Council promises Southend businesses a rent freeze until after pandemic but increases could happen during recovery

Southend Council will not increase rents for businesses during the pandemic, a council leader has promised but it could happen during the crucial recovery period.

The council’s deputy leader Councillor Ron Woodley has insisted that the council has no plans to increase rent for businesses in Southend during the pandemic.

However, an internal email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service indicates businesses could face a significant increase in the months after it has come to an end.

Mr Woodley said: “All rent increases are on hold while the pandemic is on.

“If and when the pandemic is officially cancelled and things go back to normality then of course we have a duty to residents to increase rent and that will be revalued to market rents.”

He further explained that some businesses have requested their rent to be reviewed but this has been because they are looking to sell and move on.

Rent reviews were underway in the months prior to the pandemic but these were halted.

Cllr Woodley explained that the council will define the pandemic as being “cancelled” when the Government has advised the council’s public health teams and that has then been conveyed to councillors.

He added: “We have a duty to get as much income as we can from our tenants but right now, we are on hold.”

An internal email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service and sent by Alan Richards, director of Property and Commercial at the council, suggests that after the pandemic businesses should expect an increase.

Mr Richards wrote: “The majority of leases on the seafront include rent review provisions which enable the rent to be re-based to the higher of the current rent or the market rent and we would indeed expect that in most cases there would be an increase if there is market evidence to support this.

“However, with a couple of exceptions this work is on pause at this time and when it restarts, the benchmark will again, rightly be the market rent levels at the relevant dates.”

Conservative leader, Cllr Tony Cox, said he fears this means businesses will face a “giant increase” in the wake of the pandemic.

He added: “It sounds like they are not saying this will happen during the pandemic but instead during the recovery period.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter