Altrincham Market
Johnson and Thompson also own Mackie Mayor and the Picturedrome

Altrincham Market owner: we shouldn’t be punished for success

Dan Whelan

Nick Johnson, co-owner of the food market slapped with a 483% increase in business rates this year, said the company will appeal the amount and that he feels let down by Trafford Council. 

Speaking to Place North West, Johnson said: “Altrincham Market has had a regenerative impact on the town and contributed to Altrincham being voted the best place to live in the country [by the Sunday Times this year].  

“If you look at what we represent to Trafford borough and to Altrincham, you would think that someone would come out and say, ‘how can we, as a local authority, help you, because you are important to us?’  

“But instead, we’ve got an increase in rateable value. It’s incredibly disheartening.” 

Johnson and his wife Jenny Thompson, who run the market on Greenwood Street in the Greater Manchester suburb, claimed this week that their latest bill for business rates – the tax charged on occupation of non-domestic property – has increased to £92,000 per year from £16,000 the previous year.

The increase is due to the fact that the Government’s latest estimate of the value of the commercial premises that the market occupies has risen to £181,000 per year, from £31,500 the year earlier.

Business rates are calculated using a property’s ‘rateable value’, its estimated value on the open market. The valuations are carried out by government body the Valuation Office Agency, which feeds that information on to local authorities that then invoice occupiers.

In the case of Altrincham Market, the increase in rateable value appears to be due to a change in the venue’s designated use. While it was previously designated as a ‘market’, the latest invoice states that it is a ‘market and food hall’, according to Johnson. 

The market, which Johnson and Thompson rent from the council, closed on 23 March due to the lockdown restrictions, and the new tax bill, received last week, has been backdated to that date. 

Johnson says he was not warned or consulted about this change, even if the business has diversified since 2013 when it began. He said Altrincham Market “should not be penalised for being successful”. 

Trafford Council has distanced itself from blame, explaining that it does not set local business rates and has contacted the VOA to query the increase but received no response. 

A statement from Trafford Council said: “Contrary to some false reports in the media and on social media, Trafford Council does not set the rates, this is done by the Government’s Valuation Office Agency. We collect them on the Government’s behalf, which is our statutory duty.” 

Johnson co-owns the market with his wife Jenny Thompson

The Government has imposed a temporary freeze on business rate payments to help businesses cope with the effects of the pandemic, meaning the market will not have to pay its bill immediately. In the interim, the money owed will be paid to the council by Whitehall. 

The Mackie Mayor food hall in Manchester city centre and the Picturedrome in Macclesfield, which Johnson and Thompson also own, have not been subject to a rise in business rates, according to Johnson, who added that he is currently paying between £1,000 and £1,500 a week to prop up Altrincham Market after agreeing to postpone individual stallowners’ rent payments. 

The timing of the rates increase is therefore “disheartening”. 

The business owners are permitted by law to appeal to the VOA and contest the size of their bill, and they intend to do so. However, if an appeal is unsuccessful, the rates increase will be reflected in occupiers’ rental costs and  other fixed overheads, which could “push people over the edge”, Johnson told Place North West.  

While Altrincham Market is in good financial shape, he said, he fears for the future and is concerned about the impact that prolonged social distancing measures could have on the retail and property industries. 

“When we reopen there may be a 75% reduction in our turnover,” he said. “Social distancing measures mean places that celebrate human interaction are going to struggle to stack up their business model and that’s a big worry. 

“We employ 300 staff and if suddenly the Chancellor says Government can’t afford to underwrite payroll anymore [through the furlough employee retention scheme], that could be the death knell for the restaurant industry.” 

If the furlough scheme stops, Altrincham Market would have to make around 35% of its staff redundant, Johnson said, and leave the business “rattling around, somehow trying to piece together a business around social distancing measures.” 


Your Comments

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Business rates should be set locally and thriving businesses like these that have been such as catalyst for Altrincham’s regeneration should be supported to the hilt.

Once again we have central government setting the rules, dictating to local areas how to run their affairs and is blind to any negative impact with local councils unfairly getting the blame. The way this country is run is appalling – to think people were conned into thinking that the EU was the cause of our problems when more often than not the culprit is our own government!

By Roland Rates

The market is great. Let’s be clear it wasn’t just a Nick J invention, it’s a tried and tested model in Europe and the US. If it it wasn’t for Trafford Council it wouldn’t have happened, they put the money the ideas and support into it – they never get the recognition and don’t ask for it. They don’t control the rates so it’s not fair to criticise them. Nick J has done very well from Altrincham and Trafford Council ie the public purse and rightly so, but to complain when rates, rent, tax etc kick is self righteous and the sort of capitalism that the public hates. You can’t have it all ways, you’ve got to give a bit back. Alty Market will continue to make a fortune and I wish Nick all the best with it.

By Paul Smith

How can you expect government support when you need it, but then challenge the concept of paying fair tax when times are good?

By The Old Faithful

Absolutely right to challenge the massive increase, but give Trafford Council a chance to do the right thing as well, before publicly slating them. Hardly incentivises them to help out! Nick often raises his disputes very quickly with the Council via the media it seems. They need to work together on this one – it’s in everyone’s interest.

By Mr T

The timing isn’t great, but if a mega successful, high turnover operator like Altrincham Market doesn’t pay a fair share of rates, then who does? The turnover of the foodhall must be c.£10m a year. Rates have to be collected from somewhere

By Salient

I agree. The Rates should have been assessed a couple of years ago. The market has been paying peanuts compared to local businesses for far too long.

By John Nixon

Typical council actions, squeezing the pips out of hard working individuals to cover the cost of the government/council deficits and inefficient archaic working practices. it’s a constant fight, you just know when a letter lands they are going to try to extort money from you and you are in for a battle… so much for growing a business…Government valuation agency quango reporting to government, yeah that seems balanced and fair, not.

By Anon

They should pay their fair share of rates like every other business in the area. They are no exception. They are a food hall after all, and not a cheap one at that. Yes it has helped the area massively but it wouldn’t be fair to have it both ways. In every statement they have made they have been very critical of the council but not the government who set the rates.

By Lynn Gittins

Some sensible comments here, as a lover of the market, frequent visitor and local resident, the impact the marketing has had on Alty and the area is absolutely transformational and it has been the inspiration for other towns. However, the market must be financially stable with its model, demand and pricing and £16k a year rates is pennies. I am not saying the increase to £100k almost is right but they should and can pay more. I am sure the 3 markets have paid their owners back financially and rightfully so, there was a lot of risk involved but Alty’s is superb and great for the demographic. I am sure fairness will prevail, even if a little bumpy along the way

By Lover of Alty Market

Gerrard is wrong to criticise Trafford Council.

1) as they have responded they are under a legal obligation to collect rates set by the VOA, and they don’t have a legal role to play in the rates set.

2) Trafford have been very supportive of his business, and have invested heavily to augment the regeneration of the town centre

3) the re-designation ‘market and food stall’ is correct – it never has been just ‘a market’. Which possibly suggests they’ve been under-paying rates up until now!

His ire should be focused at the VOA and the nonsense system of business rates not being de-centralised to LAs.

By Anonymous

The success of the market and what it has done for Altrincham is undoubted and this has been an extremely profitable leisure venture for a number of years. Quite rightly the owners have benefited financially.

However, to assist in helping the concept take off the owners have benefited from prolonged extremely low rates and to now come out and publicly berate the council for a rates increase from £16,000 is unwarranted. The market owners have benefited from ultra low rates for a long period and i find it extremely unpalatable that they now object to paying their fair share of tax – a tax which is directly used by the council to support local services.

Whilst the timing with COVID is unfortunate, the food market will not be taxed more because it is successful, it will be taxed in line with their competitors as a F&B leisure asset, which is what it is.

All the owners have done is highlight the pitiful rates they have been paying all along – £16,000 per annum! Not that it is Trafford Council’s doing, but perhaps they can start a petition asking Mr and Mrs Johnson to back date the rates payment to market levels?

By Matt

Roland Rates – people aren’t idiots. Nobody is sitting there blaming the EU for rates, nor were they before. Go and moan about BREXIT somewhere else.

By Mr T

It’s a shocker from Trafford Council. They should have said to the Market look this rates hike is coming and we will work with you to deal with this issue because you are so important to the town. Instead they have just clicked forward on the email thinkin it’s not their problem it’s our tenants to sort and said dont blame us guv.

An absolute travesty and dreadful communication from the Council.

By Alty Resident

As in pub rental valuations (albeit reverting to the 80s!), it is the property that should be valued, not the operator.

By Toby

I have a shop and my rates bill was over 15k. Its tiny in comparison to the market. Think he might get hit with a backdated bill as the area has been designated incorrectly.

By Rates payer

Disgraceful incompetence and poor communications all rolled in to one. This would never have happened in Sean Anstee and Theresa Grant’s day.

By Dave

Welcome to the real world. All the issues highlighted in the above article affect all Altrincham business not just the Market Boo Hoo

By Cath

Greater Manchester is lucky in its High Street innovators, such as Sir John Timpson, Nick Johnson and Jenny Thompson.

As though our high streets and town centres were asking for another kicking, along comes social distancing. As if social media and online shopping were in need of a boost, up steps Coronavirus.

My God, if ever Street Life needed a hand to help it up off its knees, it is now. It is what is left of 2020. Johnson & Thompson have given life to small businesses that would not even have reached start up without their nose for what people want, & frankly, without their risk.

The hike in Business Rate at Altrincham Market House is beyond “disheartening “, it is disgraceful. It is part of a peculiarly British syndrome that seems to view successful traders as the nation’s providers, whose pockets are there to be raided. I’m pretty sure that Johnson & Thompson have paid their whack to the taxman down the years, & that their whack has been part of a bigger than average slice. Good luck to them. The next time some tatty, half-arsed, poor beleaguered down at heel high street (look around you!) needs an arm up, from some high energy, visionary risk taker, you may look around for them in vain. Johnson & Thompson might just look at the prospect of an unpredictable & unprecedented hike in their overheads, & say, “you know what, somebody else can do it this time, we’ve had enough”.

By Phil Griffin

Ridiculous. They been correctly reclassified as a food hall. Where’s the controversy? They have been paying the correct rates and have been making money hand over fist with their ridiculously priced wares. Not only should they pay it but it should be back dated as well.

By Simon Warner

But I’m afraid Nick depending on your success depends on how much tax you pay. That’s life I’m afraid you are not superior to anyone else who pays tax.

By Vicky horner

The whole business rates system needs reviewing because it is killing the high street. It’s time for an online sales tax to be introduced and a reduction in business rates to create a level playing field between online shops and physical shops.

By Anonymous

£8 a pint….and a Tory Government ….I’m angry at both sides here.

By Pineapple Chunx