The number of indepen­dent retailers facing massive rent hikes is swelling, with some expecting to pay almost double current rates on top of backdated payments.

A group of 50 retailers, including news­agents and bakeries, in Crawley - where The Grocer is based - are protesting about rent increases proposed by Grays Jenkins, the surveyor hired by their landlord, Crawley Borough Council. One retailer spoke of a proposed rent rise from £9,500 per year to £17,500.

Some of the retailers faced a previous rent review in 2001, but it fell through, so they fear they will now have to pay increases backdated over five years. Their protests follow the launch last week of the British Retail Consortium's campaign for retailers to switch to paying rent every month instead of every quarter to spread payments.

The BRC said similar problems were occurring throughout the UK. Paul Browne, BRC property executive, said retailers were legally obliged to pay the rent eventually demanded. However, they could instruct local surveyors to carry out an alternative valuation.

Crawley council said it was offering to devise payment plans and waive interest on backdated payments. It has also proposed meeting representatives of the Crawley group.