Martin Foster, Lakeland Leather Managing Director
Martin Foster, Lakeland Leather Managing Director

Lakeland Leather frustrated by HBC’s approach to retail

1 November 2019

Lakeland Leather was looking to take over one of the many empty retail units on James Street, previously occupied by Cath Kidston.

Lake District based specialist leather retailer Lakeland Leather has a website and 15 stores UK wide, with 3 in Yorkshire; York, Northallerton and Beverley.

The family-owned retailer had the opportunity to open a pop-up store on James Street in time for Christmas.

Martin Foster, Lakeland Leather Managing Director, said:

The opportunity was great, a new store in a prime shopping location, a positive impact on the local high street and creation of jobs.

However, the rates faced were just far too unrealistic. Property rates payable were higher than rents payable. The business rates of over £64k per year were the main obstacle.

The article released today regarding the treasury committee and business rates is accurate. The system is broken and outdated. Change needs to happen.

Martin first contacted Harrogate Borough Council in August to highlight the disparity. HBC replied 2 months later saying there’s ‘nothing we can do’.

Martin Foster, Lakeland Leather Managing Director
Martin Foster, Lakeland Leather Managing Director

Martin said:

HBC now has another empty unit with no rates to collect. Harrogate will become a ghost town unless these issues are addressed by the council.

It’s no wonder retailers such as ourselves are more inclined to invest in our website than open new retail premises.


Councillor Graham Swift, cabinet member with responsibility for economic development, said:

It’s unfair for Martin Foster to criticise Harrogate Borough Council for high business rates when it is central government that sets them, not us.

Retailers do need to learn more about where their costs are incurred and not just attack local authorities which have no jurisdiction over things like business rates or commercial rents.

I share Mr Foster’s frustrations about the need for a level playing field in retailing and have said repeatedly that the business rates system needs review and overhaul to make it fairer for all.

We do have some limited discretionary powers to help retailers with rate reliefs, particularly when undergoing hardship, but they do not extend to an organisation the size of Lakeland Leather or to business start-ups.


  1. Shocking reply from the council, instead of having a go at the retailer, listen, learn, agree and go back to central government to get them to review, to just blame somebody else is utterly ridiculous and shows a real lack of intent to help

  2. As a retailer in Harrogate I support HBC on this, they are simply the revenue collector for central government, they do not set the rateable value of a property, and as any retailer knows, the rates charged can be appealed / challenged, in most cases resulting in a reduction.
    I think that Lakeland just wanted the safest / cheapest option in order to clear stock over the festive period in what is a pristine unit, little investment on their part as they could move straight in, they have not mentioned a long term commitment to Harrogate, if they had then they would have researched the aforementioned business rates relief schemes, or, looked at the many available units in and around the Harrogate town centre.

  3. Agree with John. HBC don’t want small, family businesses to succeed. It’s all about power, personal gain and doing as little as possible.

    Excuses, excuses

    You only have to see how they handled the CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIP EVENT – I’m still suffering as a small local business from that.

    You should see the reply I got to that one! Very similar to this.

    My previous business also failed due to high business rates.

    Ah well voting time soon, use your vote don’t waste it!

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