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Covered Market rents 'are unfair to traders'
AS traders at Oxford’s Covered Market count the cost of soaring rents, one shopkeeper is well placed to judge whether they are getting a fair deal.
Newsagent Tim Gresswell has a shop in the market and on Oxford’s High Street.
The city council says it uses high street rents as a comparator when reviewing rents in the market. But Mr Gresswell says his figures show that traders in the market are being treated more harshly than necessary by the city council when footfall, turnover and percentage rent rises are taken into account.
Earlier this week, it emerged that 10 out of 58 businesses in the historic market, roughly one in six, are looking to sell up.
Traders are blaming a proposed rent rise of between about 40 per cent and 70 per cent, and competition from the Internet, for the unprecedented number of firms trying to leave at the same time.
Mr Gresswell, 57, who runs Market News, in the market, and Tim’s Newsagents, in High Street, says he gets a better rent deal at his High Street shop.
He added: “It’s simply not right for the council to say they are using high street rents as comparators for the rent review and, if they are, then their figures are wrong.
“If the council is claiming it is using high street stores as a comparator then the rent increase for my store in the market should be between five and 10 per cent.
“I started running Market News in 1987 and I’m probably taking slightly less now than I did when the shop first opened.
“There is less and less footfall in the Covered Market and the council should put up more signs to direct people to the market, particularly in Cornmarket.
“It’s worrying that so many traders are trying to leave at the same time.”
Mr Gresswell added that he ran a second business in the market called Bolitas, which sells Brazilian-style cheeseballs.
“The council is proposing a rent increase of 101.6 per cent for Bolitas, which is huge,” he added.
“If that goes ahead, it will take the rent from £2,975 a year to £6,000.”
The counci’s executive member for city development, Colin Cook, said: “There’s still room for negotiation over rent increases and the level of increase could come down during negotiations. If traders aren’t happy with the increase, there’s an opportunity to go to an arbitrator.”
Macsamillion, which opened its first of three stores in the Covered Market in the 1970s, is closing the Oxford Boot Store, citing high rents and online competition as key factors.
The shop, which faces a 40 per cent rent increase, will continue to trade until the lease is sold.
TIM Gresswell pays £5,835 a year in rent for the Covered Market shop.
If a 35 per cent increase goes ahead in the current rent review, he will pay £7,900 for the 108sq ft shop for the next five years – or £73 per square foot.
At Tim’s Newsagent, landlord Lincoln College has agreed a six per cent increase for the next five years, taking the rent from £30,000 to £32,000 for the 250sq ft store – or £128 per square foot.
But Mr Gresswell says Tim’s Newsagent gets three times the turnover and 10 times the number of passers-by.
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