SOUTHAMPTON’S John Lewis store pays a “punitive” business rates bill of more than £1million a year, property experts have revealed.

The department store at Westquay is one of 20 branches in the chain where rates for 2019-20 run into seven figures.

The whole John Lewis chain – not including its sister business Waitrose – faces a total rates bill of around £57.4m this financial year for fewer than 50 shops.

John Webber, head of business rates for real estate adviser Colliers International, said John Lewis’s bill had risen by more than 30 per cent since a rating revaluation in 2017.

He said rates were a “punitive tax” which were damaging major retailers.

“Maintaining a punitive tax system against the bigger retail players whilst providing relief for the smaller retailers does little to prevent store closures and job losses as we have seen elsewhere in the market. When quality retailers like John Lewis start to feel the pinch, we know we are really in trouble,” he said.

“Like other retail operations, John Lewis is facing rising costs which it is attempting to keep under control in a difficult market. Business rates are playing their part in keeping such costs high. It would be massively disappointing if the government shows it has learnt nothing from the current retail predicament and goes down the downward transition route as it did at the last revaluation.

“We need to allow retailers such as John Lewis a chance to ease their rates burdens immediately.”

He called for John Lewis’s new chairman, Dame Sharon White, to join the campaign to reform business rates.

“Sadly, given recent announcements designed to help smaller retailers, no one in power seems to appreciate that it is the bigger retailers, the chains that are the big employers in the sector,” he added.

Colliers’ analysis showed John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street was facing a rates bill of £10.4m this year, with the store’s bills due to rise further in 2020/2021.

“The increasing shift to online shopping, rising costs, including the rise in the minimum wage and dampened consumer confidence are all taking their toll on traditional department stores and John Lewis is no exception,” he said.

Bournemouth-based department store chain Beales, which has a branch in Fareham, recently cited business rates as a major reason for its move into administration, putting 23 shops at risk. It has been negotiating over its rents but says councils are inflexible about rates bills.

Mr Webber said: “Whilst John Lewis is currently negotiating with landlords over the rents and even the service charges that it pays, one area of costs, business rates, is set in stone – and there is no room for manoeuvre.”

A spokesman for the John Lewis Partnership said: “We have long argued for a reform of business rates, to make the system modern, equitable and one that recognises the things that we value in society. As a short-term measure, we encourage the Government to address the appeals system that is silted up with thousands of outstanding cases.”