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Fears that Downham Market Montessori Nursery will close too if business rates are not dropped





It will require a “long-term project” to boost childcare facilities in Downham, a councillor has said after a shock school closure announcement.

Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe, the principal of Downham Preparatory School, confirmed last week that it will close for good after the current term finishes in July.

It has been running for 40 years, and is adjoined to the Montessori Nursery - also run by Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe.

The prep school has been running for 40 years
The prep school has been running for 40 years

The closure has once again thrown a shortage of childcare places in the town into the limelight - and there are fears that things could get even worse if the nursery shuts down too.

Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe has said that if the business rates she is charged are not dropped, she will be unable to keep the nursery open.

This comes off the back of Alpha Nurseries, which operated The Willows Day Nursery on Sovereign Way, telling parents it had gone into liquidation, leading to its sudden closure earlier this year.

Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe fears she may have to close the Montessori Nursery too if her business rates are not reduced
Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe fears she may have to close the Montessori Nursery too if her business rates are not reduced

Now, West Norfolk borough councillor Josie Ratcliffe, who represents the East Downham Ward, has said that ongoing growth in the town means that a lack of childcare facilities is becoming a problem.

“It is a big relief that the nursery side of the business is staying open, because there is a lot of pressure on nursery places in the area,” she said.

“It is a frustration generally with the borough councillors that with planning applications for housing, there is no way that we can enforce getting more infrastructure in place.

“There is no way that we can link them to growth in the town.”

Cllr Josie Ratcliffe, who represents the East Downham ward
Cllr Josie Ratcliffe, who represents the East Downham ward

Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe said that when the prep school closes, she will only be occupying part of the building to run the nursery.

She has therefore called on the borough council to reduce the business rates she is charged to operate from the premises.

However, these rates are set by the Government’s Valuation Office.

Downham Preparatory School will close this July
Downham Preparatory School will close this July

A borough council spokesperson said: “Business rates bill is based on a rateable value. If the property is going to be only partly occupied we advise Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe to contact the Valuation Office to review her rateable value.

“We have received an application for Hardship Relief which will be considered shortly.”

Cllr Ratcliffe confirmed that the council has looked at ways it can support businesses in the “sort of position” Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe finds herself in.

However, she admitted there is “not much flexibility” that can be applied in situations such as this.

On childcare facilities in Downham, Cllr Ratcliffe added: “It is going to be a long term project.”

Having first opened the prep school 40 years ago, Ms Laffeaty-Sharpe took it from catering for 16 children to a total of 142 just before Covid restrictions were introduced.

Now, there are just 40 children enrolled - with many parents simply unable to afford rising childcare costs.

The principal said that concerns about a future Labour government imposing a 20% tax on private school fees has heavily contributed to the closure.



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