THE community interest company associated with the Fiery Bird music venue has been hit with a whopping business rates bill days before it opens in its new home in Goldsworth Road.

With the centre preparing to celebrate its opening over the weekend of October 14 and 15, it learnt it was liable for a £61,000 monthly payment of business rates, due to Woking Borough Council (WBC), the first payment falling last Sunday. The payment has not been met.

In July, Phoenix Cultural Centre signed a three-year lease with site developers EcoWorld London in the belief a previous business rates remission agreement with WBC would carry forward to the new premises. The 2,000m2 space has been refurbished by EcoWorld at a cost of £100,000.

However, the News & Mail understands that when Phoenix Centre applied for the business rates remission after signing the lease, it was advised by WBC that the remission would not be applied to the Goldsworth Road site.

Elaine McGinty, founder and CEO of Phoenix Cultural Centre, said: “If I had been aware of the business rates situation I wouldn’t have signed the lease. But we viewed the site with WBC and we have had their officers on our board. We have had extensive dealings throughout with WBC; gaining a premises licence, planning permission.

“When the Section 114 Notice was issued, I wrote to the CEO and the leader to ask if that affected our rates position as we were about to sign the lease. The leader replied she would get clarity but we didn’t hear back. And we received a letter from WBC sent to all organisations with 100 per cent rates relief to say they would review the position in April 2024 and no action needed taking.

“So we signed the lease.”

However, the News & Mail also understands the letter clearly referred to Phoenix Centre’s property at that time rather than any future properties.

Council leader Cllr Ann-Marie Barker said: “Having always supported the ambitions of Phoenix Cultural Centre, I am fully aware of the tremendous work they do.

“Business rates are collected by WBC on behalf of government, which offers businesses, charities and organisations certain discounts, while the council is able to award discretionary relief. Critically, this is not funded by the government. Without charitable status, Phoenix is not eligible for government business rate relief.

“The council has historically supported Phoenix though its discretionary rates relief scheme, based on an organisation’s premises and which cannot be transferred from one premises to another. Phoenix has received substantial support with the council covering the business rates on their previous premises: 27 Goldsworth Road (around £3,600 for a partial year), Quake nightclub (around £18,000 a year) and Albion House basement (around £2,500 a year).

“It would be unaffordable for the council to cover £306,157 business rates on their new premises for the remainder of this financial year and substantially more next year. It is unrealistic for an organisation in receipt of discretionary rates relief to move to significantly larger premises and expect the council to meet a substantial increase in rates relief.”

WBC has confirmed that where business rates go unpaid, and the council has exhausted every avenue to recovering the debt to no avail, they are written off as a bad debt and the loss is shared between WBC, Surrey County Council and the government.