The owners of Altrincham Market say they are facing the prospect of having to close their doors for good after being handed an extraordinary 484% business rate hike.
Just days after seeing its traders miss out on business rates relief from the government, Market Operations – which operates Altrincham Market and Market House – has been informed that the rateable value of its property has been revised from £31,000 to £181,000.
Trafford Council says the change is down to the historic premises being reassessed as a ‘Food Court, Market and Premises’, rather than simply a ‘Market and Premises’ – and that the rates are set by the government and is out of their hands.
But Nick Johnson, co-owner of Market Operations, told Altrincham Today that the news has come “at a time when we are most vulnerable” – and has warned that the market will be forced to close.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “At a time when we’re meant to be all in this together, and when the market has done so much for the town, this has happened with no prior notice or discussion.
“The traders are almost in tears. Everyone’s existence is marginal at the best of times, and now at the worst of times we’re getting hit by this.
“We’ve been running around trying to help everybody and make sure we’re all still here when we’re all out of this because if they’re not, there won’t be a market.”
Currently, the rates bill is split between the traders who are permanently stationed in Market House, such as Honest Crust, Tender Cow and the Great North Pie Co.
That unorthodox set-up – and the fact Market House was classed as a shared space – meant it was denied rate relief under the terms of the Chancellor’s recent coronavirus rescue package. The council had also sought to clamp down on the market’s flower stall – saying it was selling non-essential goods – and vegetable boxes.
And Johnson said it was a “double whammy” that the rate increase had now come at a time when most traders’ revenue had almost all been wiped out due to the shutdown.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a 12-month business rates holiday for all hospitality and leisure businesses, so payment of the new rate will not be required until 2021.
But Johnson said there was no doubt about the impact on the market, which has been regularly held up as the driving force behind the transformation of Altrincham in recent years – and only month was described as being “much imitated, but never bettered” and a key factor in it awarding the town the coveted title of the best place to live in the UK.
Johnson added: “We’ll close. People won’t be able to afford to carry on. The whole basis on which we have built and carried on is low overheads.
“We have done so much for the town and its people and we are now being hit at a time when we are most vulnerable. Talking to people now, they are just incredibly affronted by what’s happened.
“The council needs to understand that this is precious territory.”
Matt Walsh, owner of Tender Cow in Market House, said the increase had made him “feel like giving up”.
“It’s almost not worth reopening,” he said. “We’re already fighting an uphill battle and this is making our lives a lot more difficult – I felt like crying when I found out.”
Walsh also hit out at the council for backdating the new rate to March 23rd – the first Monday after his business and the rest of Market House was forced to shut down, saying it “almost feels malicious”.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Trafford Council said: “Trafford Council collects the rates but they are set by the Government’s Valuation Office Agency. The reassessment comes as a result of the Valuation Office Agency carrying out a revaluation of the premises based on the current usage. It is now assessed as a ‘Food Court, Market and Premises.’
“Previous rateable assessments were based on the premises being a ‘Market and Premises.’ The market will have the opportunity to appeal the rateable value with the Valuation Office.”