CRISIS IN BLYTHE ROAD

Olympia Butchers is closing down on May 17 because of Council rent increase

Local businesses have been complaining about the rent increases proposed by the Council. Councillor Andrew Slaughter says that Council rents are not above those prevailing in the local area. Now, Olympia Butchers has to close its doors.   The letter by Ara Sarafian's, from Olympia Butchers:

"I am writing to let you know that Olympia Butchers at 70 Blythe Road will cease trading after May 17. This is because of new rent increases that have been demanded by Hammersmith and Fulham Council without ANY consultation with the current proprietor. Attempts by Olympia Butchers to come to a reasonable arrangement has been shunned. You may be aware that there was a petition organised by the Brook Green Association to stop the rent increase. There were over 500 signatures collected.

The Council has simply stonewalled the issue over the past 4 month--despite obvious public concern and the existence of its own UDP Review which includes Blythe Road. Chapter 9, paragraph 9.44 states that "key local shopping centres are necessary in order to ensure that convenience goods and some everyday services are readily available to all sections of the community particularly less mobile members of the community. Within key local shopping centres the Council wishes to give priority to the provision of convenience shopping and basic local services, the loss of which would cause hardship or inconvenience, particularly for less mobile members of the community. In addition, by providing facilities at this level, the need for people to use cars to meet their daiy day-to-day needs will be reduced."

Unless the Council takes active steps in the next two weeks to remedy the current situation, Olympia Buthcers will have to vacate its current premises by June 1st. This will be a sad departure, as the shop has been at the very heart of community life over the past 28 years."

In March it was published: Council's proposed rent increase threatens small businesses with closure. A month and a half later, an answer from Councillor Andrew Slaughter: "I do not accept your premise that the council is setting rents above those prevailing in the local area".

The answer from Councillor Andrew Slaughter

"The level of rents payable by tenants is determined in the following way.

All shop lettings fall within the security of tenure provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 and rents are calculated in accordance with codes of practice used by members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the terms set out in the lease agreed by the parties.

Should a property become vacant and revert to the council (this rarely occurs as tenants normally assign their interest for a premium to another occupier), the property is advertised for letting in the market and is let to the trader who is willing to pay the best rent). The council has a fiduciary duty to its ratepayers to maximise the benefits it obtains from its assets.

All leases contain provisions as to how the new rental level is determined when rents are due for review. Generally both parties are obliged to have regard both to the terms of the lease (e.g. who is responsible for repairs insurance etc.) and rents prevailing in the local area. Should the parties be unable to agree the new rent, all council leases provide for either party to refer the matter to a third party for determination. When a tenancy expires the new rent in the case of a dispute is set by the county court.

The lease terms do not allow the council to set rents without consulting individual tenants, these are determined following negotiation either directly with the tenant or their appointed surveyor/solicitor.

With regard to the cleaners and restaurant which have closed, I have no knowledge of the latter as the property was not in the council's ownership. The cleaner's shop was let to an organisation that owned a chain of outlets.
My understanding is that they closed a number of shops including the premises in Blythe Road. To my knowledge the rent paid to the council had no bearing on this decision.

For the reasons outlined above I do not accept your premise that the council is setting rents above those prevailing in the local area. It would be counterproductive to do so and result in vacant premises and loss of income to the authority."






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The feature published on 09 March:


Small businesses in Blythe Road are under risk of closure because of the proposed rent increase by Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Business owners say that the increases are between 30% and 50%.

The local butcher is likely to shut down in June, a hairdresser salon cannot afford the rent rise and a restaurant and a cleaner agency already closed their doors.

The increase is not affecting only Council tenants. Private landlords are also taking advantage of the sudden valuation of the area for putting up their rents. Judy Standard, from Boomerang shop of second hand clothes and children articles, is paying £6,500 a year, but she says that her landlord is now asking £13,000 a year.

She says: "I am one of a number of small businesses who will have to close as this
policy is setting precedent for all the rents in the area. The village as it
is known used to be a thriving little community, but is now becoming a place
of estate and rental agencies. I am a single mother whose only source of
income is being threatened."

Sid Kassabian, owner of the Olympia Butchers, claims that the closures have negative effects for the local community. Most the small businesses in Blythe Road have an active role in the community life. Olympia Butchers, for example, donates meat to local schools and church every year. Last Christmas, he provided free meat for a party of 400 people.

The Brook Green Association has prepared a petition against the rent increase that says: "Hammersmith and Fulham Council's proposed rent increase threaten Olympia Butchers with closure. We deplore this possibility and we urge the Council to do all it can to preserve our local shopping". So far the petition has 500 local residents signatures.

Kassabian were paying £8,500 a year in 2001. Now, the Council is increasing his rent to £13,500. This is a 58% increase in two years. A similar increase is been set to the local hairdresser next door to the butcher. Mr Kassabian also claims that just some yards away, in Olympia, the Council's rents are of only £7,500.

Local businesses call it a "policy of charging exorbitant rents" and they also complain because they were not called for negotiations as it used to be done in the past.

Kassabian says: "I was always called to negotiate the rent review, but this time I have just being notified".

Judy Standard says: "I have spoken to the Mayor of Hammersmith Cllr Ghassan Kariam at a meeting of the Hammersmith Chamber Of commerce one month ago, He promised an audience and to take up our case with the director of the council, but has been unavailable since."

HammersmithToday.co.uk has contacted the Council and their answer will be online as soon as the reply is received.