, Joe’s Garage, to name but five) but these days only the big boys, it seems, can afford the rent and the rates.

Joel’s leather’s shop still survives near St John’s Church and Westgate Arcade claims to be the home of unique, independent shopping, but half the units are normally empty; still, at least Queensgate are trying.

Even talented local chef, Lee Clarke, has been hit by a rate hike and his expansion plans, at his small restaurant, Prevost, have been put on the back burner (pardon the pun) for now. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having big names in our city centre but you need a diverse mix.

Money spent in Bill’s or Costa does not stay in the Peterborough area, whereas cash put into the tills at Swivel’s Sandwich shop or the Beehive on Bourges Boulevard, will be. That’s why, when it comes to rent and rates there needs to be a serious rethink for local, family run businesses to ensure they are not lost forever from our towns and cities. There must be exemptions and inducements for landlords, councils and business owners built into the system, to encourage a growth in independent traders – it cannot be right that a company as big as Amazon will see their rates cut, whilst sandwich shops and the like go to the wall. The government point to a £3 billion transitional fund which they say will help any businesses who face a big jump in rates, but this is only a sticking plaster for a severed artery; eventually the patient will bleed out.

It is harder and harder these days to make a succes of your own business, with the internet cutting your margins and legislation and stupid laws holding you back; the last thing you need is a huge rise in your outgoings.

Maybe, 10 per cent of all units, under a certain square footage, could be put aside, for local, independent business, or perhaps greedy landlords, who keep shops empty, whilst awaiting a blue-chip payday, should be forced to rent to anyone who offers a realistic amount.

Without action, one day we will be shopping in the same shops, in towns and cities that look identical; we will become pre-programmed clones, shopping in characterless, replica stores. Unless you go to Stamford.