Traders, councillors and business leaders are joining forces in the face of controversial plans to increase licence fees for outdoor seating.
Earlier this month, Worthing businesses were told by West Sussex County Council they must pay £520 a year for outdoor seating – a 260 per cent increase.
The flat fee sees traders of all sizes paying the same and could be the ‘last straw’ for some, according to the Worthing Hospitality Federation.
Chairman Andy Sparsis called on Worthing Borough Council to oppose the county council taking money from local traders that would not necessarily be reinvested in the town.
He said: “I am asking Worthing Borough Council to start fighting with us, side by side. I want to stand with the council and fight the county council to stop them bullying local businesses and going over their heads.”
Mr Sparsis commended Worthing council for its past support of small businesses and council leader Dan Humphreys confirmed he would be seeking talks with the county council to ‘understand the rationale’ behind the fee hike.
He said the council was a ‘tireless champion’ of town centre businesses and would be bringing forward plans to revitalise the town centre with more housing, restaurants and tourist attractions.
The council was committed to working with businesses to keep moving the town centre forward, he added.
East Worthing and Shoreham’s Labour Party voiced its opposition earlier this month: Worthing and Adur traders facing ‘extortionate’ licence fees for outdoor seating
Last year, Mr Humphreys was joined by Worthing’s Town Centre Initiative at a county council seminar discussing the future of town centres.
Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said she left the seminar feeling ‘excited and reinvigorated’ by promises to ‘protect and enhance’ Worthing town centre.
A key issue raised was the realisation of a town’s identity, she said, but since the seminar there had been no consultation with local businesses.
“Everyone has to stand together for the good of the high streets,” she said.
“The local authorities are investing in the public realm and part of the plans are increased pedestrianisation and use of outside space to create a café culture and improve the ambiance of the town.
“Businesses will help create the vision but only if they are not unfairly burdened with additional taxation.
“The Town Centre Initiative has been encouraged that the local authorities are focusing on what to do to secure the future of the high street but then decisions are made, without consultation, that can have a detrimental impact.
“We know how hard Worthing Borough Council is working to secure external funding for regeneration projects but sometimes it’s the smaller wins that have the biggest impact on an independent business and this shouldn’t be forgotten.”
The Town Centre Initiative would be writing to the county council, she added.
A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said charging licence fees was necessary to cover administration costs during ‘ongoing financial pressures’.
The spokesman said: “It has been a legal requirement for businesses to have a licence when putting tables and chairs on the pavement for many years. A licence is required for the public liability of any business in the event of an accident and the license allows the county council to make sure tables and chairs do not pose a risk to people using the pavement.
“Feedback from groups representing people with limited sight or mobility have raised the latter as a particular issue.
“Across the country there are lots of examples of different charging mechanisms for businesses to put furniture on streets with many authorities choosing to apply a flat fee.
“However, we will be reviewing our charging mechanism for next year in the Autumn and at that point we will consider taking into account the number of tables and chairs on the pavement outside each premises.
“There are a number of businesses that already pay for a licence and it is therefore necessary that we take a fair and consistent approach across the county.”