A NEW charge on Greenwich borough shop displays could have a devastating effect on business at a time of retail woe, it has been claimed.

Greenwich Council insists that its street trading policy, where shops must apply and pay for a licence to use the pavement outside, merely brings the area in line with other London boroughs and is comparatively cheap, with weekly charges starting from £7 per square metre.

But traders say the timing of the move, during a financial downturn when many independent businesses are struggling or closing down, is "ridiculous".

Jason Hunter runs The Creaky Shed greengrocer in Royal Hill, which has an award-winning display outside and is in the Greenwich West ward of Councillor Maureen O'Mara - the cabinet member driving through the changes.

He said: "All these charges soon mount up. It's just getting ridiculous."

Mr Hunter, who claims the charges will set him back around £1,000 a year, said: "They say they're all for local traders but they're more interested in cosying up to all the supermarkets."

He added: "Greenwich used to have such a quirkiness about it and now that's being lost with things like this and rents being increased."

The Federation of Small Businesses has written to the council asking for a review of the policy, which affects tables and chairs, shop-front displays and outdoor heaters, while its petition has gained hundreds of signatures online and in shops.

Matthew Jaffa from the federation said: "This has the potential to hurt quite a few businesses and we're keen to see Greenwich Council rethink the policy.

"A lot of businesses suffered during the Olympics in Greenwich and are still suffering from things like high parking charges and business rates."

A spokesman for Greenwich Council said: "The Royal Borough welcomes the contribution that well-managed, high-quality, street trading provides by creating attractive retail and visitor environments across the Royal Borough. 

"We want to encourage this outdoor trade in a safe and suitable way which increases trade and income for local businesses.  Therefore, and in line with many boroughs who have licensed this trade for a number of years, the Royal Borough has introduced a licensing scheme to regulate street trading. 

“Our street trading teams have received positive feedback from a number of traders who have said that this help helped to create a level playing field with fair consideration for trade to take place in a safe and appropriate way.

"Traders who would not previously place goods on the pavement as they know that it would be illegal are now able to do so, and this is opening up the opportunity to expand their businesses further.

“We believe that most if not all other London local authorities licence shop forecourt trading and tables and chairs on the public highway, and our fees, which are comparatively low are used to fund the administration of the licensing regime.”