A Meopham restaurant owner says he would "rather pay the mafia" than fork out for increased business rates which he says are threatening his business.

Ian Eldridge owns the Mediterranean-style restaurant Bartellas in Wrotham Road and appeared at Dartford Magistrates’ Court on April 10 for not paying the hiked rate for six months.

He has applied for discretionary rate relief from Gravesham Council because of the work his restaurant does with local charities.

Mr Eldridge said the rates have increased more than doubled since he opened 11 years ago - from £1,400 per month to £3,000.

He said: "I said I’d rather pay the mafia the money because at least they’d offer me protection and come and eat in my restaurant. All this money each week for what?

"Where is all the money going? Whenever I go past the town centre there are flags waving or fountains flowing.

"It does put a strain on the business.

"I won’t close my restaurant over this. I’m not going to go away. I will carry on banging the drum."

Mr Eldridge has applied for discretionary rates relief, which means the council could reduce the charge, because of the work his business does with the community.

However the council would have to fund the gap through its own finances. 

He said: "My business has helped the neighbourhood and I do a lot of work with charities and the church, every week.

"Customers are shocked when I tell them what’s going on.

"Now I’ve had a summons at Dartford Magistrates’ over it. They said I didn’t have to turn up but I wanted to go, so I could say my piece.

"No one quite understands how they have worked it out. We are obliged to share the information and I think the fact we’ve been so open means they’ve penalised us."

A Gravesham Council spokeswoman said: “Mr Eldridge has exercised his right of appeal to the independent valuation tribunal successfully and the rateable value of his restaurant premises has been reduced.

“The council has no ability to influence the rateable value.

“Similarly, the rate in the pound is determined by the Government and the Council has no influence over this process. 

“The council’s role is to collect the rates that are due based upon the rateable value and the rate in the pound.”