THE boss of Shoe Zone has warned that a fifth of stores could close unless business rates are cut urgently.

The store says it paid more in rates in 2019 than it did in 2009, despite cutting store numbers from around 800 to 500 during that decade.

Shoe Zone has branches in Poole High Street, Wimborne Road in Winton and Christchurch Road in Boscombe. Its Christchurch store was among those already closed.

Underlying pre-tax profits slipped 15 per cent to £9.6million for the year to October 5, 2019 as the business was hit by rising costs – despite negotiating rent reductions at around 60 town centre stores.

Anthony Smith, who was named chief executive after Nick Davis’s exit in August, said that “maybe 20 per cent of stores could close if rates don’t change”.

He said business rates had been a particular burden on the business and had weighed down on store expansion plans.

He said: “We need a change to the rates system because the current cost of rates is too much for retailers, particularly in small towns.

“Current rates don’t reflect the market. All we want to see are rates which are aligned with the current rental property market.

“We are a business that is looking to really expand but our numbers haven’t really moved over the past year. We’ve opened about 20 stores and then closed around 20 over same period.”

During the year in question, the retailer secured a 23.6 per cent reduction on rents across its 60 town centre leases which were renewed.

Shoe Zone, which sells around 18m pairs of shoes each year, reported a 0.9 per cent increase in revenue to £162m for the year, as it was boosted by digital growth and store openings for its larger Big Box format.

The company said it has seen a positive start to trading in the current financial year and is eyeing more Big Box openings in 2020.

A host of high street retailers have been seeking rent reductions, often through the use of company voluntary arrangements (CVA) which involve a meeting of their creditors.