The Leader of Harrogate Borough Council has hit back at criticism levelled at the council, after concerns over shops leaving the town’s high street.
Concerns have been raised recently, after global fashion retailer, H&M closed the doors to its Harrogate branch, only a week before it was discovered that the town centre retail unit including Topshop is available to let.
But Richard Cooper, Leader of HBC, has hit back at comments that the retailers’ decisions are the result of ‘sky high’ business rates and parking charges.
He said: “I know some incorrectly blame the council for setting high business rates. In fact, the Valuation Office Agency - an independent body - set business rates. The Council collect them on behalf of the government but have no say in how much they are.”
Coun Cooper highlighted that after a national revaluation of business rates earlier this year, the council used government funding to help those local businesses which had seen an increase.
Commenting on the Harrogate Advertiser Facebook page, Sheila Akerman, said: “I think the closure of Beales and the opening of so many restaurants signified the beginning of the end for Harrogate.
“People are far more likely to go to Leeds or York now as they offer more choice. Increased parking charges haven’t helped either.”
But Coun Cooper said that the parking in Harrogate was still much cheaper than nearby cities.
He said: “Parking fees in the centre of Harrogate are less than half those of our nearest neighbours. In the centre of Leeds it is £3 an hour to park and the centre of York £2.50 an hour.
“In Harrogate it can be as low as £1.10 an hour with hundreds of disc spaces allowing two or three hours parking free around the town centre.
“Income from parking charges is used to fund initiatives like free bus fares for pensioners which ensures more people can get in to town more cheaply.
“The fact is that sometimes big chains move on or alter their business model. We need to ensure that when they move on we are quick to help the unit owners fill those vacancies and this is what the council is doing.”
The unit including Topshop and Miss Selfridge has been advertised by Robinson Webster. Topshop have been approached for comment.