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Legendary nightclub managers warn ‘soul of Camden Town’ has been lost in corporate takeover

'Soon the high street will just be Costa, Pret, Starbucks, charity shop; Costa, Pret, Starbucks, charity shop'

07 March, 2019 — By Tom Foot

Gemma Reilly outside Rullo’s

THE “soul of Camden Town” is being threatened by a corporate takeover, according to former club bosses who say their business rate bill has quadrupled.

Gemma and Billy Reilly, who ran the Cross and Pacha nightclubs, say “ridiculous” new charges for their restaurant and office space in Camden Town make it impossible for any independent business to survive. A new valuation on a “restaurant and premises” has led to a rates invoice for £170,000.

Rullo’s Pizzeria, next to Camden Road Overground station, has already shut down because of the hike.

“This is just completely ridiculous – I’m really so angry about it,” said Ms Reilly, who with her husband has leased the Rullo’s restaurant premises and two floors of adjoining railway arch office space from Network Rail since 2012. “How can the business rates be three times the rent? Of course they have made a mistake, but they are saying we have to pay while the appeal goes through – that could take several months. With the rent, that’s £220,000. We are not some big chain that can afford to just pay out that kind of money. We could go bankrupt, or remortgage our house.

“It’s so sad – Camden has lost its soul because it’s so hard to run a business around here. Soon the high street will just be Costa, Pret, Starbucks, charity shop; Costa, Pret, Starbucks, charity shop. That is all that can afford to be there.”

The rates charge is up from £38,000 on the previous year – and the demand allowed just a few weeks to pay-up. The Valuations Office Agency says it has made changes to the way it calculates rates for businesses using more than one space in the same building.

Ms Reilly said: “Selfridges pays £800 a sqm on Oxford Street. How can some office in Bonny Street – with no windows – be valued at £440 a sqm? We’re paying more than Costa just a few doors down, and they are in a prime location. It’s obviously a mistake. But when you ring them up it’s like talking to a robot – they just say check, challenge, appeal; check, challenge, appeal.”

Ms Reilly said that Rullo’s pizzeria was forced to close last month because of the threatened increase. Business rates are a tax on property used for business purposes – normally offices, shops, pubs and warehouses. They are calculated by the Valuations Office Agency (VOA) that introduced a new appeal process in 2017.

Reported figures show that the change triggered 56,240 appeals across the country in 2018 – and of these 37,950 were successful.

The VOA has said it will be fast-tracking the Reilly’s challenge and that all appeals would be handled by its Valuation Tribunal for England.

It added: “There is a new business rates appeal process known as check, challenge, appeal. If any of the factual details about your property or land are incorrect, you (the owner, occupier or authorised agent) need to let the VOA know. Doing this through the VOA’s online service is known as a check. You can only do this if you have the right to, as the owner, occupier or their authorised agent. You can also request a change to your valuation (which may affect your business rates bill), even if you don’t have any factual detail changes. This is called a challenge. If you do want to make a challenge, you will need to have completed a check first.”

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