Enough is enough – that’s the call from Lytham traders over a recent surge in the number of charity shops on the town’s main street.
Members of the Lytham Business Partnership fear the stores – which now total nine, with two charities represented twice – are damaging the image of the town as well as undermining their businesses because of rate advantages for the charities. They are ready to take their battle to the highest level of Government.
With charity shops relying on volunteers, there is also little chance of job creation at the premises.
The Group’s initiative has been backed by the Federation of Small Businesses, which hopes that expected new Government legislation to allow local councils to limit the number of betting shops in high streets might provide an opening for a similar decision over charity shops.
Robert Silverwood, vice-chairman of the Lytham Business Partnership, said: “It really has got to the stage where we have to say enough is enough and if it requires direct lobbying to the Prime Minister, we need to do it.
“The number of charity shops has increased notably over recent times.
“Lytham is over-saturated with them and we feel it is bad for the image of the town in terms of lack of choice for shoppers.
“There is also the question of competition for other retailers in the town in terms of new goods on sale and the rate concessions that the charity shops receive.
“As the current regulations stand, there is nothing that can be done at local level about the situation and it is very frustrating because we feel it is unfair on our established traders.
“We have absolutely nothing at all against the charities themselves but we feel we have to do something to stop the proliferation of them.
“It is not as if any shops which come empty in Lytham would remain vacant for long.
“It is an attractive town for businesses with plenty of visitors but the landlords are happy to let the charities take up the properties because they feel they will be getting regular rental.”
Phil Parkes, a member of the Lytham Partnership who has traded at Clifton’s in Clifton Street for 20 years, said: “It isn’t a level playing field and something needs to be done.
“The charity shops get the advantages of substantial rate concessions because of their charitable status but a substantial proportion of their goods on sale are new so they are direct rivals with other businesses in town.
“It is as if we are losing out twice over and there is no regulation over the number of such shops.
“Charities can also move in without having to apply for change of use which would be the case if someone wanted to take over a vacant shop, open a cafe and add a little extra variety to the town centre.”
Amid increasing concern over the effects of electronic gaming machines housed within most betting shops, the Government has this week been set to detail the creation of a new planning class for betting shops, allowing councils to vet applications more stringently than for other retailers.
Up to now, betting shops have required the same permission as banks and building societies but, in welcome the prospect of that change, a local spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses hopes that, if and when introduced, it might set a precedent for local councils to also look at the proliferation of charity shops.
Gary Lovatt, FSB regional chairman for Lancashire and Cumbria, said: “We are aware of the growth in number of charity shops in Lytham over the last couple of years.
“This is symptomatic of the economic situation we have seen up and down the country.
“While charity shops play an important role within communities and are welcomed there is a balance to be met. When there are in some areas more charity shops than small business retailers, and some of those charity shops are selling new goods, then things have clearly gone too far.
“This is also coupled with the favourable tax treatment for these shops make it a very unfair playing field.
“We would welcome an extension of powers to local authorities to ensure that the high street remains predominantly about private sector retailers, and that growth in number of charity shops on our high streets can be controlled, as has been announced with regards to the number of betting shops.”
A spokesman for the Barnardos charity, which has two shops in Lytham, said: “It’s important to remember that charity shops provide an additional dimension in the community.
“They have an important role in raising funds for local charitable services; they ensure volunteering and training opportunities for local people and provide recycling retailing, preventing many of the items they sell going to landfill.
“The funds raised by Barnardo’s stores go directly to supporting our services for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, young people and families in the UK.”