Valuation Officer Examined on Business Rate Hike

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Your area

David Jackson, Valuation Officer for East Anglia, appeared before Councillors, local business people and the webcast cameras of Epping Forest District Council to explain why he increased local Non-Domestic Rate (business rates) for shopkeepers during the worst recession in many years. Mr Jackson set out his case and was then cross-examined by Councillors of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at the Civic Offices on Thursday 28 January.

Councillor Lesley Wagland suggested to Mr Jackson that his revaluation of local businesses `might be wrong` and urged him to relook at the `real market` in 2008.

Councillor Peter Spencer and Councillor Lesley Wagland pressed Mr Jackson concerning rate increases in Buckhurst Hill.

Mr Jackson acknowledged that previous rate levels had been wrongly applied in Buckhurst Hill, leading to the big increase. Councillor Peter Spencer asked if natural justice was served by such a large increase, especially before the regular five-year review. Mr Jackson felt he had to take account of new information in resetting the Business Rate.

In response to Councillor Lesley Wagland, Mr Jackson said that his role was impartial and not solely to extract the highest possible rate. He apologised to any shopkeeper where his staff had announced to shopkeepers that they had `Come to put the rates up.  Mrs Wagland challenged Mr Jackson. She felt the Valuation Officer had approached the process from the wrong perspective.

Councillor Wagland compared the `Waitrose effect` of a major grocery store being applied to small businesses such as the local newsagent. She asked Mr Jackson to ensure small businesses were aware they had until 31 March to appeal against the original 2005 valuation list and that they could appeal against the 2010 list from 1 April.

Councillor Derek Jacobs raised similar concerns on behalf of shopkeepers in Ongar. He suggested that rates in Ongar appeared to exceed those of London Boroughs. Mr Jackson said the rateable value for Ongar was based on the evidence for that area. It was not directly comparable to other areas.

Buckhurst Hill High Street

Under further questioning, Mr Jackson said shopkeepers affected by road works in Ongar and elsewhere should appeal for a temporary rate reduction.

Councillor John Knapman developed the points made by Councillor Wagland concerning the definition of a small business in comparison with a large business such as Waitrose. Councillor Knapman also asked how the Valuation Office took account of market conditions. Mr Jackson confirmed to Councillor Knapman that should rateable values go down, business rates should go down, too.

Councillor Knapman was frustrated that despite the poor economic conditions in which local Councils such as Epping Forest District and Essex County Council strived to keep businesses going the Valuations Office could push some under. Councillor Chris Whitbread added that the review had been carried out during the economic boom but had been implemented in the depths of recession. He did not think the local impact was neutral even if it had been nationally and he called for Government action to solve the problem.

Councillor Jon Whitehouse and Councillor Richard Bassett made further challenges. Councillor Whitehouse asked how transitional relief might be applied. Councillor Bassett was concerned that small businesses in his area (Nazeing) had seen business rates increase from £13,000 per year to £19,000 partly because of changes to the small business rate threshold. Councillor Bassett asked if the Valuation Office was geared up to the number of appeals it was going to get.

Mr Jackson assured Councillors his office would deal with every appeal.

Councillor Syd Stavrou established that the viability of businesses played no part in the valuation.

After a long and searching examination of the reasons for the increase, Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chairman Councillor Richard Morgan thanked David Jackson, Councillors and members of the public for their contributions.

Councillors will examine plans for health services provided to residents by north London hospitals at its next meeting on 4 March 2010.

Business Rates in the Spotlight

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Your council

Epping Forest District Council`s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has arranged for representatives from the Local District Valuation office to attend their meeting at the end of January 2010.

The Chairman of the Committee, Councillor Richard Morgan, explained: Following recent concerns raised by the public and councillors about the rise in local business rates, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee has asked that representatives from the District Valuation Office attend our meeting on 28 January 2010. They will hopefully explain the rational behind the recent rises and how they were arrived at. This will also give our Councillors a chance to question them about the policy that has caused such concern to our residents.

Buckhurst Hill High Street

Residents are reminded that this meeting is open to the public and they may come and watch the proceedings. If they cannot get to the Civic offices in person they can watch it on the Councils website, as a live webcast or as a recording at a later date.

The meeting will be held on Thursday 28 January 2010 at the Civic Offices in Epping, starting at 7:30pm.

Keeping High Streets Clear as Freeze Deepens

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Older people, Residents, Travel, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment

As temperatures remain below freezing, Essex County Council continues the battle to keep the district`s main roads free of ice and snow. Although not strictly part of its role, Epping Forest District Council is also helping by diverting staff and contractors from normal duties to grit heavily-used pedestrian areas.

The District Council is set to take delivery of another three tonnes of grit on Friday 8 January 2010, supplementing supplies already being used in town and shopping centres, car parks and sheltered housing schemes for older people.

District Council staff gritted the most heavily-used pedestrian areas in Epping High Street 7 January 2010

Picture caption – Epping Forest District Council staff gritted the most heavily-used pedestrian areas in Epping High Street 7 January 2010.

Councillor Mary Sartin, Environment Portfolio Holder for Epping Forest District Council said: Although Essex County Council Highways is responsible for gritting, we are working well in partnership. District Council grounds maintenance staff and street cleaners employed by our contractor Sita are supporting the County efforts on the roads by targeting the most heavily-used pedestrian areas of the district.

It is hard work but our teams are doing all they can, shovelling snow to the sides of pavements and laying down salt. They can`t do every path and pavement, we don`t have enough people. It is very low-tech but is of great benefit to high street businesses and local residents in need of shopping supplies during the freeze.

Staff are also gritting local pay and display car parks. Earlier this week Councillors agreed in principle to hold Pay and Display car park charges at current levels for another year and maintain free parking in the Council`s Long Stay Car Parks on Saturdays. Councillor Sartin said: It is another example of our commitment to supporting residents and local businesses.

Snow Disruption to Refuse and Recycling

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Older people, Recycling and waste, Residents, Travel, Young people, Your area, Your community, Your council, Your environment, Your home

Severe weather continues to cause disruption to the Council`s waste and recycling collection services. Today should have seen waste and recycling collections for Abridge, Chigwell and Waltham Abbey. However, despite the best efforts of our refuse and recycling contractors, it has not been possible to collect from a large number of roads.

For some residents this means storing large volumes of waste including the extra waste generated in the Christmas holiday period. Residents are requested to place all waste at the normal collection point. Due to the exceptional circumstances the Council will collect any side waste (this is waste placed next to your normal wheelie bin).

For as long as access is difficult and until the weather improves we will use all available resources to collect as much waste as we can. Once the weather improves and normal operations commence we will prioritise collections and collect from those properties that have been waiting the longest for a collection.

The Council apologises for this continued disruption to normal waste and recycling services. Residents have been very understanding and co-operative during this difficult period and this is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

International Year Of Biodiversity

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Local business, Supporting business, Your community

The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Countrycare, Epping Forest District Council`s countryside management service, has become a partner – one of 170 organisations across the UK signed up so far to try and halt the loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the term to describe the variety of life forms living on the earth and the habitats they live in. The aim of the IYB is to highlight the importance of biodiversity on our wellbeing and to try to halt the loss of it, which is currently up to 100 times faster than the natural rate of extinction.

The IYB was officially launched on 25 November 2009 at the Natural History Museum in London. This was the first in a series of activities and events arranged for 2010 around the UK. Throughout next year Countrycare will focus most of their work on promoting this cause.

Celebrating the success stories is also a priority. The international day of Biological Diversity is on 22 May 2010.

Council Challenges Government on Business Rates

Written on . Posted in Business, Business rates, Democracy, Your council

Epping Forest District Councillors voted to ask the Government to review its actions in raising the National Non Domestic Business Rate locally when they met on Tuesday 3 November 2009. They called upon the Government to reduce the multiplier to the greatest possible extent and at least 20 per cent, increase transitional relief so that no business sees its bill increase by more than 2.5 per cent between the current and the new financial years and doubling the limit that restricts entitlement to small business rate relief.

Watch the webcast

Watch webcast of the Full Council on 3 November 2009

Councillors also supported the case of Buckhurst Hill businesses which had been particularly affected by the latest business rate increases. Members voted to invite the District Valuation Officer to explain his actions to Overview and Scrutiny.

Non Domestic Rates are collected from businesses by Epping Forest District Council and then paid over to Central Government. The Non Domestic Rates a business pays are calculated by multiplying the rateable value of their property by a rate in the pound (the multiplier) set by the Government.

There are two issues causing concern to local businesses at the moment. Firstly, every five years business properties are re-valued by the Valuation Office Agency to keep values up to date. This is a national exercise and is intended to be revenue neutral across the country as a whole. Consequently the multiplier is reduced to the same degree that property values have risen.

Many local businesses have contacted the Council to express their concern at the letters they have received from the Valuation Office Agency. These letters give the new property values from the draft list but do not make businesses aware of the reduction in the multiplier which will also be taking place.

The Portfolio Holder for Finance and Economic Development, Councillor Chris Whitbread said: These letters only give people part of the story and have caused a lot of anxiety. There is a general feeling amongst the business community that they will be facing substantially higher bills.

The exact terms of the revised Non Domestic Rates scheme will not be announced until November and then will not be confirmed as final until mid January 2010.

Councillor Whitbread took one of the motions to the Council to support local businesses. He said: We are calling on the Government to consider the impact on businesses of the re-valuation and asking that when they set the final terms of the new scheme they make the greatest possible reduction in the multiplier, limit increases in bills to no more than 2.5% and double the limits that restrict entitlement to small business rate relief.

A second motion was brought forward by Councillor Jon Whitehouse in support of Buckhurst Hill traders.

The national re-valuation is the `correction` of rateable values for a number of businesses in Buckhurst Hill. The Valuation Office Agency has stated that these businesses have previously been incorrectly undervalued and now they have realised their mistake, corrected higher valuations have been issued. Councillor Whitbread expressed concern at the effect on businesses already struggling in the recession and urged any businesses that have been affected by the amended valuations to consider appealing.

The Chamber of Commerce is running an event on 11 November to provide help and advice to businesses who are concerned about their Non Domestic Rate bills. As the Council`s representative on the Chamber, Councillor Whitbread said: This should be a useful event to try and clear up some of the misunderstandings that exist. Speakers are still to be confirmed but I am hoping the Valuation Office Agency will be represented and some firms who advise on rating appeals have also been invited.

Love Where You Live Competition

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Local business, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your home

Love Where You Live Environmental Photo Competition

A new photographic competition to help boost recycling activity in the UK is offering £10,000 worth of prizes for the best pictures of wildlife and people looking after their local environment.

The `Love where you live` photo competition is sponsored by not-for-profit recycling organisation Alupro who provide a new tree for every tonne of aluminium recycled. This competition celebrates the quarter of a million trees they have grown in the UK and Africa since the start of this scheme.

Full details can be found on the Love Where You Live website

Epping Forest District Council is signed up to the scheme, so all the aluminium cans residents recycle locally help towards providing and growing fruit trees in Malawi where not only do the trees protect the local environment but also provide a source of income and work for local communities.

The competition encourages amateur photographers to take pictures which will inspire visitors to a special exhibition in April 2010 to look with fresh eyes at their surroundings as we face up to climate change and to recognise the special role trees play in protecting our environment.

The £10,000 prize pot covers six UK regions, including prizes for schools and under 18s, with a top award of £3,750. There are two prize categories: `local landscape and wildlife` and `people having an impact on where we live`.

This is a great way to encourage people to look around them and see just how important it is to look after the environment, says Councillor Mary Sartin, Epping Forest District Council Portfolio Holder for the Environment. Councillor Sartin added: With some fantastic prizes to be won it`s well worth getting your camera out and having a go.

The competition is open to amateur photographers only. Closing date for entries is 28 February 2010.

Free Seminar to Help Beat the Recession

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Local business, Residents, Supporting business, Waltham Abbey, Your area, Your community

Epping Forest District Council is joining forces with Essex FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) and the District`s Town Centre Partnerships to run a free seminar to help local firms beat the recession.

South West Essex FSB Chairman, David Miles, said: As the latest initiative from Epping Forest District Council to help businesses in the District during the recession this special seminar is being held on Thursday 22 October 2009 at Theydon Bois Village Hall.”

He continued: “Essex FSB is pleased to be working with Epping Forest District Council to organise one of our very popular Beat the Recession and Boost Your Sales seminars with marketing expert Steve Clarke of Eureka Sales Solutions. These events regularly attract between 80 and 120 guests for a fast moving, hard hitting seminar which gives practical steps that firms of any size and any sector can take to improve their sales despite the recession.”

Booking

Booking is essential for catering purposes.

Epping Forest District Business Champion and Deputy Leader of Epping Forest District Council, Councillor Chris Whitbread, said: Businesses are facing tough times at the moment and Epping Forest District Council is keen to work with partners to provide as much help and support as possible. We are pleased to be working with Essex FSB, as the largest business membership organisation in the country, and other partners and local business networks to run this seminar which will also include speakers from Business Link explaining the free advice and support services they are offering businesses as well as the latest news from Epping Forest District Council, Epping Forest Local Strategic Partnership and our local Town Centre Partnerships.”

Councillor Whitbread continued: “This promises to be an exciting event and we hope as many Epping Forest businesses as possible will book in and come along and then take advantage of the tips they will hear to help them boost their sales!

Steve Clarke of Eureka Sales Solutions said: Having built and then sold my previous Harlow based company allowing me to retire at the age of 45 I suddenly found that I needed a challenge that used my expertise which is why I am working with Essex FSB to help small businesses in the county beat the recession even if their customers are spending less. Teaming up with Epping Forest District Council and its business partners is an exciting opportunity for me to reach a new audience with this practical marketing message.”

    In 90 minutes flat, people coming on the seminar will learn:

  • How to attract new enquiries like a magnet
  • How simple changes to your website could triple your sales
  • Six ways to grow your business whatever market you’re in
  • How to benefit from automated systems
  • The seven major marketing blunders business owners make … and how to avoid them!
    Previous attendees at these events have said:

  • “The presentation was informative, interesting and easy to understand 9/10
    Lee Martin, Lee Martin Print and Promotion
  • Your experience shone through, very professional 10/10
    Paul Brown, Margaret`s Frozen Luxuries Ltd
  • “Interesting and exciting, opened my mind to many direct marketing possibilities 10/10
    J Ripsher, Harpers

This is a partnership event involving Business Link East, Epping Forest District Council, Epping Forest Local Strategic Partnership, Epping Town Centre Partnership, Essex FSB (Federation of Small Businesses), Eureka Sales Solutions Limited and Waltham Abbey Town Partnership.

The FSB represents more than 215,000 business people across the United Kingdom and is the largest single organisation representing business interests in the country.

The South West Essex Branch of the FSB represents the interest of small businesses in the following postcode areas – CM13 to CM16, SS17, RM1 to RM20, and IG1 to IG11 – which includes Brentwood, Epping Forest, Havering, Redbridge and Thurrock Councils.

Land Banking Scheme

Written on . Posted in Business, Community, Countryside and wildlife, Local business, Our countryside, Planning, Residents, Supporting business, Your area, Your community, Your environment

These commonly advertise small plots of agricultural land for sale, on the internet, by phone or through the use of leaflets and brochures or newspaper articles. These parcels of land are advertised as potential investment opportunities. The premise is that planning permission for a new housing development can be sought and if approved, the value of the land should increase at which point it could be sold on to a developer for a substantial profit, or the purchasers could build their own homes. The sales information often gives the impression that planning permission is shortly to be granted, or the use of the land is to be changed via the Development Plan process.

There are examples all over the UK of such schemes, where unsuspecting buyers have purchased plots of land believing that the value will increase significantly. There is no example to date where planning permission has been granted for all or part of an area of land that has been divided into plots in this way. Purchasers are left with a piece of land with agricultural land value, and very little prospect of being able to sell it on or develop it.

Investigations into these types of schemes have been carried out by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), Trading Standards and several national newspapers. Some that have claimed to be able to seek planning permission for a collective of plot owners have been closed down. Such collective investment schemes need to be authorised by the FSA to be legal.

Emerging Property Partnership (EPP) is currently advertising plots of land for sale on land within the Blunts Farm area in Theydon Bois.

    However, the planning policy position has not changed:

  • The land is entirely within the Green Belt, and therefore the normal restrictions on development apply
  • The areas of land are isolated from the existing built area of Theydon Bois, and the services it provides
  • No means of access has been shown to the parcels of land. Policy CP3 would require this is addressed before any planning application could be made
  • The land has been submitted to the District Council under the Call for Sites exercise, but this does not mean that there is any certainty that this land will be allocated for development purposes
  • The allocation of 3,500 new homes claimed by the vendors refers to the requirement in the East of England Plan for the whole District over the period 2001 to 2021

EPP does not offer to seek planning permission for plot owners, nor does it give any guarantee that planning permission will be forthcoming. However, Planning Officers have received a number of calls about the land available, and feel it is important that people should be advised of the true planning policy situation.

Birchwood Industrial Estate Fire

Written on . Posted in Business, Environmental health, Regulations, Waltham Abbey, Your area, Your environment

Local agencies should monitor Birchwood Industrial Estate `as closely as the law permits` according to District Councillors. Residents can help by keeping diaries and reporting problems to the Council and Environment Agency. Checks by the West Essex PCT have found no associated respiratory problems linked to the recent fires.

Asked about reduction in the amount of material kept on the site, better management in terms of security, fire breaks, water supply and other ways of reducing the impact of the site on local residents, Alex Chown of the Environment Agency replied that he was working with the operator to deliver these aims.

Councillors endorsed a joint letter from the agencies involved to residents of Nazeing setting out the issues with a list of frequently asked questions and answers.

Representatives of the Environment Agency and Council met at the Civic Offices of Epping Forest District Council in Epping on Thursday 23 July 2009 following the two Birchwood fires in Nazeing earlier in the year. Fire broke out at the wood recycling centre off Hoe Lane Nazeing in January. A second blaze occurred in May, leading to calls for the operation to close.

John Gilbert, Environment and Street Scene Director for Epping Forest District Council set the context at the Safer Cleaner Greener Scrutiny Panel. He outlined the history of the site including a wood-chipping operation for waste timber recycling. As a relatively small scale operation in comparison with other recycling facilities, he said that it did not fall within tougher regulatory powers.

Planning consent for the site had been granted by a Government Planning inspector against the wishes of the Council at appeal. The Council had had concerns about the operation including dust and the very large quantities of wood stored on site. Council Environmental Health Officers had visited the site on a number of occasions. Since the two fires, the Council has received a petition from local residents asking for the operation to be closed.

Alex Chown of the Environment Agency elaborated on how the chipping of wood on the site was exempt from the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007. The Environment Agency began detailed investigations following the first fire which appeared to show the operation was running in line with the regulations. Following the second fire, the Agency considered removing the exemption and de-registering the operation.

The exemption has not been removed but the operation has been halted temporarily while the owner seeks to satisfy the requirements of the Environment Agency. De-registering remains an option.

When chipping and recycling wood, the company operated within the regulations. It could not be held legally responsible for the fires. However, it is responding to pressure by the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency. An Improvement notice has been served by the Health and Safety Executive to make the site more secure against unauthorised access.

The current national regulations are under review and central government may strengthen them next year. If that was to happen it is possible that the current operation at Birchwood would become subject to tighter regulations.