More trouble for traders with demands to pay a pavement tax

24th June

Traders use the space outside their shops for information boards, plants, tables and chairs and stock.

After the despair at pre-Christmas roadworks in late 2018, Heathfield traders have been shocked to receive demands from East Sussex Highways for a ‘pavement tax’. After more than 70 years without this tax being implemented they are questioning why they suddenly have to start paying.

Traders have commented that the demand seems poorly thought through, James MacNay from Cuculo explained:

“Just a flat fee – when pavements differ in width and depth, with obstacles such as lamp-posts and bins in front of some premises but not others, seems unfair.   We feel it is a point of principle and also fear that the fee will incrementally increase year-on-year if allowed in. Although Highways have been very responsive to our concerns, I think many traders have decided to resist the licensing demand and take legal advice as to the position and the best way to proceed.”

Not surprisingly,  there is still some lingering resentment and mistrust among the traders following last November’s road closure.  In particular the poor communication and PR experienced at the time has been repeated with this tax demand. There was no warning, just a letter out of the blue, with a demand.  Highways has said lessons have been learned  and that they did make an effort to visit the affected traders in person before sending letters,  but not all traders were open or available at the time she visited.

Jill from Aunty Wainrights pointed out that: “The whole thing seems ill conceived, I understand that demands to pay for a permit don’t explain what you are paying for, there is no rate card with transparent charges based on available space per square foot, and contact with traders is inconsistent. We for example haven’t received a demand, where as Sing to the Moon across the road have been threatened with removal of their displayed goods and costs, we both use the pavement in a similar way.”

Bjorn from Sing to the Moon was furious: “I have been threatened, and given 30 days to remove goods, however this hasn’t been enforced. Hitting us with this demand after 70 years of inaction on this, it’s just another scheme to cash in and is squeezing the independent trader in the High St. After the pre Christmas losses I suffered when Highways shut the High Street for a month, it’s just another nail in the coffin for traders. I am seriously thinking of closing down.”

When asked an East Sussex Highways spokesman said: “It has always been the case that traders need to obtain a licence to place signs, stock or street furniture on pavements. As with all highways authorities, we are required by law to ensure there are no obstructions or unlicensed objects placed on roads or pavements. We have recently seen an increase in complaints from pedestrians on this issue  and while we appreciate that traders want to make best use of the space in front of their shops, our priority has to be the safety of pedestrians. Our licensing and enforcement officer is happy to discuss options for applying for an appropriate licence with local businesses.”

Bad feelings still linger after the ill-timed November roadworks, which had a negative impact on the town’s businesses, on some days Heathfield resembled a ghost town on what should have been a time for busy pre Christmas trading. The town’s economy is a delicate balance, nine charity shops in a small High Street is a symptom of the problems, and independent traders are finding their survival more challenging. As they build a case to resist this latest financial burden, they have appealed to  Huw Merriman MP  to look into the historical and legal basis for these licence demands, using the resources and researchers at the House of Commons Library.

Heathfield High St, East Sussex