QUESTION OF TIMING

While the Council says that is still prepared to negotiate with the already closed Olympia Butcher over the rent increase, crisis escalates as Costcutters is now under risk

It was predicted that the crisis over the rent increases in Blyte Road wouldn't be over with the closure of the Olympia Butcher. The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle published last week an article saying that now the Costcutters store is under risk too. "Residents claim the heart of their community is being ripped out as shops close because of council rent rises", says the article by Ben Lerwill.

The Sinclair Road Residents Association (SRRA) is also following the issue and published in its web site the following suggestion to the Council: "if keeping local amenities open is as important to them as it is to us, local residents, why not simply adopt the principle of "rent freeze" for those shops which are particularly vulnerable? After all, in may other European countries, supermarkets are not even legally allowed to operate within a certain distance of the town centre; and when they are, their surface must not exceed a "reasonable" size - about a 10th of the size of the Brook Green Tesco."

SRRA says: "By freezing rents on commercial properties it owns, our council would help preserve what little there is left of independent distribution, and prevent our high streets from becoming faceless parades of faceless franchised shops, whose turnover enables them to face costs a shop like Sid's simply cannot bear."

Councillor Andrew Slaughter, leader of the Council, says that "officers are still willing to negotiate with Kassabian's from Olympia Butchers, but it appears that he made up his mind to go - and is making the Council the scapegoat for his decision. We will therefore work to re-let this premises at the earliest possible date".

Read also Crisis in Blythe Road

Bellow the letter from Councillor Slaughter to residents who have made representations concerning Olympia Butchers.

"I am replying on behalf of all the Councillors and officers of the Council to whom correspondence on Olympia Butchers has been sent. I would like to thank residents for their representations on behalf of Mr Kassabian.

Please be assured that the Council has been concerned to preserve Mr Kassabian's tenancy of Olympia Butchers, and has been working through its officers to achieve this end. Normally such matters would remain entirely confidential between the Council and its tenant. However, as Mr Kassabian or his representatives have put some matters in the public arena, and you have
addressed them in your correspondence, I would make the following statement to correct the misinformation that has been circulating.

Mr Kassabian has occupied the premises since 1975, and between 1989 and 2000 did so at a constant and modest rent. At his instigation his lease was renegotiated in 1997 with no increase in rent, and indeed a rent-free period. It was under the terms of this new lease that rent reviews were inserted for 2000 and 2002. That of 2000 he agreed. It is the 2002 increase
to which he has objected. Without disclosing any actual figures, suffice it to say that over the period since the 1989 rent was set, the sums paid have been significantly below the level he would have paid had his rent increased by inflation over that period.

As regards negotiations, the Council has at all times been prepared to negotiate directly with Mr Kassabian and/or leave the determination of the rent to an independent third party, as is usually the case when disputes between landlords and tenants arise. Mr Kassabian's response was simply to serve Notice to Quit on the Council in December 2002.

Notwithstanding the above, (and the Council's fiduciary duty to obtain best value from its commercial rents in the interests of charge payers), following representations from Iain Coleman MP and Councillors Siobhan Coughlan Ghassan Karian and Melanie Smallman, I authorised officers to meet again with Mr Kassabian to negotiate a rent considered fair by both parties.
Any more than this would be simply impossible for a public authority to do.

Mr Kassabian has now closed his shop. Our officers are still willing to negotiate with him, but it appears that he made up his mind to go - and is making the Council the scapegoat for his decision. We will therefore work to re-let this premises at the earliest possible date.

Andrew Slaughter
Leader of the Council


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