Labour Councillors have called on Westminster Council to scrap the 20% rent increase for West End market traders, all of whom have seen a massive downturn in customers following the Covid-19 epidemic which has dramatically reduced the number of office workers and tourists.
The West End market traders in Berwick Street say in a letter to the Council:
“It is undeniably true that the West End is catastrophically hit; offices have not returned, many are pulling out and others are downsizing or collapsing with shops falling void and being turned into bike parks, vending machines and billboards. So, anyone trading in the West End cannot expect to see more that 10-20% of their normal revenue.
It is also undeniably true that Soho Estates (major Soho landlord) have cut their rents to zero for 1 year to 18 months for their smaller tenants, and it is undeniably true that Shaftesbury PLC (major Soho landlord) has also cut rents by a minimum of 50% and deferred all payment to some future date as yet unknown.
So, it is very surprising that, rather than suspending rents (pitch fees) as respectable landlords have done, Westminster City Council seems to have taken the opposite approach in deciding to increase the pressure on small businesses, that have no reliefs, by putting up rents by 20%, threatening legal action and forcing traders to consider closure – businesses that were successful prior to lockdown.
Westminster City Council stands alone in increasing rents on small businesses in the thick of the pandemic crisis. A fact that beggar’s belief. To a cold eye and from a logical point of view, increasing rents at a time of zero revenue can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to drive traders out of business, or drive traders out of the West End. Neither is acceptable to the local community who have fought hard for their market, nor to a central government that does not want to see landlords evicting tenants at this time.
On the face of it this appears to be a cynical attempt to remove historic Berwick Street Market, that is known and loved by hundreds of thousands of visitors and tens of thousands of active supporters, by crushing traders with extreme economic pressure and under the cloak of Covid-19 – there is no other logic for charging traders increased rents in the middle of a pandemic with the local economy having crashed.”
Councillor Pancho Lewis, West End Ward Labour Councillor, said:
“The Council’s decision to increase fees for market traders makes absolutely no sense. It doesn’t even raise much money for the Council’s coffers. Given that, one is led to the unfortunate conclusion that they appear to be committed to sabotaging Westminster’s street markets, including our historic Berwick Street market. This follows a worrying pattern, only a couple of years ago they tried to privatise the market. In addition, for years now market traders have endured the dreadful impact of the Berwick Street development debacle.
“It’s unacceptable: no ifs, no buts, they need to commit to reducing, if not abolishing fees until the pandemic is over.”
Councillor Geoff Barraclough, Labour Business and Planning spokesperson said:
“At this time, we should be supporting our market traders rather than making their lives more difficult. Westminster needs to get the basics right first. Free pitches would be more effective than free wifi in getting Berwick Street thriving.”