Grilling in Norwich for Tory politician

Sarah HallA fed-up petrol station owner on the outskirts of Norwich got the chance to bend the ear of a politician who, in less than a month, could be on the cabinet running the country.Sarah Hall

A fed-up petrol station owner on the outskirts of Norwich got the chance to bend the ear of a politician who, in less than a month, could be on the cabinet running the country.

Caroline Spelman, shadow secretary for communities and local government, dropped into The Firs service station in Cromer Road, Hellesdon, yesterday to hear owner Andrew Lawrence's concerns about his business rates.

Mr Lawrence, who has owned the garage since 1995, is unhappy that his business rates are calculated based on the rental value of his business in 2008 - a time when the going was good - and contacted his then MP Chloe Smith for help.

Miss Smith, who hopes to win Norwich North for the Conservative again in the general election, returned to the garage with Mrs Spelman to outline how a Tory government would help petrol station owners like Mr Lawrence.


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Mr Lawrence said: 'The methodology which is used to calculate our rates is absolutely ridiculous. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has failed to grasp the nettle to reassess it. Times aren't as good as they were when it was valued in 2008.

'As well as our rental value in 2008, we are also rated on turnover, so if we try to offer more services, we are punished, whereas the shop over the road is rated on floorspace.

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'If we were all on an equal footing that would be fair, but it feels like we are fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. We hope sense will prevail.'

Mrs Spelman said since Labour came to power, 6,000 of the 12,000 petrol stations there were in 1997 had closed down. She said: 'It's a real issue in rural communities, because petrol stations have diversified to meet the needs of the community, but they are effectively punished for it.

'We feel very strongly about this and a Conservative government would review the methodology which is used to make it fair.'

Miss Smith said she had been in touch with the VOA and said: 'There is so much the government should have been doing to get this right for businesses and the community.'

Visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/elections for news and views about the general election and to check who is standing in your constituency.

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