BUSINESS owners who believe they are being unfairly hit by council cuts are fighting back with a petition against a new pavement tax.

Traders from across Blaenau Gwent say they pay some of the highest business rates in Wales already, while struggling to keep their shops and cafes open.

Now, with the council introducing an additional charge for them to have boards, placards, tables and chairs outside costing up to £250, many business owners say enough is enough.

Phillip Edwards, chairman of Ebbw Vale Business Forum, said: “On the one hand they are saying they need to save money as part of these £10 million cuts, on the other they are saying they are introducing this for the poorly sighted.

“But they are the ones who have strewn large stainless steel balls all over the borough – surely they are more of a risk than a table.The more charges they place on retailers, the less likely it is some of these shops will survive.

“Millions of pounds, some unwisely, have been spent on our towns and it will all be to no avail if the council keep insisting on fleecing businesses that are struggling to stay afloat.”

Samantha Lewis has owned the Crossing Cafe in Ebbw Vale for 18 years.

She said: “Visitors to the town like to be able to sit down outside when it’s sunny to enjoy their food. It looks good and encourages footfall.

“Between this charge and the fact a lot of our regular customers have stopped coming to the town since they closed the toilets, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay open. I already pay £310 a month in business rates – an extortionate amount. Why can’t they take this charge out of that? It’s just one thing after another with this council.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The charges have not been finalised, but represent a small annual administrative charge to ensure compliance with the highway legislation.

“Tables and chairs, shop front displays and ‘A-boards’ have been placed onto the highway with little or no regulation previously. The council must consider the needs of blind and partially-sighted people with regards to clutter on footways in our town centres.

“The charges will be annual and will only reflect the cost of the authority administering the function, they are not to generate a profit.”