A petition has been signed by more than 1,500 people calling for a decision to increase rent rates at Tilgate Parade to be overturned.
The petition called for Labour leader of Crawley Borough Council Peter Lamb and Labour cabinet member Peter Smith to reverse their decision to proceed with an increase in rent for tenants of the parade.
It was presented to MP Henry Smith, Tilgate councillor Francis Guidera and the now elected Conservative councillor for Tilgate Maureen Mwagale by some of Tilgate Parade’s small business owners and staff on September 20.
Mr Guidera said about ten Tilgate Parade businesses were currently battling the council for a much fairer, reasonable rent increase in line with inflation, and would continue to fight for this over the coming weeks.
Mr Guidera said after months of negotiation by business owners, the Labour administration had ploughed on with a huge rent increase which threatened the immediate future of several of the shops and small businesses.
Darren and Jane Kirkham own Tilgate Bakery. Mr Kirkham said: “The reason for the petition is to raise awareness in the local community – we didn’t want behind-the-scenes negotiations at the council to not be known about.
“Rent per square foot elsewhere in Crawley is exactly half of what is being proposed for the parade.
“We as shopkeepers are frustrated with the hike – we feel that the council’s definition of market value of rent doesn’t take all the economic factors into account.
“My personal view is that I understand that there will be a rent hike, but I question the methodology.”
Mr Guidera said some businesses had been in the parade for decades, while some were ‘not joking’ when they said they could not afford the increased rates.
He called on Mr Lamb to ‘look at some of their books’, adding: “Some are barely breaking even. This will finish some of them.
“Nobody is subsidising anything – the council is asking for more rent than is commercially viable for some parade shops and when Crawley was built, the parades were central to the neighbourhood plans.
“The purpose of each parade was to serve the local community, not be a cash machine for the council.”
Ms Mwagale, speaking before her by-election victory, said the shops were extremely valuable for pensioners. She pledged to push for an review of how rents were negotiated in future.
She said: “I’ve knocked on doors and spoken to so many people, and especially for the elderly these shops are a lifeline. They are the ones who cannot make daily journeys into the town centre and the parade is a big part of their daily social life.
“If I am elected I will be pushing hard for an urgent review of how we negotiate neighbourhood parade rents going forwards, starting with Tilgate which is of course my priority.”
Mr Lamb did not wish to comment when approached for comment by the Observer.
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