The council’s handling of the Compulsory Purchase Order for the former Allders building is driving dozens of businesses to the brink of collapse and even putting traders’ homes at risk, according to one who has been locked out of their premises for the past fortnight.
“They’ve destroyed my business. They’ve destroyed my life,” according to Patrick Kirwan.
Until a fortnight ago, Kirwan ran the Bellamy’s ice cream shop facing out from the Croydon Outlet Village, with its tables and chairs arranged on the pedestrianised area of North End. The past week, with Croydon’s schools breaking up for the summer holidays and the July heatwave, should have been one of Bellamy’s boom weeks for business.
Instead, Kirwan was unable to open his shop to sell a single ice cream cornet, as the dispute over the ownership of the property from which he trades drags on, with no alternative location for his business yet arranged.
“We have been completely destroyed by the situation we are now in,” Kirwan told Inside Croydon.
“We have had zero help from Croydon Council. They have literally walked in and swiped our family business from beneath our feet.”
The Town Hall sent in the heavies to the Croydon Outlet Village on July 16, nearly a fortnight ago, with bailiffs changing the locks on the premises.
It was a land grab on behalf of big business, backed up with a warrant which had been issued, it is alleged, by no other authority than the council itself.
The planned raid was kept top secret. Information was withheld even from the borough’s elected councillors, who only discovered what had happened when they started to receive calls from worried business owners and their employees.
The council took possession of the building as part of the CPO process on behalf of the Croydon Partnership, the joint venture of Hammerson and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield who between them have had more than seven years to plan a seamless and smooth handover of property ahead of their long-promised £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre.
Between 60 and 100 employees working across 40 businesses and concessions in the old department store building have been locked out of their premises ever since, only last weekend being allowed in to access their stock, their cash in their safes and any personal possessions.
Cumulative trading losses for the various locked-out businesses are estimated to be approaching £300,000. Kirwan says that he has probably lost £10,000 in the past week alone.
The Croydon Outlet Village has existed for nearly six years, having been opened in the building soon after Allders went out of business in 2013. The premises were rented by Optima Media International, who signed a five-year lease in July 2018.
They had been in dispute with Croydon Council over the terms of the CPO for the past year. An attempt to challenge the seizure in court came to nothing.
Now, the various concessions and traders who operated from the Outlet have been left to hold their businesses together.
Kirwan and his family, who run the ice cream shop have been particularly hard-hit by the timing of the forced closure. “I’ve been there for the past six years. We work hard, seven days a week, to make it a success. I’ve been doing 70-hour weeks, always paying our rent on time, the only day I had off each year was Christmas day,” he said.
“They have done this at our peak time of the year to earn our income. Right at the start of the six weeks school holidays and right at the start of a heatwave. Unlike other units, we make our profits purely in this weather. We specialise in ice cream, lollies and cold refreshments. We make losses during winter, but the summer period is where we earn our main yearly family income.
“We are not going to survive. We not only stand to lose our business but even our family home. We have three young children and mortgages and bills to pay. We are struggling so badly financially, and mentally, and we so desperately need somebody to help us.
“We have lost thousands of pounds over the past week and we won’t be able to recover from another four weeks of closure. This is the minimum they have stated its closed for but have said it could be longer or closed indefinitely. We work hard for the Croydon community and how we have been treated is absolutely disgusting.
“We were refused entry to our own business. My van got towed away, and our shop has been left destroyed. We have thousands of pounds worth of equipment in there. We are being treated like criminals in our own business.
“No warning was given at all, despite our efforts of trying to work with the council months beforehand so this situation did not occur.
“How can they do this to us? I understand the legal situation between Croydon Council and the previous landlords. However the only people suffering in all this are the innocent hard-working businesses like ours.
“Innocent businesses have been made to stop trading with no notice. More than a hundred innocent people have been made unemployed with no notice. How is this acceptable? Whose responsibility is this?
“Croydon Council are denying responsibility. They are telling us to take it up with Westfield for loss of earnings. However, Croydon Council are the legal owners now and should take the legal responsibility of helping us.
“We are literally on our knees begging for help. And instead we are being intimidated and bullied by the council who should be helping us.
“We are not like normal shops where we can relocate on a temporary basis. We have machinery that weighs tons each that can be damaged if moved. We don’t earn all year round. We earn in the summer holidays.
“We are a family run business, our family rely on our business to survive in life. We still have business bills to pay regardless of trading. We are getting into so much debt that if things don’t change, or nobody helps us, we will be completely ruined.
“Surely somebody has to take responsibility for this? We have been liaising with Croydon Council regarding our loss of earnings and compensation, but they are brushing us aside and refusing to help, leaving us to take it up with Westfield.”
Kirwan says that the latest communication that he has had from the council suggests that the building could remain closed for another four weeks and that the council wants to move traders into the Whitgift Centre.
Croydon Council, meanwhile, has made no further public statement about the seizure of the building since first moving in. Tony Newman, the council leader, has been silent on the matter, and this weekend was understood to be away on holiday.
“They are putting us through immense torture with this uncertainty of our future,” Kirwan said today.
“We are being treated like pawns in a game. It is so unfair. They honestly have no compassion for us. Without our income and still having to pay our outgoings for both business and home, we will end up losing everything we have ever worked for.”
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