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Fury over market rent hike amid virus crisis

Traders say 20 per cent increase ‘can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt’ to drive them out of the West End

21 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Berwick Street traders have written to City Hall questioning why rents are going up ‘in the thick of the pandemic crisis’

MARKET traders have warned the West End remains “catastrophically hit” by Covid-19 and are pleading for a 20 per cent rent rise to be scrapped.

Traders in Berwick Street have written a furious letter to City Hall questioning why it is “increasing rents on small businesses in the thick of the pandemic crisis”.

The council said the raised fees had helped fund crucial public services during the lockdown and that traders in the West End are paying among the lowest rates in the capital.

But the Berwick Street traders’ letter said: “Increasing rents at a time of zero revenue can only be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to 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.”

The increase, agreed in 2018, was paused during the lockdown but implemented in full on July 1.

The letter said other major landlords in the West End had cut rents or deferred payments, and added: “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.”

West End ward councillor Pancho Lewis

The West End is facing an “existential crisis”, according to London mayor Sadiq Khan, who last week called for special bailout measures from the government. While independent businesses in some areas of inner London are experiencing re­covery, footfall in the West End is at an all-time low.

There is no tourism, entertainment, offices rem­ain mainly empty and the public continue to shun the transport network.

It means businesses are relying on local trade alone but they are still being charged premium rents and rates.

West End ward councillor Pancho Lewis 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.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan

Berwick Street traders won a major campaign to stop privatisation of the market in 2017. A tender deal was scrapped at the 11th hour following a petition signed by more than 35,000 people.

A council spokes­person said: “Market traders in Westminster already pay among the lowest fees in London. This increase in fees has allowed us to deliver waste-removal and street-cleaning services as well as new social distancing measures to ensure markets can operate safely for both traders and customers.

“Westminster is committed to investing in its markets and supporting traders. The council is spending almost £600,000 on delivering free wifi in all Westminster markets as well as for providing digital skills training for traders. We are also upgrading storage and food preparation facilities across our markets.

“Additionally market stalls were one of only four categories of business eligible for the council’s discretionary grant fund.”

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