Charity shops are squeezing independent traders out of high streets according to Bexhill Town Team.
There are 24 in the town centre at present - not including Sidley and Little Common - and more on the way.
The number of charity shops is a problem to be urgently addressed says Town Team chairman Hillary Randall - as is parking and the “delapidated” state of street furniture.
Thanks to a government ruling, charity shops benefit from 80 percent rate relief which means they can afford higher rents and pick prime shopping sites. And they are able to buy goods from the same wholesale suppliers as independent traders and compete on that front as well- so long as they still rely mainly on donations.
Hillary commented: “Other businesses are not getting that rate relief. They are paying business rates which are about three times the level of what you pay for a domestic space, much higher than residential rates, and it is a lot of money. But charity shops can afford higher rents and be in better locations because they get a present from the government. And if they are part of a big charity, effectively a national chain, they are cash-rich in comparison to the independent traders they compete against.”
She cited two longstanding individual shops - Bestsellers book shop and Maud’s vintage clothing in St Leonards Road - which recently closed, as well as a card shop in Western Road which is about to become “yet another charity shop,” and also highlighted the impact of having many charity shops on the overall look of the town.
The Town Team is concerned with the appearance of Bexhill streets and think that “furniture” in them - such as bus shelters and litter bins - needs replacing. Parking in Bexhill is also a worry, and Bexhill Town Team claims there is nowhere for shoppers or residents to park, and, while free two-hour parking is available, there is no current way to enforce the time limit. A special town forum was held in summer on the subject of parking with many voicing their feelings and dissatisfaction.
An spokesman for the county council said: “Enforcement of the current two-hour parking limit in Bexhill is a matter for Sussex Police. Discussions are ongoing on this issue between the various parties involved and we would obviously consider any suggestions to try and improve the parking situation in the town.” “Only in Rother district and Wealden is this a criminal issue,” commented Hillary. “Everywhere else in Sussex this is a civil issue. But here we are leaving it under the control of the police who surely should be doing more important things than monitoring two-hour parking bays. We need to decriminalise this so we can have civil enforcement.” The Town Team also wants action over the fencing between Devonshire Square and Bexhill station platform and is working with Rother District Council’s town centre steering committee to work out a solution with Southern Rail to make it more effective.”
Turn to page 6 to read more about the Town Team.