‘Ruthless’ council criticised over business rates

Sarah Schranz (middle) has seen half her fellow traders move away

Sarah Schranz (middle) has seen half her fellow traders move away - Credit: Archant

A ‘CRUSHED’ Weston trader has lost about £30,000 after being forced to sell up, all because she has made the area ‘desirable’.

Half of the Market Place in St James Street has shut after owner Sarah Schranz was billed an extra £20,000 in business rates, backdated over an 18-month period, because renovating disused units has increased demand for retail space.

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) demanded the rates, about double the original amount, be paid off in four monthly instalments by March, otherwise bailiffs would be involved.

Mrs Schranz’s appeals for help fell on deaf ears.

She said: “I spent thousands of hours on my knees pleading to save the business, but no-one helped. I’m putting on a brave face but inside I’m crushed.”

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Some traders remain in the Market Place but Mrs Schranz said she did not know what the future holds for them or her in the future.

They renovated empty units opposite TJ Hughes, decorated them with colourful canopies and housed small independent businesses, after they were forced to move from their previous home at the now-demolished Dolphin Square.

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But the VOA recalculated the business rates after the flat upstairs became occupied and decided the area is now more desirable.

It told Mrs Schranz the rates were to be doubled from £9,000 because there is now a ‘demand for space’ in St James Street – something she said is ‘a complete joke’.

Mrs Schranz said: “We had paid the rates for the year which we are now being re-billed for.

“Footfall has been pretty dire. There’s no way in a million years we could afford that.”

Although the market is made up of several companies, they cannot apply for small business rate relief because they operate under one roof.

Two appeals to North Somerset Council to use Government legislation to stop the rates being backdated were rejected, despite Mrs Schranz telling the authority her business was at stake and she would pay the higher amount in future.

Mrs Schranz said: “The thought of opening up another retail business in Weston terrifies me. North Somerset Council is utterly ruthless.

“It’s cost me everything. It’s up to me to work out how I go forward now as I’m being pushed into an insolvent situation.

“We put about £30,000 into the business 18 months ago which has been lost, plus credibility and the ability to borrow in the future.

“All for matters outside of my control. Financially, I’m fairly ruined. If I let this injustice get to me it would drive me mad.”

A council spokesman said: “We are committed to taking a consistent approach when collecting business rates from ratepayers. The VOA is responsible for setting the rateable value of a business which we are obliged to follow.”

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