HARD-UP shop owners could see their hefty business rates significantly reduced thanks to a campaign launched by their local MP.

With independent retailers struggling more than ever to make ends meet in a ruthless economic climate, Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb is calling on the local authority to ease off on shopkeepers.

He has now started a major campaign dubbed Help Our High Streets, and distributed a petition across town to encourage people to back their local shops in their attempt to get a rebate.

Under the new Localism Act, introduced in 2011, councils now have the power to cut independent stores’ business rates to help them keep their heads above water.

Mr Webb told the Gazette: "The key thing is to get a sense of momentum. What we want to say to the council is that the traders need some help. The public do value their High Street and they would like to see the council support their High Street. It’s a new legal power under the Localism Act and we want them to use it."

If enough people sign the petition and rally in support of the town's independent shops, new abated rates could be in place as early as April 2013, he said.

Sue Aitken, who runs the Thornbury Garden Shop, was the first business owner in the town centre to back the Help Our High Streets campaign. Feeling weighed down by her rates of around £7,200 a year, she felt the new legislation should be implemented as soon as possible in Thornbury.

She said: "It’s a huge chunk of our income. To make a profit on your sales you have to take about three times what you have got to pay out.

"All independent businesses are struggling at the moment because consumer confidence is low. South Gloucestershire Council are already very good but they could do a bit more to help."

The campaign has received a warm welcome from shops on the High Street. Melanie Gray, who owns Troupers Beauty Studio, said it was time for the local authority to support its traders and help them through difficult times.

She said: "Businesses are struggling as it is. If they could reduce business rates when times are hard, it would help. If they want to help businesses they have to physically do something."

Mike Horders, of Horders Printers, added that reducing business rates would not only help current retailers but also attract new shops to the town.

"Anything to save money in these times is a good thing," he said. "I think it would help to encourage people to fill the empty units on the High Street."

The petitions are available in most shops on Thornbury High Street.