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Coronavirus Kent: Canterbury Cathedral would 'risk bankruptcy' if it freezes rent payments

Canterbury Cathedral admits it could face bankruptcy as a result of huge financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The world-famous landmark - which relies on attracting thousands of tourists every week - is also a landlord, with the Dean and Chapter owning more than 60 units in Canterbury city centre.

Canterbury Cathedral is now shut to the public
Canterbury Cathedral is now shut to the public

In a bid to keep money coming in, bosses at the Cathedral are refusing to freeze rent for its commercial tenants as they fear doing so "would risk bankruptcy".

The Cathedral states that it realises the "intense pressures" on its business tenants but stresses that, as a landlord, it is "simply not able to waive commercial rents or provide open-ended payment holidays".

The place of pilgrimage has been hit hard as a consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak, with almost all income drying up.

"As a World Heritage Site and major international attraction that relies heavily on income from tourists, the Cathedral has already suffered significantly from the drop in visitor numbers since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in December," a spokesman said.

"The Cathedral has both retail and leisure (hotel) businesses - widely identified as some of the financially hardest-hit sectors in this crisis - and the unprecedented closures necessitated this week have seen the Cathedral, its shop and hotel close to the public.

About 60 tenants pay rent to the Cathedral
About 60 tenants pay rent to the Cathedral

"This has eliminated the Cathedral’s principal income streams for the foreseeable future. It does not receive any financial support from the Church of England, English Heritage or the government."

The landmark, which closed its doors to visitors on Monday, was the UK’s 43rd most visited attraction in 2017 - drawing in almost 900,000 people.

The spokesman added: "While the Cathedral has absorbed the significant loss of visitor and retail income over the last four months and protected our tenants from any changes, as with many other commercial landlords we are simply not able to waive commercial rents or provide open-ended payment holidays as demanded by a few of our tenants. To do so would risk bankruptcy.

"We are in close conversation with our tenants to agree ways to best support them as far as feasible during the weeks and months ahead, with options including the use of their tenancy deposits to support rent payments.

"We have also directed our tenants to the unprecedented package of support announced by government for businesses who are affected by coronavirus.

The Cathedral is one of Kent's biggest attractions
The Cathedral is one of Kent's biggest attractions

"The Cathedral will continue to work together with our tenants to support them as far as possible in this extremely difficult time.​"

The Cathedral's decision to continue demanding rent has sparked upset with Sun Street tenants Pork and Co.

Taking to Instagram to voice their frustration at the news, the eatery's owners say they are "completely blown away" by the demand for cash.

They posted saying: "This action will ensure we close with the loss of all 25 employees jobs.

"Our insurance doesn’t cover this closure."

Pork and Co could be forced to close entirely as it struggles to pay rent
Pork and Co could be forced to close entirely as it struggles to pay rent

A letter sent by the Cathedral to Pork and Co suggests it is offering tenants to pay in monthly sums instead of bulkier quarterly rent figures.

Business tenants have however been given hope after the government announced on Monday that those who cannot pay their rent because of the coronavirus outbreak are now protected from eviction.

The emergency Coronavirus Bill details that no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next three months, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak said "no company can be forced out of its premises due to loss of income".

So despite the Cathedral's demands, it may be some time before its tenants are forced to pay up.

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