Traders demand business rates cut over tram works

The tram project in Edinburgh has caused major disruption. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The tram project in Edinburgh has caused major disruption. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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PRESSURE is being put on the council to give shops hit by the tram works a discount of up to 25 per cent in their business rates.

Tory councillor Joanna Mowat wants the city council to petition for a blanket reduction in the rates bills of businesses in areas such as the West End, where disruption is expected to continue for at least another year.

She said the move could mean the difference between life and death for some shops.

The appeal came as one business owner in the West End said the streets outside his shop were more like Beirut than Edinburgh and raised the prospect of traders withholding their rates.

Brian Roberts, of hairdresser Headline in Shandwick Place, said: “People are on their knees along here. It’s like a street in Beirut, not Edinburgh. It’s devastating.

“Normally, we would get 20 to 25 people a week walking in off the street over and above appointments. Now we’re getting nothing.” He said businesses were frustrated they had to apply individually for rates rebates rather than receiving an automatic concession in recognition of the effect of the tram works. He said some had floated the idea of refusing to pay.

However, Joan Hewton, assessor at the Lothian Valuation Joint Board, said the rates being charged to businesses took account of the tram works.

She said a previous scheme offering 20 per cent reductions to businesses along the route had been introduced in 2007 because valuations at that time were based on 2003 rental levels, long before the tram works started. The scheme had ended with the latest revaluation in 2010, which was based on 2008 rental levels – assessed when the tram works were under way.

Nevertheless, Cllr Mowat said small businesses still needed help and called for a 20 or 25 per cent reduction on their rates bill.

She said: “We need to make sure there are still businesses there when this is finished. We don’t want a new tram system and a whole lot of empty shops.

“If we could give them something, it could be the difference between life and death.”

Transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said a blanket rebate risked handing money to businesses which happened to be close to the tram works but were not affected – for example if their operations were online.

Others would not be helped because they were exempt from rates under the Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus scheme, he added.