Stafford Borough Council has refused to extend its pilot business rate relief scheme to Stone, leaving town councillors disappointed.
In May, the Borough Council launched its pilot business rate relief scheme to attract traders to set up in empty town centre premises in the north end of the town centre, such as Princes Street, Stafford.
The scheme allows new businesses to apply either for a 100 per cent discount on business rates for up to 12 months or a £10,000 contribution towards business rates – whichever figure is the lower.
At the May 25th meeting of Stone Town Council, Councillor Jill Hood called on the Borough Council to extend the scheme to Stone.
“This is important to keep Stone a vibrant town. The more shops we have, the greater the increase in footfall and tourism.”
But a spokesman for the Borough Council said the pilot scheme needed to be evaluated. Only one business has reportedly applied for the pilot relief so far.
“In Stafford the shop vacancy rate is around 10 per cent, and in the north end of Stafford alone, where the pilot scheme is taking place, there are 29 empty shops, representing nearly 80 per cent of the total number of shop vacancies in Stafford. Stone has six empty shops in total and a vacancy rate of under four per cent.”
“I am bitterly disappointed that Stone will not benefit from the business rate relief scheme piloted in Stafford last month,” Jill told the Gazette. “A group of Stone traders contacted me immediately after they saw the publicity given through the local media and asked if it would be extended to our town but the answer was a big no.”
Stafford Borough and Staffordshire County Councils have recently signed a District Deal enabling them to share resources to boost the local economy. But Jill doubted whether this would have any impact on Stone.
“Part of the Staffordshire District Deal involves extending Stone Business Park, but why extend it if they can’t fill the units which have been empty for such a long time?”
But at least one unit has been filled by Stone trader GR8 kitchenware, which has given up its shop in Stone’s High Street Arcade. Announcing this on a local website, owner Lee Edgington explained that in their seven years of trading, shop sales had shrunk while online sales had increased.
“It would be fair to mention that the general footfall in Stone is also declining,” she reported. “With all this in mind,..we have finally let our heads overrule our hearts and decided to re-locate to an industrial unit in Stone. …we are still here to serve but in a different and more cost-effective way.”