WITNEY nightclub iZi has closed, with its director blaming increased competition and the doubling of its business rates.

Shaun Hartless, 56, has run the Market Square venue for 12 years but took the decision to close in the early hours yesterday.

Club regulars have expressed their shock and some have suggested that its closure could see other town centre bars shut.

Mr Hartless said: “We have been struggling, especially since Wether-spoon’s opened. But the biggest blow was the doubling of our rates, from £56,000 to £129,000 a year, 10 months ago. We were making £500 a week and suddenly the rates went up by £600 a week. It was the end of the story then.”

Mr Hartless appealed against the increase to the Valuation Office, which reviews rates, and three months ago the charge was decreased to £115,000 a year, he said.

He said the strict enforcement since Easter of a condition of his licence not to let people in after 12.30am had also hit trade.

Mr Hartless sought a change to this rule and West Oxfordshire District Council agreed to allow the club, which was open until 3am, to let people in until 1am.

He said he had taken the decision to close because he had managed to clear his debts and bank overdraft.

He added: “I didn’t want to go out owing money. I thought this is the time right now. I’m a bit gutted really. It was a question of my pension and it has all gone.”

Mr Hartless, who leases the premises, said he did not know what would happen to the building and that he was looking for another job.

The decision was announced on Facebook and dozens of people posted responses online to express their shock at the closure.

Carla Hare said: “Cannot believe this. Had so many good nights in there. Witney won’t be the same.”

Barry Bowles said: “Witney has just taken a big step backwards.”

Simon ‘Sub’ Moore, whose pub The Chequers, in Corn Street closed earlier this year amid mounting debts, said: “What you have got now is the biggest venue in town has gone under. It will mean more people jumping on buses to Oxford, so Witney will lose out as a result. Other pubs are going to suffer.”

The district council “strongly” refuted claims that it had put up the business rates, saying it only collected the rates and had “no involvement in the closure of this business”.

Leader Barry Norton said: “To blame West Oxfordshire District Council for the closure of iZi is unfair and unacceptable.

“The Government sets the valuation of the business through its District Valuer Agency and decides on the amount of the multiplier in the pound which produces the sum payable.”

He also denied the council was to blame for granted planning permission for Wetherspoon to open The Company of Weavers pub in Market Square, saying the law did not allow councils to “artificially control competition” and the building had existing consent for a nightclub.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “ We’re sorry that the nightclub has gone out of business, as we’re keen for Witney to be a thriving town.

"Ultimately it’s for people to decide where they wish to spend their money.”