Ghost Town fear

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WIGAN is danger of becoming a ghost town if business rates are allowed to soar.

That’s the view of successful businessman David Bamford, who owns Symphony Music, on Market Street, who is bracing himself for a proposed 5.6 per cent rise in rates.

The musician, who originally set up shop in Ashton, moved to the town centre two-and-a-half years ago.

David, who runs the store with his wife, Michelle, voiced concerns that if the price hike goes ahead, many businesses could be forced to close.

He said: “If the rise to the rates is applied in April, our business rates will not only be the highest they have ever been, but more significantly they will account for a greater percentage of our expenses than ever before.

“The principle calculation for business rates suggests it should be under half of our notional rent, but instead it will be more than 75 per cent of our rent.

“What is more alarming is that, due to the high street historically being a buoyant trading environment with high-value properties, the rateable values are generally higher than other business properties.

“In a period of trading decline, this increase hurts the high street twice as hard.”

David, who sells musical instruments and provides instrumental tuition, believes new developments out of the town centre has partly created the problem.

He added: “While Wigan Council are only beneficiaries of business rates and have no influence over the charges levied, I believe it is not blameless in this situation.

“Even during the halcyon years of retail, it can still be argued that agreeing development was irresponsible if it simply moves occupancy.”

Mike Worden, head of planning at Wigan Council, said: “Planning applications for out-of-centre developments are subject to significant testing and scrutiny through the planning process.

“Government and local policy focuses new development for retail in town and existing centres and Wigan Council has followed this approach.

“Robin Park, like many out of centre retail developments in towns across the country, was granted planning consent some years ago before national retail policy was as strong as it is now.

“Since then we have strengthened our town centre retail offer, through for example the Grand Arcade development which has drawn in shoppers to the town centre who would have otherwise shopped elsewhere, plus the improved leisure facilities to help attract more people into the town centre. This has helped to keep Wigan within the country’s top 100 retail destinations.”