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Jazz Cafe owner warns of business rate hike threat to Camden’s music scene

'It will be like paying two rents': Camden's independent businesses brace themselves for "detrimental" rates increase

03 March, 2017 — By William McLennan

Steve Ball from the Columbo Group

THE owner of some of Camden Town’s most iconic music venues fears that government increases in business rates will threaten the area’s re-emergence as London’s leading cultural destination.

Steve Ball, whose firm Columbo Group took over the Jazz Café and Barfly last year, said the area is returning to its prime after years of losing out to east London, but fears this resurgence could be knocked by a punitive tax hike due to be introduced next month.

Firms across the borough are facing a significant rise in business rates – with some expecting an increase of more than 100 per cent from next month – leading to concerns that smaller traders will be forced out and replaced by chains.

He said: “The Roundhouse and Koko and us, we’re here anyway, we’re destination businesses. But it’s the little independent coffee shops, the independent booksellers, that’s what would make Camden cool again and these are the people who are going to be most drastically affected by this huge increase in business rates.”

The iconic Jazz Cafe music venue

Mr Ball added “I really believe in Camden. Twenty years ago Camden was the centre of cultural London and I really believe these things have the potential to move in cycles and Camden has the potential to go through that boom again. It seems a shame about these business rates that may scupper that.”

Columbo Group, which also owns the Blues Kitchen in Camden High Street, has been told its rateable value – used to determine a venue’s final business rates bill – will be increasing by between 70 and 120 per cent. The company last year overhauled the Jazz Cafe in Parkway and Barfly – now known as Camden Assembly – in Chalk Farm Road.

Simon Pitkeathley, chief executive of business group Camden Town Unlimited, said businesses face an average increase of 30 to 40 per cent. He called for a “fundamental review” of how the rates are calculated and said there should be concessions for businesses in London, where property prices have soared for years.

Simon Pitkeathley

He said: “Because Camden is vibrant and has a lot of footfall, I think if a businesses goes bust another one will probably replace it, but that is turning a blind eye to the incredible pain and heartache that goes into a business that goes bust. “We have a distorted view of business as people just lining their pockets. It really isn’t like that. It’s a real grind.”

Elsewhere in Camden, rates rises are expected to have a serious impact in Kentish Town, where the arrival of estate agents and chain coffee shops has been vociferously opposed in recent years.

Ace Sports owner Nick Mavrides, chairman of Kentish Town Business Association, said rises would have a “massive impact” on smaller businesses.

“I think the multiples will just digest it, the likes of Costa and all these others on the high street. The independents, some of them may be forced to close if the hike is that high,” he said. “It will be like paying two rents and it’s not do-able for a lot of us. You’ll see a massive shift in many high streets and it will have a very detrimental effect.”

A government spokes­man said: “This government is delivering the biggest-ever cut in business rates, meaning from April a third of all businesses will pay no rates at all, and nearly a million businesses will see their bills cut. ”

He added: “Three quarters of businesses will see either no change or a fall in their bills from this latest revaluation. However, if a ratepayer believes the details we hold are incorrect then they can contact us with suggested amends. From April 1 they will have the option of formally challenging the valuation.”

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