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Date: 31st August 2018
Dear Sir / Madam
I am writing to you on behalf of the current tenants (the Beachcomber) of the Beachcomber Café in Teignmouth who have been the tenants since purchasing the business in June 2008. As you will be aware Teignbridge District Council (TDC) is the landlord.
Unfortunately, despite allowing TDC plenty of time to resolve matters, the matter has escalated to an extremely serious point with the Beachcomber serving a claim against TDC on the 29th August 2018 with an application for an injunction which is likely to be granted next week. We kindly ask and urge you all, to request and read all correspondence relating to the Beachcomber Café since 25th July 2017 as it will give you a reliable source of information for you to understand the seriousness of the situation and see first-hand the actions TDC officers have exercised. It will also allow you to make your own mind up rather than any information we or TDC’s officers give or have given you.
In summary we experienced a fire on 25th July 2017. As tenants we wished to be operational in the shortest possible time so as to mitigate costs, damages and loss of earnings for all parties concerned. Many times we put forward a proposal to TDC to enable us to carry out the works through contractors etc. by using an “open book policy” with no profits taken for ourselves therefore reopening much quicker rather than the bureaucracy and red tape of the large and sluggish Zurich insurance and TDC, these offers were always rejected by TDC. It took until 24th December 2017 when the building was cleared of asbestos which was at least 2 ½ months more than it should have taken due to the non-urgency from TDC. At every point we have requested TDC keep us informed and progress matters as speedily as they are able, this has never happened and the blame has been pointed towards insurance companies. TDC did not submit an application for planning permission regarding new fenestration (replacement doors and windows) until 2nd February 2018 although we requested they do so in September 2017 thus delaying matters further. Our lease was set to expire on the 12th March 2018 and due to the overall apathy of TDC we decided to issue a Section 26 notice giving TDC 6 months to issue a new lease. TDC did not oppose the granting of a new lease on the same terms as the existing terms. We had meetings with TDC where all terms were agreed between parties and a draft lease promised to be sent to us, this was never sent despite us chasing TDC. Due to not receiving a draft lease we issued a CPR part 8 Notice within time, requesting directions from the Court. Unfortunately the Court reported they had no record of receiving the form although it was posted by us, and they and the Royal Mail publicly admit that documents go missing. We resubmitted this notice and hand delivered it with photographic evidence. However due to the legalities of the Landlord & Tennant Act 1954 we were around 7 days out of time. TDC immediately pounced on this opportunity and have subsequently denied us access to trade and claim we no longer have or are entitled to a lease. By this action TDC have clearly shown their desire, intent, lack of morals, transparency but not motive. Through many emails to TDC and offers of mediation, TDC have refused all offers of meeting and refuse to give any answers for their actions, thus we have reluctantly been forced to take legal action against TDC. The questions we would like answers to but have never received replies to are:
• We have never been told or ever understood as to what purpose or benefits TDC are conducting this behaviour and stance - why?
• We have never been allowed to see a report of how the fire started. This was controlled by TDC’s insurers of which we pay the insurance premium, although the Devon and Somerset Fire Officer who attended the fire has stated that it was in his opinion a 99% electrical fault. Why no report?
• We believe TDC have intentionally delayed and frustrated matters for their own purpose – why? • We were offered a renewal of the lease and agreed to a rent increase but the lease was never sent – why not?
• We were promised a number of finish dates to move in but none of these have been honoured and still no works have been carried out, although TDC have confirmed they paid additional fees for accelerated works – why not?
• TDC have agreed and accepted a cash settlement from Zurich insurance. - How much and when?
• It would appear that TDC have prospered at the expense of the tenant – asbestos has been removed, rent has been paid and a cash lump has been accepted, all paid by the insurance company. Any separate monies being used for the fenestration have been reflected in the rent increase. Why are TDC attempting to capitalise and profit from us by not using the insurance cash settlement monies to refit the property as it was?
• Why has it taken so long for any works to start as this has been extremely damaging for us, our staff, suppliers, customers and Teignmouth in general?
• Whilst trading at our premises we employed 22 full time staff and 24 part time staff which increased to over 30 part time staff in the summer. Each year we recruited local youngsters and by teaching and helping them develop we contributed to the local needs. We were open 364 days a year, open till late during the holidays, closed only for Christmas Day. We were a dementia friendly café. We spent a considerable six figure sum with local suppliers, greatly contributed to local charities and organisations, paid our business rates and taxes, therefore contributing to the economy. As the operator of the Beachcomber we were outstanding which is supported by anyone asked, a number of councillors and officers, trip advisor reviews and TDC in general. We did not fall foul of the EHO as we had a top rating of 5 stars. We did not have any altercation or upset with TDC as our landlord or TDC as a local authority. Why has a business like ours not been fully supported by TDC acting as a local authority? • The options as far as I can see are that TDC use public money in attempting to remove us as a tenant (why?), we use our money to defend, the matter drags on for over a year, QC’s are instructed culminating in a unjustifiably disproportionate amount of money spent, the café sits empty, no works commence, questions are raised with the situation inevitably gathering public attention which brings adverse publicity and becomes a sensational story for the local and national tabloids attracting a viral social media outcry. If TDC successfully remove us as a tenant through a loophole or technicality, the sole shareholder loses her business and will be unable to repay her business loan, the staff lose their jobs, and a new operator signs a lease on the same or similar/better terms we have been offered but may not operate it as successfully as we have. The benefit to TDC, the public purse and economy is what? • We have made the offer before of mediation and continue to, but time is now running out as we have incurred substantial legal costs, loss of earnings and damages. These are continuing to escalate and are out of proportion to the matter involved – why? • Since and due to TDC publicly advertising our business premises for tender together with holding open days we have endured an increase of emotional and financial hardship. Some of our key members of staff have made the reluctant decision to find other employment as it has been over a year since they last worked and are fed up with broken promises from the information we have been given and relied upon from TDC and passed onto them. Why have TDC allowed this?
Below are just a few of the many statements and comments from some newspaper articles and social media outlets which emphasise details and feelings to date on limited information the public have.
• NEWSPAPER ARTICLES
• 3rd August 2017 Devon Live - Teignbridge Council, said: “Talks are planned with the tenant to come up with a short and long term solution.”
• 8th September 2017 Devon Live - The people who run the Beachcomber Café have criticised Teignbridge District Council for a ‘lack of urgency’, and say that if they’d had control of the building they’d be ready to open at the beginning of October
• 24th October 2017 Devon Live - Teignbridge Council have said that they are working with the tenant to push forward the opening ‘as quickly as the process will allow’
• 6th February 2018 Devon Live - “All parties have agreed that May 2018 is the target date to fully re-open for business to serve customers with all works completed. Time will tell whether we will be handed the building back at the beginning of April ready for us to fit out, as we will need time to install and test all new equipment. “We are so frustrated with bureaucracy when all we want to do is re-open our little business enabling us to serve our customers, employ staff, purchase stock from local businesses, support local charities and therefore keeping our contribution to the local economy rolling. “We would like to be open as agreed with all parties by May 2018, but our experience from dealing with the bureaucracy and red tape suggests we have more chance in flying to the moon on a paper aeroplane. Let’s hope the powers that be who are in control prove us wrong. PLEASE. A spokesman from Teignbridge Council said: “We’re very sympathetic to the Beachcomber team’s position. Dealing with the aftermath of a serious fire and extensive damage isn’t easy and we are doing what we can to help them get their doors open as soon as possible. “Teignbridge has spent lots of time advising the café owner and will be investing significant sums of money in getting the asbestos removed and at the request of the tenant, carried out major improvement works meaning the revamped building will be much improved when it opens……. “We’re now working with the tenant towards a May opening date. As a key business in one of our seaside towns, we’re looking forward to seeing this popular café open its doors once again.”
• A few of the comments from various Facebook sites (Teignmouth Oracle, Beachcomber and TDC’s own site) are condemning the actions of TDC and are justified.
• BEACHCOMBERS FACEBOOK PAGE COMMENTS
• “The BLOTS GOT THE LOT. Even to wasting money on knocking down the shelter to supposedly make a view that was already there. .and putting a crossing in where hardly anyone crosses. It should have been in front of the Pier. Feel so sorry re the Beachcomber. But don't give up. Good luck a lot of local people and holiday makers are with you.”
• “It makes you wonder why Teignbridge council are so dragging their heels! Is there some financial gain for them if the Beachcomber closes? This is a fantastic small business in our town that should be being supported to get back on its feet not hindered!”
• “Sadly bureaucracy, procrastination and lack of vision seem to be Teignbridge's strengths. Coryton Cove cafe had so many hoops to jump through before and after the fire. Dawlish Air show was lost to Torbay because they refused to give it even minimal support. Shocking but I guess we get the council we deserve. Really looking forward to Beachcombers return though - stay strong”
• “A sad lesson in how to run a good business and a well-loved landmark into the ground.”
• “They ought to be ashamed of themselves, and they call themselves professionals!! No respect in themselves or others”
• “If the film 'The Mercy' doesn't get released soon. Maybe Teignmouth could make a film 'The Beachcomber Saga'. Zurich Ins, Quantum Survey Management ltd & Teignbridge Council could play the Baddies & everyone supporting The Beachcomber will be the Goodies. Crikey you couldn't make a farce like this up” • “Surely our councillors need to get involved ? Yes that means you Sylvia Russell ! The mayor etc ?”
• “Come on Teignbridge pull your finger out ,think about all the staff that worked there who's paying them?? This is one of the busiest cafes in Teignmouth”
• TEIGNMOUTH ORACLE FACEBOOK PAGE COMMENTS
• “Typical TDC behaviour, procrastinate, delay and overprice until you lose the ball. Looks really good having a local landmark empty this season, thanks TDC.”
• “Surely Teignbridge council should be explaining the circumstances as it was only a few weeks ago that they were reassuring us that the Beachcomber was still a viable proposition. This has been a disaster from start to finish and I wonder what the owners have to say about this situation?”
• “Genius marketing a burnt out shell. What happened to the insurance money. Normally you would do refurbishment work to the shell then market it. Teignbridge looking for somebody else to pick up the tab.”
• “It’s a disgrace they’re not com8ng back unless they chose not to”
• “Keep it as a cafe, can’t afford Pavilions prices!!! I thought the same people were coming back, what happened? They will be really missed”
• “Teignbridge District Council are only interested in themselves, not the locals.”
• “Bring back the old tenants and help them start up again. Can you tell me why it's taken you so long to get this place up and running again”
• “I too am absolutely stunned and disgusted that the tenants have obviously felt there was no other choice than to quit the tenancy. I was born and raised in this beautiful town and the Beachcomber has been there as long as I can remember.....is it now actually the case that Red Tape and ‘process’ has forced what was a thriving business to go elsewhere leaving this building empty and to probably fall into disrepair?! If this is down to the Council, then I can imagine that the people of the town (not to mention repeat visitors/holiday makers) are not going to be feeling much love towards Teignbridge!
• TEIGNBRIDGE COUNCIL FACEBOOK PAGE COMMENTS
• “Desperately miss the Beachcomber with its friendly staff and lovely food. Used to visit it every Thurs, summer and winter. Had hoped the original tenants would have been able to continue. The staff were so welcoming. Why has it taken 12 mths for Teignbridge to start the renovations after the disastrous fire”
• “The way you have treated the owners has been disgusting, you should be Ashamed of yourselves, I worked their and do know what happened. I hope they spill how they were treated by you, to every paper going!”
• “I can't see that Teignbridge has replied to any of these comments, unless of course I'm mistaken. Poor show from people who have been voted into office by the public.”
• “I agree. It is an eyesore. It is a slippery slope when a building in such a prominent position is allowed to remain in a ramshackle condition sending visitors away with a bad impression of Teignmouth.”
• “I'm so disappointed about this. The Council should be held to account for taking so long, and still not complete. Is this really an attractive take on for a new business opportunity, when the council have demonstrated how utterly incompetent they are should anything happen again in future. This was a thriving business, popular with locals and holiday makers. Disgraceful.”
• “Disgraceful that TDC abandoned the building and its tenants the way they did. And now all of a sudden, this is an 'exciting opportunity'?! I'm sure that's what the poor owners of the Beachcomber thought, until they were dropped from a massive height and just left to it.”
• “Teignbridges handling of many things but this shambles over the Beachcomber takes the biscuit. Had it been privately owned it would have sorted ASAP. I feel sorry for the previous tenants and their staff who ran it well.”
• “Teignbridge where do they get these people who make these decisions. I thought that local government regardless of which party runs them should work in the interest of the taxpayers who pay for them. Teignbridge isn't transparent, in 2018 this is outrageous.”
• “That's exactly it. A company now down the pan and livelihoods destroyed because the council (who we all and they pay tax to pay for this jobs) done sod all and filibuster the whole thing. Bigger cock up than brexit. But who cares it's only people its effected... the council are profiting of the loss of others. #embarrassing”
• “Taken way too long to sort this out. Teignmouth, as a town, has missed The Beachcomber badly. It’s a poor show by the council.”
• “I cannot believe that it's still not ready to be reopened. Walking past it over the weekend, it looks derelict and is quite an eyesore. I heard many a comment from visitors saying what a shame it wasn't open as there was nowhere else to sit out and have a meal by the seafront (apart from The Pavilions). What a huge loss of revenue and asset for the community during peak season.”
• “I was so outraged at seeing this now being advertised as a vacant property, that I called Teignbridge to see what their official position was in relation to it. I spoke with a chap who immediately tried to pitch it to me thinking I was enquiring about taking up the tenancy, who advised the following: Well, yes, I would say that primarily, it is down to us as to the length of the delay with dealing with the asbestos! I explained that I was born and raised in the town and that local and other people have become very attached to the Beachcomber and its lovely staff, and how unpopular the Council will be, should it be known that it has remained in its closed state all this time as a direct result of delays at Teignbridge. There was not even a hint of sympathy from the man, nor a flicker of an apology! Absolutely shocking and disgusting!! I have asked for someone to respond to me officially to advise what exactly has happened and why the delays took as long as they did. I await their reply.”
• “What a terrible loss of an extremely popular well thought of locally and wonderful asset to Teignmouth. Can someone from Teignbridge District Council explain how this has been allowed to happen? It's a year since the fire and the latest I knew the previous incumbents wanted to re open in April. I, personally would like some answers as why isn't it still in the hands of the previous people and open now!”
We were hoping to manage the situation in a much less public, less demeaning and less damaging way but TDC have chosen a different path which has publicly exposed us as something we are not and has seriously damaged our reputation both as an operator, professionally and personally. The headline news that we “have handed the keys back and walked away”, “popular cafe looking for new tenants to help it rise from the ashes”, that TDC “would also like to thank the outgoing tenants for maintaining the high standards and excellent reputation of The Beachcomber and wish them well in the future”, are hurtful and untrue. This matter has been completely mishandled by TDC with what can only appear as an undercurrent of malice and personalisation and with a lack of morality, care or transparency and openness. Although the solicitors have requested that TDC stop marketing the premises and make all new prospective tenants aware there is a dispute, TDC have completely ignored this. They have held 3 open days and have told no one of the dispute thus allowing any interested party to spend serious time and money with builders, architects, banks, suppliers, etc. without a care in the world and without consequence. These are the actions of the officers working on your and our behalf. Our decision to pursue action against TDC was a very reluctant one, but after all our meetings and correspondence to be treated in the manner we have been, is wrong and we will not be bullied. Injustice and unfairness we oppose and has never had a place in any normalised society, we shall seek to uncover the truth no matter how difficult it is to find or how well covered people think they may have buried or disposed of it. We paid a substantial six figure sum for our business and have put too much hard work into it, to essentially gift it to TDC, and for TDC to dismiss our actions and determination is a mistake. This completely underestimates our determination. We do not relish the thought and vast expense of a legal battle and would rather negotiate and mediate than litigate. This is certainly a David & Goliath situation. Why would TDC consider wasting taxpayer’s money with no benefits attached on defending further litigation? The impact this fiasco and mishandling by TDC has had on our family and many others are immeasurable and unforgiveable as these are real people’s lives they are dealing with. The staff relied on the Summer season to double or triple their wages due to the long hours and busy periods. I can only tell you in part how 2 staff members are in the process of having their homes repossessed due to loss of earnings, 3 or 4 have suffered from depression/ anxiety through not working, some known customers and holidaymakers have refused to come to Teignmouth because of the closure, local suppliers have seen their turnover substantially reduced with one reporting a 50% decrease, families lives have been put on indefinite hold. Conversely the TDC officers that have been dealing with this are unaffected as it is only a job to them and not their livelihood. It appears they have shown and have absolutely no compassion whatsoever for all those affected. This cannot be right. As far as I can see, most if not all of the problems (apart from the obvious fire) have been directly attributable to TDC. Unfortunately additional and unnecessary costs and damages are escalating and will continue to escalate until this matter is brought to a conclusion. We have been reliably informed by Counsel that if both parties go to full trial which will take another 12 months or longer, (18 – 24 months if there is need for an appeal), our legal costs will amount to around £200,000 - £300,000 and no doubt a similar amount for TDC. WHY? No one connected with the Beachcomber can walk anywhere without people enquiring as to what’s happening, when’s it re-opening, why have you given up. We have remained quiet with a dignified silence thinking that matters would satisfactorily resolve for both parties, but if this matter continues to the next stage we shall need to correct our negative publicity and present the truth for staff, customers, suppliers, and the general public to understand. At present TDC is not glowing in the light it should be, as there are the various headlines regarding ex officers pay outs and the seemingly constant need for secrecy and behind closed door meetings which strikes most Teignbridge residents with suspicions of malpractice.
I have attached Article 16 from TDC’s Constitution and wish to highlight in particular 16.2(a) – proportionality (i.e. the action must be proportionate to the desired outcome). This is the part that seems to be ignored. I am happy as previously mentioned in various emails to TDC’s officers to move this forward to a satisfactory conclusion for both parties. I am approachable and more than happy to discuss matters either in person or via email or phone.
You are all in a unique and privileged position and have the potential to make a real difference to real people's lives. As you know a Councillor's primary role is to provide a bridge between the community and the Council and ensure the Council are carrying out their duties with the best intentions of the community they represent and it is for this purpose I have written to you.
I thank you for the time you have taken to read the above and moving forward I feel satisfied that you all are aware of the situation, and have and are allowed the opportunity to investigate if you so wish. No one can claim in the future that they were unaware of this shameful fiasco.
On behalf of the Beachcomber
“We were hoping to manage the situation in a much less public, less demeaning and less “