If you haven't heard about the
crisis in Blythe Road yet, it was a six months battle against
the closure of the Olympia Butcher due exorbitant rent increases
proposed by the Council.
It was a political battle where
the Brook Green Residents Association, the Sinclair Road Residents
Association and over 500 residents joined forces for saving the
butcher. Eventually, it will stay in business for another year.
Local politicians now want to claim their share in the success
of this campaign, but it seems that they are just catching up.
Residents are taking a leading role again.
The problem wasn't only about the
butcher's isolated case, but about protecting local businesses
that are an active part of their community and, therefore, part
of the local identity. Instead of short-term remedies, SRRA decided
to do the thinking ahead.
In a letter to the Council (bellow),
SRRA is asking for "a pro-active stance in such matters".
In other words, the identification of businesses that "fulfil
a vital role in their community" and the adoption of policies
protecting them. It could be, for example, "effectively freeze
the rents on council-owned premises".
SRRA said: "If we do not wish
our streets to become faceless parades of faceless chain stores
and estate agents' offices, such a "rent freeze" - or
indexation to the rate of inflation - could be the only way to
preserve the diversity of our commercial environment."
"In many European countries,
hypermarkets are prevented from operating in sensitive areas.
Our independent food shops have no such protection in the UK,
regardless of the role they play in the community."
Up to now, Councils may not had
had much encouragement for keeping business in their area, but
government has just come out with the magic word: money.
Business rates are currently collected
by local authorities, which then have to pay what they collect,
less the cost of collection, into a national pool. Now a £1
billion boost is promised for local government backing enterprise
for the regions, as part of a consultation paper on the new Local
Authority Business Growth Scheme.
The scheme, which will reward local
authorities for encouraging local business growth, will allow
councils to retain money from business rates where there is increased
economic growth in their area. It should start in April 2005.
The Deputy Prime Minister said:
"This scheme should give councils a real incentive to work
together with business to create enterprising and thriving communities.
We want to create a win-win situation where flourishing businesses
will benefit everyone in the community."
The scheme was announced last week at the Local Government Association
Conference in Harrogate. SRRA's letter was sent to Cllr Andrew
Slaughter, Council Leader, on the 22 May and there is no answer
Crisis in Blythe Road
Question of timing
Olympia Butchers is back in business
SRRA Web site
"Dear Mr. Slaughter,
Thank you very much for your letter
outlining the council's position regarding the future of Olympia
Butchers, Blythe Road.
Whilst we are aware that a great
deal of energy has been spent by the council to try and reach
a negotiated solution with Mr. Kassabian, we feel that not enough
weight is being given in the argument to the effect the shop's
closure will have on our local community, which has seen every
single one of the food shops which used to make Blythe Road such
a vibrant place cease trading over the last ten years.
In the light of the outcry there
has been among the residents of the "Brook Green Triangle",
allow us to put forward a suggestion which we believe would be
both brave, and popular. In our view, the council acted in an
enlightened way when it froze Sid's rent from 1989 to 2000. This
enabled him to carry on providing a vital service to his many
customers. Sid had no intention of becoming a second Lidgate's,
a butcher catering to the well-heeled of Holland Park. The majority
of his customers hailed from the nearby Sterndale estate. They
found in his shop quality produce at prices the "local"
supermarkets could not match. He could do so precisely because
his rent was relatively low. Why not then envisage - as a policy
- a pro-active stance in such matters, and effectively freeze
the rents on council-owned premises which fulfil a vital role
in their community? In many European countries, hypermarkets are
prevented from operating in sensitive areas. Our independent food
shops have no such protection in the UK, regardless of the role
they play in the community. If we do not wish our streets to become
faceless parades of faceless chain stores and estate agents' offices,
such a "rent freeze" - or indexation to the rate of
inflation - could be the only way to preserve the diversity of
our commercial environment.
We obviously understand that such
matters must be the object of careful planning and research. But
we'd be delighted to discuss the matter with the council, together
with residents' associations and community organisations.
Philippe Auclair, Joint Chair,
For and on behalf of SRRA steering group"