The leader of Labour-led Westminster council Adam Hug has written to 19 freeholders and long leaseholders of premises where a US candy store, vape store or souvenir shop operates and has “named and shamed” owners that did not respond.
The letter, seen by the Standard, says: “The recent rise of these shops is diminishing the value of our local high streets both financially and reputationally — they risk the recovery of the West End, and the value of your property. We have spent over a year disrupting the activities of the stores, seizing over £1 million in illegal goods, and working with HMRC and others to investigate these businesses further.
“This damaging situation has gone on long enough, and we are asking you to do all that you can to bring it to an end.”
The letter, sent out in March, continues: “We are keen to be as constructive as possible but if we do not hear from you further to this letter by the 21st April 2023, we will be considering what further publicity is needed around landlords failing to take any action on this.”
The council said it has seen an encouraging response with six landlords serving notice on tenants or bringing in different retailers. But 10 that did not respond “positively” were named by Westminster on Wednesday.
Mr Hug said high-end retailers were “queuing up to return” so “it feels like an auspicious moment to call time on the tawdry tat shops”.
There are 26 sweet and souvenir shops in Oxford Street which collectively owe about £9 million in unpaid business rates. The council has recovered hundreds of thousands of pounds in arrears through court action, but the ownership structure of the shops is often secretive.
Trading standards have also seized goods including illegal vapes and counterfeit designer brands.