[This is a story originally published in the Crawley Observer, republished here for submission in the NCTJ eportfolio.]
Crawley shop owners have spoken out against a council decision to increase their rent by 30 per cent, warning the rise would damage their businesses and impact on the community.
Tilgate Parade traders have been collecting signatures for a petition, calling for Crawley Borough Council’s decision to be overturned.
The petition, copies of which are at each of the ten shops, calling for the rent hike to be overturned, has about 2,000 signatures so far.
Pan Jina has run Tilgate Newsagents for two decades.
He said the news made him ‘angry’ and could lead to his business folding.
He said: “We’ll be destroyed – we can’t afford it. We haven’t drawn wages for five or six years – a 30 per cent rent hike would end it.”
As well as speaking out about the impact the increase would have on their businesses, shop owners also voiced concerns about the impact it could have on the community.
Jayne Davis has worked at Panache Hair and Beauty for 41 years, rising through the ranks from Saturday girl to business owner.
She said that the increase would be ‘unsustainable’ for the business, which is also home to a barbers and a nail salon.
She said: “I can’t put my prices up by 30 per cent. Around 65 per cent of my customers are aged over 65 – they can’t take this sort of price hike.
“Our clients are more like friends, coming in every week. Our ladies tell us that coming to the salon is a lifeline, they tell me ‘I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t here’.”
Darren and Jane Kirkham own Tilgate Bakery, which had a 17 per cent rent increase three years ago.
Jane said: “We have 18 members of staff in total. This rent hike puts our growth in jeopardy, and we can’t plan ahead. I’ve worked so hard to increase our customers, our reputation.
“We have 300 people coming in every day, and we know our customers on a first name basis.”
Darren added: “This is my community. It is heartbreaking. We could go and find a cheaper place, but we play a role in the community – there are people for who we are their only contact. Councillor Lamb (borough council leader) has to show some care – he hasn’t even had a conversation with us.”
Matthew Cousins, director of Inspire estate agents, argued the increase was disproportionate.
“We will lose independent places,” he said.
“There’s no consistency and no standardisation. We want a change in the way they negotiate rent increases, and we want a set procedure.”
“We don’t feel supported at all by the local council.”
Mr Lamb did not wish to comment when approached for comment by the Observer.