The butcher effect

Residents ask Council for a policy to protect local business, preventing Hammersmith to become "faceless".

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 yet.

Read more:
Crisis in Blythe Road
Question of timing
Olympia Butchers is back in business

SRRA Web site
ODPM Web site

SRRA letter:

"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.

Best regards,

Philippe Auclair, Joint Chair,
For and on behalf of SRRA steering group"


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