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Small Businesses Say: Two Main Problems – Business Rates and Customer Parking

Published on: 9 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 9 Dec, 2013
Paul Bridgland, Keith Churchouse, James Quantrell, Diana Lockyer-Nibbs, Anne Milton,  Andrew Hodges (with medal), behind left Andrew Povey and at the back Chris Burchell.

The tour group at Winkworth estate agents. From left: Paul Bridgland, Keith Churchouse, James Quantrell, Diana Lockyer-Nibbs, Anne Milton,  Andrew Hodges (with medal), behind left Andrew Povey and at the back Chris Burchell.

“Give us a break on business rates and please do something about parking,” were the two common pleas from independent traders visited on Saturday by Guildford’s MP Anne Milton and the Mayor, Cllr Diana Lockyer-Nibbs.

The tour of a four independent traders had been arranged by Keith Churchouse of the Guildford Business Forum to coincide with “Small Business Saturday”.

First stop was Ben’s Collectors Record’s in Tunsgate:

The Mayor commented that if shops like Ben’s went then Guildford would become simply a venue for national chains and, “No one wants that”.

Anne Milton recognised that such independent traders provided “destination shops” that people would make a special trip to visit, often from outside Guildford. “But once they are here they will almost invariably spend money elsewhere too, so the town’s business sector, generally, benefits,” she said.

Ben Darnton, who runs the shop, said that the two things he would most want to change are the amount of business rates he is expected to pay and some kind of improvement in the parking situation. Many of his customers complained about the cost and availability of town centre parking.


Ben Darnton (left) tells Keith Churchouse and Anne Milton: “I suppose I could move the business online but I don’t really want to.”

He said: “The business rates have gone up by £200 each of the last two years but trading levels have not. I am now effectively in competition with a lot of the charity shops who also sell records and CDs. But they get a 90 per cent reduction on their business rates. I suppose I could move the business online but I don’t really want to.”

Keith Churchouse chipped in: “Yes, we should recognise that Ben does have that choice but we don’t want him to take it because it would not be good for the town.”

Next it was the Bear Garden in Jeffrie’s passage:

At the Bear Garden, a speciality teddy bear vendor, the cost of parking was also raised as the thing that needed to be changed.  Andrew Colborne-Baber  reported that business was good but that 60 per cent of it now was online, mail order, often with American and Australian customers. None of that kind of trade existed when they had started up.


Jen Pentecost (left) and Victoria Harper (right) showing some of their stock to Anne Milton and The Mayor. Peppa Pig is their current top seller.

Also raised here was lighting in the passage which has been adopted by the council. Some attractive Victorian lights had been installed but some had been vandalised and others required maintenance. One female assistant commented that the lack of light made her more nervous when leaving the shop at night.

The group moved on to men’s outfitters Weir Rhodes in the Upper High Street, an area several in the group commented was underrated for its retail offering.

Here, manager Carl Gravett once again raised the issues of high business rates and parking, along with “extortionate” rents. He felt Guildford had a major problem with all the empty retail units in North Street.


“Are you being served?” The dapper team at Weir Rhodes flank The Mayor and Anne Milton. On the left Richard Slade and on the right Carl Gravett.

He had attended a meeting with the council and said, “I told them everyone seems to have been sitting on their hands on the subject on the subject of North Street, over the last eight or nine years . You have so many empty shops down there, it is not helping attract consumers to Guildford when they see that.”

“I go all around the country looking at shopping districts and I think Guildford is suffering in comparison, despite the fact that it is an affluent area. I keep hearing things about the redevelopment of North Street. I know Waitrose is now coming, which is good, but I think we are about five years off the pace.”

Steering the talk back to parking, Anne Milton suggested that perhaps some free parking periods could be tried as an experiment to see if it helped trading levels. “Just do it!” she said, “Do it next month. We need to deliver quickly.”

The tour ended at Winkworth estate agents at the junction that marks the start of the London and Epsom Roads.

Director James Quantrell explained that Winkworth’s were the largest estate agents outside the M25 and that each branch operated as an independent franchise.

A lot of their current transactions were following a pattern of younger couples earning London salaries who wanted to move out of the capital but remain with an hours travel time of their place of work.

Guildford remained a desirable area because of the town the schools and the nearby countryside.


James Quantrell at Winkworth telling Anne Milton that he would prefer to pay more thorough other taxes than the business rates.

The main issue for Mr Quantrell was once again the business rate: “I don’t think we get anything for it. I would rather pay it all through taxes. Then if I am doing well everyone gets a share. That is fairer that a fixed charge.”

More needed to be done for the smaller businesses he thought and observed: “Not one independent trader opened up in the High Street last year, as far as I know, and profits from the national chains don’t stay in the town in the way that they do when made by the independents.”

Other advantages the large businesses had, he said, were the ability to absorb the cost of administering any new regulations imposed by government and the capability, because of their size, to offer a range of loss leaders, goods sold at no profit simply to get customers in.

Anne Milton mentioned some measures that might help had been included in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne’s autumn statement such as zero National Insurance employer contributions for under 21 apprentices. Ways of helping young people into work were, so important, she said.

Paul Bridgland of Best of Guildford joined the group, from his team’s new central Guildford office above Winkworth, to add that networking was important as it allowed small businesses to support each other. ” I can only agree with what others have said about business rates and parking. Small businesses need some sort of break from the council on their business rates and as for parking, the charges are so high I think they should be renamed ‘parking fines’!”

Event organiser Keith Churchouse who is a director at Chapters Financial as well as chairing the Guildford Business Forum said: “It was great to be able to meet and support our independent retailers on Saturday as part of the initiative of focusing and supporting our SME’s.

“Guildford was busy and I am grateful to all the businesses that hosted our group as we moved up Guildford High Street to hear about both their successes and what extra could be done to help them further. Very positive feedback and I look forward to continuing to work with them into 2014.”

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Responses to Small Businesses Say: Two Main Problems – Business Rates and Customer Parking

  1. Amanda Masters Reply

    December 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    As the Business Improvement District for Guildford, we are very pleased to see the small businesses of the town have a platform like Small Business Saturday to showcase their stores and to have heard their comments and issues that affect them.

    However, it is a little dismaying to see that there is no mention of the free parking initiative which is happening right now. We delivered what the businesses of Guildford told us they wanted.

    With GBC’s support the BID is providing free parking every Thursday in December after 4pm in all pay and display car parks and there will be free parking in all car parks on Boxing Day.

    We are here to support initiatives such as Small Business Saturday and provide as much support for the retailers as possible by securing projects such as free parking. However, we need all parts of the business community to recognise and promote these initiatives to help make them successful and retain Guildford’s attractiveness as the varied retail experience it is.

    Amanda Masters is the General Manager of Experience Guildford.

    This comment has also been published as a letter.

  2. Brian Holt Reply

    December 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Although I have lived in Guildford for over 70 years I normally do my shopping in other towns, mainly Staines. It has far better stores and shopping centre.

    All the big stores are next to each other and have a massive car park outside the stores, all on the flat. No multi-storey car parking. It is only £2.50 for three hours. There is a large market on Saturdays.

    Guildford Borough Council should take note, I recently went to Crawley where all the car parks in the town centre, on Saturdays, have only one flat fee £2-50, which allows all day parking.

  3. George Potter Reply

    December 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    This really shouldn’t be news to anyone and least of all to Anne Milton and Guildford council Conservatives.

    Business rates and parking have been issues for years in the town centre and if the local Conservatives have only just picked up on it when they’ve been running the place for over eight years then you have to wonder what on earth they’ve been doing in that time.

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