HC Deb 28 October 1996 vol 284 cc430-2

10 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The petition reads: The Petition of citizens of the United Kingdom, Declares that, since the introduction of the Uniform Business Rate in 1990, riding schools' rates have soared. Around 15 per cent. of riding schools have been forced to close as a result. Following the revaluation in April 1995 many riding schools have seen further increases in their rates assessments, in some cases as much as 60 per cent., leading to a rise in their rates liability. In rural areas riding schools provide much needed business and employment. In towns they provide recreational amenities as well as vital green space in areas that are under considerable development pressure. There are 3 million riders in Britain. An estimated two thirds of the country's current riders had their introduction to the sport at a riding school. Riding schools are under threat. An estimated 15 per cent. have closed in the past five years. Horses are expensive animals in terms of upkeep and management. Facilities to give people access to them are costly to build and maintain.

On top of spiralling costs, the revaluation of non-domestic rate bills in 1991 has been the final straw for many small riding schools, already operating with tight margins. I could give many examples. I should like to give one.

One Norfolk riding school owner, a pensioner, went out of business after 28 years when her rate bill soared from £760 to £9,000. Only six months ago, an Essex riding school with a predominantly urban clientele was hit by a 60 per cent. rate increase.

Riding schools are not big money spinners. They are a way of life for people who have devoted themselves to training and developing young people and adults as riders and horsemen. As such, they serve as a lively meeting place and a focus for the community, often providing teenagers with work experience, a sense of responsibility and social skills.

The Local Government and Rating Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech, to safeguard village shops and post offices does not provide the protection needed by riding schools, which have similar problems—

Madam Speaker


Mr. Greenway

The petitioners request—

Madam Speaker

We are coming to the point now, are we? Very good.

Mr. Greenway

I thank you for your indulgence, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I cannot indulge the hon. Gentleman. I have to adhere to Standing Order No. 132, as the House requires me to do, but the hon. Gentleman is coming to his point now.

Mr. Greenway

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

The petition reads: The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring forward legislation to provide riding schools with either an exemption from rates or a clear cut provision of rate relief. And the Petitioners remain, etc …

To lie upon the Table.

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