Businessman calls for Chipping Norton town centre to be given a chance to thrive
A Chipping Norton businessman has expressed frustration that the town centre is deterring visitors.
Des Cooper has compiled a catalogue of complaints about the state of the town centre and the lack of parking time close to the shops. And he says a lot of the town's problems are self-inflicted.
"I realise many High Streets are suffering badly from out of town shopping and online shopping. however I can't help feeling a lot of the problems in Chipping Norton are self-inflicted," he said.
"Does a town like Chipping Norton need three supermarkets and a mini Waitrose? This alone has called several smaller food retailers to close.
"Why do we only allow 30 minutes parking in parts of the main shopping area? This doesn't even allow you to go and have a haircut. Two people left my hairdressers the other day saying they couldn't risk a parking ticket."
Mr Cooper said he had been forced to abandon a blood donation session because it would take longer than 30 minutes. He suggested giving people two hours parking with the first 30 minutes free. He said motorists were often unable to find a long-stay space.
His complaints also include the general disrepair and neglect of the town centre's unused shops, many of which are listed buildings that can remain empty without incurring any rates bills.
"Rubbish is left in doorways, windows are smeared with windowlene so you can't see inside and there is general decay of shop fronts," he said, describing many Grade 2 properties as 'down at heel and unloved'. He said West Oxfordshire District Council should should consider charging exorbitant rates on the unoccupied premises until they are returned to the town, or even contemplate compulsory purchase.
Mr Cooper also believes the council should offer new retailers a period 'rate free' to help new, small businesses to bring life to the town and he cited the low rates asked of the town's six charity shops as an example of the authority's ability to do this.
He gave examples of Market Harborough, Leicestershire and Chipping Campden as market towns that were attractive, busy and thriving with no empty shops and few charity shops.
"Surely we can do better in Chipping Norton? I don't agree that 'pop-up' shops are a solution as they only offer a temporary solution - albeit better than empty premises," he said.
A spokesman for West Oxfordshire District Council said it enforces parking restrictions on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council, it does not set the times.
"The council is required to collect non-domestic rates according to the government rules," he said.
"These regulations provide for an indefinite exemption in respect of empty listed buildings and for up to three months, empty property exemption in respect of empty shops. Shop premises which are empty beyond three months and do not have listed building status are subject to a full charge as if they were occupied."
"Although the council is not able to offer new retailers a 'rate free period', it does have other non-domestic rates schemes available. For retailers who occupy premises with a rateable value below £15,000 there is the small business rates relief scheme," the spokesman said.
"There is also the business rates retail discount scheme which has been in operation since April and is expected to available for the next financial year. This scheme, which can in certain circumstances be offered in conjunction with small business rates relief, provides a reduction of 33.33 per cent for retail businesses occupying premises with a rateable value below £51,000."