THE owner of one of the last independent book shops in the area says landlords and the government’s valuation office need to do more to help small business owners struggling to pay the bills.
Derrick Meakins, who has run the Baytree Bookshop in Waterlooville for 15 years, is taking the valuation office to court for charging unfair rates.
He says small businesses in Waterlooville face paying more in rates per year than they do in rent.
And he says that when the landlords slash their rents to try to keep their tenants, they are not passing on the new figures to the valuers who use them to set the rates.
Mr Meakins, who lives off his pension rather than his business, said: ‘The rates here are £10,000 and I’ve been offered tenancy of a shop in Havant that’s £8,000 a year.
‘We’ve made a loss here for the past four years, and we wouldn’t have survived if I had to make a living from the shop.
‘A lot of the shops here had rents of £20,000 but they’ve now gone down to between £5,000 and £10,000.
‘My rent was £23,000, but for well over a year I’ve been paying £12,000 but the valuers are still basing their rates on the old value.’
Full rates have to be paid even when a shop is empty, so landlords are slashing their prices in order to encourage businesses to stay – and pay their own rates to the government.
Mr Meakins is due to meet the valuation office at a tribunal in Winchester on October 20.
‘It’s to determine what rates are set for me,’ he said.
‘They always seem to find a reason why there shouldn’t be a rate reduction.
‘Even when I told them about the incorrect value they had, they seemed to hide behind the fact that the landlords hadn’t told them the real rental figures.’
Mr Meakins says bookshops in particular are finding times tough, as competition from supermarkets and websites is wiping out their customer base.
Recently branches of Waterstone’s bookshop were sold by HMV after the book chain reported losses.
But the pressure is being felt by everyone, not least the sole traders who make places like Waterlooville Precinct their home.
The precinct currently has seven vacant shops, though one is about to reopen as a charity shop and the Wetherspoon pub chain is due to move in.
Landlords, Rockspring Property Investments is spending £400,000 on improvements to the precinct.