‘We are working to keep Chichester’s high street buoyant’ – district council responds to retail concerns

Business rates relief schemes, city centre events and retail training support for independents are some of the schemes set to help keep Chichester’s high street ‘economically buoyant’.

Friday, 15th March 2019, 10:34 am
Updated Friday, 15th March 2019, 10:36 am
Chichester high street. Pic: Kate Shemilt

In response to concerns regarding recent shop closures, Chichester District Council has said it is working to facilitate events to boost activity and footfall across the area and is supporting retailers with a retail training programme.

It followed confirmation this week that an independent art shop would be closing down later this year due to ‘unaffordable’ business rates and rents.

From April 2019, the government is also introducing a business rates retail discount scheme for occupied retail properties with a rateable value of less that £51,000 in a bid to support high streets.

Chichester District Council said that an estimated 500 businesses in the district will qualify for the two-year scheme, which will give a reduced payment of one third off a retailer’s business rates bill.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “While we understand people’s concerns, the high street in Chichester is doing comparatively better than some towns and cities.

“The average shop vacancy rate in the South East is running at ten per cent while in Chichester it is 7.3 per cent – one of the lowest in the country.”

She said the changing nature of the high street was a complicated and national issue, as landlords alone had control of which businesses took up empty units and business rates were set by central government.

As part of the Chichester Vision, she said the council had taken on an events officer to co-ordinate a ‘diverse and exciting events programme’ to bring visitors to the district.

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A retail training programme for independent retailers and grants for shop front improvements and capital projects have also been offered to businesses.

Of the 40 openings within the Chichester BID area last year, 34 were independent traders, she said.

Business rates expert Daniel Green, from Flude Commercial, thought there were some misconceptions about business rates, including that there was no relief available.

He said small business rates relief meant businesses with a rateable value below £12,000 and only one premises paid nothing in business rates, but from £15,000 or above businesses paid full rates.

The new two-year discount from April for rateable values up to £51,000 should be applied automatically, he said, and did not require an application.