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Letter: We Can Expect To Lose Even More Independent Stores

Guildford Shopping 1From Ben Darnton

I read the article ‘Guildford Town Centre Will Remain Healthy Predicts Report‘ with interest. Having worked in Guildford for the last 30 years I have observed a gradual change in peoples shopping habits.

Recently, my customers always seem in a mad rush due to high parking charges and are scared of the generally unfriendly traffic wardens who are quick to pounce on customers who pull up outside to unload records. There’s no encouragement or incentive to stay in town for any length of time and perhaps discover shops like mine in off the beaten track locations such as Tunsgate, Chapel street etc.

Standing outside the Guildhall, in the High Street hosting my record fair I noticed that nearly every shop in the town centre caters for women, not men, so I have witnessed a higher foot-fall of bored blokes passing the time in my shop whilst their wives hit the card hard in A + N, Debenhams, Creams 4 u etc!

In 20 years trading in Tunsgate there have never been any empty shops until the last year. Now there are four. High rent and increasing business rates are responsible for this.

Every year with my rate demand increase, there is a section which says if you are a small business you can apply for a rate reduction if your rateable value is below £18,500. Sadly there are no shops with rates so low in the town centre, so until something is done more independent shops will disappear from Guildford, as they have done in Godalming, Farnham etc.

<em>Ben Darnton is the proprietor of Bens Collectors Records, 5 Tunsgate, Guildford, Surrey.</em>

Photo from Best of Guildford’s ‘Buy Local’ campaign.

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4 Responses to Letter: We Can Expect To Lose Even More Independent Stores

  1. Paul Bridgland Reply

    June 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Great letter from Ben Darnton.

    It is a crying shame that we are slowly, but surely losing all our local shops from the town centre. As I understand it, very little of the rate charge actually goes to the local council (is it just 6%?). Instead, it mostly goes to central government who then send it elsewhere in the country. Towns such as Guildford, deemed to be more affluent, are effectively subsidising less well off areas elsewhere in the UK.

    The rates are killing off the few local businesses that are left and in time we will be left with a High Street of major chains. We have already lost our local butchers, fishmongers and fruit and veg shops long ago. Thankfully we still have a great market in North Street.

    What we clearly need is a radical change in government policy to nurture and protect local businesses such as Ben’s. Sadly, I see little or no evidence of that from any of the main political parties right now. Perhaps it’s time for a ‘Stop the drop in real Guildford shops’ petition or campaign?

    Paul Bridgland is the director of Best of Guildford.

  2. Kelly-Marie Blundell Reply

    June 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I’m keen to promote small and independent shops in Guildford.

    When the Local Plan consultation comes out in September, there should be prominence given to smaller shops to allow more to come back.

    For example, Guildford lacks local butchers, bakers and greengrocers that are core to residents. Many people reject supporting monopoly stores in favour of smaller shops, as seen by their success in Godalming and other local towns.

    In an ideal world, the collapse of large businesses such as HMV and Blockbusters should see smaller businesses coming back to plug gaps, indeed such as Ben’s Records. The sad reality is, unless towns take the agenda forward to promote small businesses, people will stick with large organisations and internet shopping, and be left with empty units.

    Kelly-Marie Blundell is the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Guildford Liberal Democrats.

  3. Bernard Parke Reply

    June 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Guildford was once awash with with small independent shops offering a wealth of goods and first class services.

    What killed them off? Mainly the superstores and of course the gyratory system took its toll.

    Unfortunately, the pendulum has now swung too far! The clock cannot be put back.

  4. Gerald Bland Reply

    June 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Affordable housing is a statutory requirement for any significant housing project in the town centre.

    Why not require an element of affordable shopping to be part of any significant retail scheme such as is being proposed for North Street?

    With the borough council being both landowner and local planning authority they are singularly well placed to promote the re-emergence of butcher, baker and candlestick maker.

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