First, it’s the business-unfriendly Colchester Council in the news yet again:
Business representatives are concerned at the growing number of empty shops in Colchester.Well, they do indeed have a reputation for doing just that.
They called for help to stem the problem and accused the council of putting obstacles in the way of the town centre’s economic recovery.
Remember this story?
Keith Brown, regional organiser of Essex FSB, said: …“It’s definitely the recession causing the problem. But Colchester Council is not helping.And more to the point, an empty shop means a lack of business rates coming in, which means a lack of income for the council. You’d think a council employee would see that.
“It’s taking a very harsh line against things like companies giving out leaflets promoting their business or putting up signs saying where they are located, like the Cowdray Centre.
“We are trying to meet with the council and we have certainly made our views known. An empty shop in the High Street brings down the whole street and has a domino effect.”
Hell, anyone who’s ever played ‘Sim City’ knows it!
Iain Wicks, chairman of north-east Essex FSB, added: “It is important for the future of Colchester town centre that this move is reversed as quickly as possible and Essex FSB will be looking to work with Colchester Council and other partners to actively encourage more retailers to choose Colchester and open stores in the town.Indeed. Of course, they don’t agree with that assessment.
“A key part of that offer to retailers is for Colchester Council to be seen as business friendly and supportive of retailers trying to attract new customers into their stores. Sadly that is not the current image that Colchester Council projects.”
Nick Barlow, councillor responsible for economic development, said: “I think we’re doing all we can to help businesses.”You might think so, but if you aren’t, and if businesses are saying so, and if shops are closing and nothing is taking their place…
Meanwhile, in another Essex town:
A restaurant has been dealt a blow after councillors vetoed retrospective plans to use a shop next door as a bar and waiting area.Oh, really?
The Estuary restaurant, in Leigh Broadway, has been using the adjoining linked premises as an area for its customers to wait for a table.Well, I’ve a tiny bit of sympathy with the council here – this sort of ‘encroachment by degree’ is precisely the sort of thing that we hate to see in disputes with travellers, after all.
The business was threatened with enforcement action after Southend Council received a complaint in February last year that the wall had been taken down and the business had expanded.
On the other hand, since this is clearly a booming business that is bringing in revenue, wouldn’t a hefty fine be more sensible?
At a council development control committee, Jim Clinkscales (Lib Dem, Blenheim Park) disagreed with the proposals and said it would open the floodgates to other businesses facing enforcement action.Ah, I see. Got to treat everyone equally, eh?
Does it not occur to you to fine them too?
John Lamb (Con, West Leigh) said he felt the permission should be granted and expressed concerns about the effect on business.I doubt it’ll close down. There’s no need to reach for the hyperbole…
He added: “A lot of investment has gone into the establishment.
“I believe we should be encouraging some of these. We have to allow some to develop because we need this type of business in the 21st century.
“Let’s not refuse it and make it close down.”
Graham Longley (Lib Dem, Blenheim Park) supported Mr Lamb and said it was the wrong decision.It seems to be catching…
He added: “I think we have an unrealistic approach to this. It is perfect for where it is.
“I just think we are being draconian in not allowing this sort of activity to take place.
“It is essential in terms of cafe society and cafe culture. It improves the ambience in the area. If it was closed we would have an empty shop.
“It is a clean, well-run facility which should be available to everybody. I think it would be totally wrong to close it down.”
However, the application was refused with members voting ten against and two for.Bet I know who they were!
The owner is understandably miffed:
Mr Bailey said: “Leigh Town Council hasn’t got a problem with us, none of the public have a problem with us. Who is the council actually working for? ”That’s a very good point, Mr Bailey. Whom indeed?
Also in Essex, this time at Canvey Island:
A laundry boss says he has been left high and dry after his plans to expand a business were knocked back by the council.He wanted to reopen an existing empty shop and they turned him down? Why?
Simon Bannister, who runs Canvey Island Ironing and Laundry Services, wanted to expand his business by creating a new laundrette in an empty shop at 326 Long Road on the island.
His proposals were turned down by Castle Point Council’s planning department due to a lack of parking provision.But if the lack of parking is an issue, what can be done with the empty shop?
Mr Bannister, who has owned the Charfleets Industrial Estate-based business for 18 months, said: “I’m completely gutted.And there’s another part of the problem – if it costs a business money to place an application which might get turned down on a whim, where’s the incentive?
“I would have thought the council would be backing local businesses, given the country’s economic problems.
“Their general attitude is you’re just a little man and what we say goes.
“The business is going well, but I wanted a shop front so we could get more passing trade.
“I’ve wasted £2,000 on this application and got nowhere.”
Norman Smith, councillor for economic regeneration, said: “I can understand the officers’ concerns because that spot has been an accident blackspot and the pedestrian crossing has only recently been put in.Why would he want to go elsewhere when there’s an empty shop right there..?
“I certainly don’t like to see an empty shop anywhere.
“Perhaps we could try to support him looking for a suitable shop elsewhere.”
And if lack of parking is an issue, what business are you EVER going to allow to open that shop? Will it stay empty forever?
These three seem to sum up the dilemma of just what 'civic good' local councils do.