The Panel has invited the following witnesses to attend the meeting to help inform the review:
- A representative of Crawley Borough Council’s Neighbourhood Services team to offer their experiences of the neighbourhood parades as part of day-to-day duties.
- Current tenants of Council-owned neighbourhood parade shops (individuals to be confirmed).
Whilst these individuals are anticipated to speak at the meeting, this may change subject to availability and at the discretion of the Chair. Further witnesses may be called in addition to, or instead of, those listed above.
The Panel invited several witnesses to speak throughout the course of the meeting.
Current Crawley Borough Council parade shop tenants were invited to share their views and experiences. Tenants from the Ifield, Furnace Green, Southgate, and Tilgate parades spoke as part of the session and raised the following points:
· It was not clear how to find details, obtain advice, or claim on a unit’s insurance policy following damage to the unit. Tenants had experienced delays and insufficient communication with the insurance companies. The Asset Manager clarified that the Council arranged buildings insurance on behalf of the tenants via a three-yearly tender process to find the most suitable provider, but the cost of the insurance premium was reimbursed to the landlord by the tenant. Tenants were responsible for their unit’s contents insurance, and also for the shop front’s plate glass.
· The Council’s role as landlord should enable tenants to run successful businesses which provide necessary services for local people. Rising costs were a barrier to this.
· The current rent review process was deemed unclear and unfair compared to other local authorities’ processes. A suggestion was made that a unit’s rent could be linked to its financial turnover. The Asset Manager confirmed that turnover was currently one way of calculating a unit’s rent, for instance in a shopping centre such as County Mall, and a wholly turnover-based system could support a good variety of shops/use classes.
· Recent increases to the rent payable by tenants were considered extreme. Witnesses expressed frustration at the rising costs, the lack of room for negotiation with the Council, their communication with the Council’s executive, and the parade tenancy policies which were deemed ineffectual.
· It was recognised that the combination of pre-2020 Government cuts to local authorities and the Covid-19 pandemic had adversely affected the Council’s financial position; a panel member clarified that, unfortunately, savings needed to be made across the Council’s budget. Tenants expressed understanding but asked panel members to acknowledge the value of the small businesses operating on the parades.
· The high occupancy rates of parade units in Crawley and the number of businesses on the waiting list for a unit were discussed, as well as the diversity of businesses currently on the parades.
· The Panel was asked to consider providing subsidies to small businesses on the parades, but it was likely that there were legal constraints on this. Panel members expressed support for retaining locally-owned and independent businesses, and discussed the possibility of changing the selection policy/rental process to give preference to local businesses.
· Emphasis was placed on the importance of open communication between the Council and the tenants. The Panel was encouraged to continue its dialogue with tenants throughout its duration.
A witness requested from officers that they investigate the number of changes in tenancy across all council-owned parades in Crawley between 2003 and 2019. It was further requested that officers identify the number of rent reviews/lease renewals, both settled and non-settled, of parade shops in Crawley since 2018.
Councillor P Smith, Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development, also spoke on the item. It was highlighted that the Panel’s scope was to examine Council policy and the bigger picture rather than focusing specifically on the rent review/lease renewal processes. Sympathy was expressed for tenants facing financial challenges, and the Panel was requested to continue to have careful and informed discussions on all relevant matters.
· That officers find out how many changes in tenancy there have been across all Council-owned parades in Crawley between 2003 and 2019, and report these figures back to the relevant witness.
· That officers find out the number of rent reviews/lease renewals (both settled and non-settled) of parade shops in Crawley since 2018, and report these figures back to the relevant witness.