FOLLOWING a backlash by traders and shoppers against the charges on shop displays outside traders’ premises in Church Street, Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) have arranged a ‘drop-in’ session to listen to the problems raised by the increasingly vocal campaign against what some traders see as another ‘stealth’ tax.
On Saturday, 30th June, shoppers joined forces to show solidarity with the Church Street businesses and staged a ‘sit in’ to help breathe life back into what shoppers are calling the ‘heart of the town’.
Pavement areas outside the premises which once helped traders showcase their goods, have been left barren since last week in the face of the levy on ‘furniture’ that the council are introducing following “consultation” with council members, local councils, chambers of commerce, businesses and visually impaired and disabled groups.
But town councillors at their meeting on Monday night, 2nd July, confirmed that no-one from the county council had consulted with them on the plans and that it was a “shame that they had to hear about it from a Facebook message”.
Councillor Anthea Dewhurst said it is a case of how to “balance businesses with public access on the highway” and suggested adding it to an agenda of a sub committee to discuss how to agree to support local businesses within the Equality Act.
Cllr Felicity Cotton expressed her disappointment that MCC did not use their town council colleagues as a means to communicate to help soften the blow.
Cllr Richard Roden added that MCC were not listening to their own councillors either as it had been agreed at a meeting in Sept 2017 not to charge for street furniture “and this decision must have been subsequently overturned by cabinet”.
An online petition to help save ‘Monmouth’s charm’ has reached nearly 3,000 signatures and asks MCC to: “repeal the decision to apply charges and fines, and to work with local businesses to ensure street displays are as attractive as they have always been”.
David Cummings, chair of Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce, who successfully lobbied for A board charges to be dropped and concessions agreed for traders in Beaufort Court, Swan Court and the Oldway Centre, has suggested to MCC that traders with street displays who are subject to Small Business Rate Relief should be given an exemption from payment of charges.
“The chamber also feel that there should be no charge for plants in pots, as this is done by traders to improve the street scene rather than promote their business,” he told the Beacon. Monmouth’s MP David Davies has asked the council to adopt a common sense approach to allow businesses to maintain on-street displays which do not hinder the rights of disabled people.
“I believe this is a conundrum for the local authority as it is difficult to satisfy both the shopkeepers and residents who view these displays as part of Monmouth’s distinctive beauty, and those campaigning for improved disabled access who believe there is a potential breach of legislation.”
The matter is now being looked at by one of the authority’s scrutiny committees headed by councillor Jane Pratt.
If anyone wishes to express an opinion at the drop-in session, it is being held in the Shire Hall on Friday 13th July between 5pm and 7pm.