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Greenwich Council’s pavement tax ‘could be illegal’

with 18 comments

Greenwich town centre, 17 August 2013

Those plants could cost…

New Greenwich Council charges for small businesses which use pavements outside their premises could be illegal, opposition politicians are warning.

But while the council is defending the policy, the cabinet member in charge of it has ducked out of defending it herself – leaving it to the council’s legal executive instead.

Conservative leader Spencer Drury wrote to environment cabinet member Maureen O’Mara last week to outline his concerns about the forecourt trading licence charges, which start at £7 per square metre of pavement used outside businesses, per week. (See the letter here.)

Greenwich Council budget proposal, January 2013

The scheme is buried in budget documents which were presented to the council’s cabinet in January. Drury says the wording of the documents mean that the cabinet only agreed to the policy being introduced via a report which would include the fee structure.

But no such report has ever been presented to the council – meaning backbench and opposition councillors have been unable to specifically object to it, or call it in for scrutiny.

“This leaves the whole policy open to judicial review, and I would expect any legal challenge or complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman to succeed,” he wrote.

“This is not democratic and you need to go back to the drawing board, refunding all the fees collected under this illegal system.”

But O’Mara, usually a combative figure in council meetings, did not respond to the letter – instead, leaving it to the council’s head of legal services, Russell Power, who responded that the decision to introduce charges was actually one for officers, not councillors. (See his response here.)

Whoever is right – and the charges do operate in other boroughs – the whole affair shines another light on the secretive way the council is run. The introduction of the pavement tax is very similar to the way Greenwich Council tried to cut funding for the Maryon Wilson animal park in Charlton two years ago – snuck in via a line in the budget.

Maureen O’Mara’s decision not to respond to Spencer Drury’s letter is notable, though – it’s normally considered a breach of protocol to leave non-political council officers to write what are political letters.

At July’s council meeting, O’Mara claimed some traders supported the scheme because it gave them certainty about whether they could place items on the street.

When a front page story about the issue in the Mercury was mentioned, she responded: “I must admit I don’t read the Mercury, so I have no idea what’s on its front page.”

However, away from her bully pulpit in the town hall, she has evidently become rather shy about justifying the scheme, which will affect many traders in her Greenwich West ward, and the way it has been introduced. (A petition has been set up against the scheme.)

Greenwich Council’s forecourt licences start from £7 per square metre per week, with a £35 application fee. Lewisham’s start from £5.50 with a £30 fee, with similar charges in Bromley. Bexley charges up to £75 per month, but exempts smaller businesses.

9.40am update: A street trading policy has been quietly snuck onto the council website, but with no opportunities for councillors to discuss or debate it. Load the PDF into a web browser, and you’ll see it appears to have been adapted from Ealing Council.

Written by Darryl

20 August, 2013 at 7:30 am

18 Responses

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  1. This will have an impact on the businesses on Royal Hill and, in the case of Buenos Aires and the Creaky Shed, it will be devastating. This is all Maureen’s idea and I am shocked that a councillor for West Greenwich could make such an attack on the small businesses in her ward.
    The council elections are next year, she will never get my vote again.

    Tony

    20 August, 2013 at 9:40 am

  2. So, it will be ‘self-financing’ and realise ‘£20k income.’ I made a Freedom of Information Act request of the Council and have been informed that they do not know how much revenue the pavement tax will generate, and do not have a projected revenue for coming years. However, they have admitted that the administration costs are likely to be in the region of £90k. Fundamental to a public body’s accountability is the care it exercises in handling public monies. If Greenwich Council cannot even determine if the pavement tax will cover the costs of enforcement, the creation of the tax cannot be said to be within its power.

    Richard

    20 August, 2013 at 9:53 am

  3. Why is anyone suprised? This is the Labour Party. Whilst the rest of the country attempts to save their high streets West Greenwich councillors try to destroy the thriving shops and cafes on Royal Hill. Its almost as if policy is decided in Cheshunt?

    Richard

    20 August, 2013 at 10:11 am

  4. Richard (the first, ho ho) – that’s interesting to hear, thank you for posting that info.

    Any councillors, of course, are welcome to respond.

    Darryl

    20 August, 2013 at 10:36 am

  5. Has anybody produced any posters condemning the plan yet? As traders in East Greenwich (The Flight Centre Greenwich) we are appalled at the proposals, even though it should not affect us here since we have a forecourt, which is our freehold land, between the walkway and shop front- just let them try to charge me a tax!! I would like to hear from anyone who has produced a poster as we would like to put one up here, and would be happy to distribute a few locally too- its a great way of letting the public know what a disaster our local council is becoming, and we as traders need to use our greatest tool of a shop window to bring such matters to the public eye.

    derek small

    20 August, 2013 at 10:58 am

  6. So a system that works well and is causing no one any problems is going to be ditched in favour of something that might cost more to administer than it raises (even if it rakes in 20K that won’t cover the cost of Chris Roberts’ canapés), and will adversely affect the small, independent shops that make Greenwich so attractive. Someone on Greenwich Council has gone crazy.

    Tony

    20 August, 2013 at 2:11 pm

  7. O’Maras comment that some traders are pleased about it “Because it gives them a level playing field” is laughable in the extreme, and gives proof of the lies these people tell. Funny isn’t it that no comment on this appears in the FREE newspaper Greenwich Time, where Mr Chris Roberts usually appears on the front page. I’m told that he vets the content very carefully. Democratic borough eh!!!!

    David

    20 August, 2013 at 2:19 pm

  8. The East Greenwich Business Association has been working in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses to raise awareness of this poorly thought-out policy which hurts most, the very shops who are already struggling to survive on our high streets.

    Despite the official party line that the Olympics were great for Greenwich, the majority of our shops and restaurants suffered terribly last summer and many have either not survived or yet recovered from huge financial loss. Introducing this street trading policy at this time, when 10% of our shops are empty is incredulous.

    I’ve heard that consultation was undertaken with only 24 businesses across the whole borough. I’d love to know who those were – how many were indie shops up side streets?

    Lets face it, for some businesses eg restaurants who are located in the right place with large walkways and in the middle of a tourist area, this could be great – a licence to print money in the summer. However, for the majority of us with little shops in less known places, the financial burden that this scheme will bring is not to be underestimated.

    Why not bring back our much loved Town Centre managers, briefing them to work in partnership with the local shops to help make the best of their frontages to work within agreed guidelines. Successfull and growing shops could then provide work placements to those who may be unemployed. A small fee is workable arrangement for this type of service.

    Greenwich Council, please meet with us to review this policy and let us help you craft something that is in the interest of all parties.

    P.S. May I say thanks to the Greenwich Councillors and MPs who are also shocked by this back door piece of policy making and who have given us indie shops their support.

    Lorraine Turton
    Chairwoman
    East Greenwich Business Association

    Lorraine Turton

    20 August, 2013 at 2:50 pm

  9. Well said Lorraine, the only thing that I would disagree with, is that we pay any small fee for anything. My business rates are already astronomical, pathetic value for money and ill affordable. Once you tell these types of people that you can pay more, they think you are earning fortunes and charge you more. Typical labour council I’m afraid. But agree with the rest……….. David

    David

    20 August, 2013 at 4:43 pm

  10. Sorry Darryl – I’m not going to comment generally on the policy. However Derek from the Flight Centre (and of course Lorraine) have already been on to me. The issue of forecourts owned by the shops is an important one and I’m glad Derek has pointed it out. This is just to say, really, that I try to encourage all sorts of community initiatives to make East Greenwich look a bit nicer – and the use of these forecourts is something being considered by some shop owners working with local people. Derek – I might pop in for a chat sometime about it if that is ok???

    maryorelse

    20 August, 2013 at 8:18 pm

  11. Lorraine, I am sorry to tell you that no formal consultation was undertaken. In response to a Freedom of Information request I have been told that ‘There was no formal consultation undertaken with traders. All traders who were considered to have the potential for street trading outside their premises were written to and advised of the application of the law. Visits were then undertaken by street trading officers and the feedback responses referred to were given to those officers.”

    In the absence of consultation, a formal report to Council, investigation on whether public money is being appropriately spent, or whether the process will actually be self-financing one questions whether the Council have taken into account all that they must take into account to be acting within their powers. I don’t believe they have. If the Council wish to deal with unsightly trading they may do so using their current powers to order the removal of an obstruction. This policy is simply a means of generating more money by way of a pavement tax. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Richard (first!)

    21 August, 2013 at 8:55 am

  12. Well said indeed Lorraine, and I kind of agree with your comment too David about how once a charge is in place it’s very easy to start increasing it, but i wonder if it could be a fixed % of business rates set at a very low level and guaranteed to not increase in % in future years? That way maybe the shops who really benefit from tourists etc will likely pay the most as they probably pay the highest rates anyway, and those shops who would gain little benefit from street trading would not pay any more than their already high rates. But if there is enough opposition raised then the scheme could be scrapped or at least temporarily derailed for a few years until this recession is way behind us all.
    I don’t really see why the council needs extra funds from this source anyhow, since they must be literally ‘raking in the money’ from allowing all this intensive high rise development we’re having to suffer locally, built to house people who mostly work elsewhere from 7am to 7pm. If it continues they’ll block out the sun completely and the wind will have no chance of dispersing the pollution levels from the tunnel-but then they’ll build another tunnel which of course will solve ALL our problems.
    Davids comment about Greenwich Time-since when has it been a ‘free’ newspaper anyway- i thought it cost local taxpayers to produce it, and yet it has always presented only the councils own views.

    derek small

    21 August, 2013 at 1:07 pm

  13. Take your point Derek, about Free newspaper, it was meant tongue in cheek, hence the capitals, I should have put it in Commas. Richard is absolutely right, this misguided idea is totally about raising money, but these people do not do their sums. Probably why they work for the council I suppose.

    David

    21 August, 2013 at 1:24 pm

  14. Before long,, if you stand still on the pavement this lot will try to charge you for it to raise the wonga to plug the hole in the finances. Much better than cutting back on essentials like the Mayor Making extravaganza. Come to think of it, the sums being talked about wouldn’t even cover the Mayor Making jollifications! But I am sure small businesses feel uplifted that their hard earned dosh csn go to such a worthy cause! NOT.

    Maggy May

    22 August, 2013 at 7:15 pm

  15. […] programme to “support small businesses”. No, that doesn’t include scrapping the pavement tax. Instead… “It is proposed that an E-Business programme be established for Greenwich […]

  16. I run a small pet shop on old Dover Rd which has been established for over 28 years and love working in the area knowing most of my customers and having a great sense of community feeling … the children’s faces light up and I hear comments about my lovely shop front display of cuddly pet toys , talking toy parrots,,,Having a life sized dog on a lead which people look twice…. gets them every time …bird seed hampers at Xmas Time … ..just to put a smile on their faces makes it worth while .. People comment on the improvements i have made to the shop and creating a shopping experience shopping LOCALLY The florist <,Greengrocer ,Moca coffee shop The Royal Cafe Grill all are very important to the locals… people meet up and chat about their day what is going on in the place where they live …. this is a very important service and a very special place in South East London they are not many areas left like this in the UK So why try and destroy this by having a Pavement Tax …To pay the extra money towards this tax will just rip the heart and Soul out of this road …please help us survive and become a more vibrant area introduce Xmas Lights Flowers in Bloom … do something for the small business ..before everyone leaves and shops On line or at the concrete shopping Malls because that will be the future

    susan donnelly

    27 September, 2013 at 10:44 pm

  17. That say’s it all Susan, well done and keep up the good work. And if any of you local politicians are listening out there, its people like Susan who provide a slim chance of keeping our high streets alive (there are a few local polits like Mary M for whom I realize I’m preaching to the converted) Isn’t it about time that our local council, who lets face it are Labour controlled and should be in favour of hard working lasses like Susan, listens to people who are trying to maintain a community spirit. They need help, advice and support with initiatives that could help them survive, not policies which are blatantly money grabbing. As I’ve said before, get your extra funding from the council tax of all the extra high rises you keep allowing around our World Heritage site, and not from the likes of Susan!

    derek small

    28 September, 2013 at 4:12 pm

  18. […] council meeting was a particularly dramatic one, as the row over Greenwich Council’s pavement tax came to a head, and allegations over the leadership style of Chris Roberts were raised. But how to […]


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