Kirkby dry cleaners say they have been ‘left out to dry’

.Ashfield Dry Cleaners
.Ashfield Dry Cleaners

A KIRKBY dry cleaner says he has lost six months of business and was plunged into financial ‘hardship’ because of drawn out discussions with the council over the purchase of his new shop premises.

Amir Hirani and his wife Yasmin say they were forced to temporarily close their dry cleaning business when Ashfield District Council told them it wanted to buy the former Wilbourn’s shop.

Mr and Mrs Hirani bought the premises at 1 Ellis Street in November last year when the Co-op, the landlords of their previous location on Kirkby’s Precinct, sold this to make way for the Morrisons development.

But after paying the deposit on the new property - the only suitable one they could find in the area - the Hiranis were approached by council officers who said that the authority wanted to buy it to enable Ellis Street to revert to two-way traffic.

The council revealed that it had been in negotiations with the previous owner about buying the property - something that the Hiranis had not been aware of.

An email sent to the Hiranis from a council officer said: “This means at a future date (anticipated to be in 2012) we will require the site of 1 Ellis Street to make this happen and we will use whatever means permitted to us by councillors prior to this time.”

After receiving this information, the couple enlisted the service of Richard Beeching, a chartered surveyor specialising in Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO), and he started negotiating a price for the shop on a CPO basis - which included compensation and other costs.

Meanwhile, the Hiranis had to move out of the Precinct and a compromise settlement was offered to try to resolve the matter quickly.

But an agreement on the price could not be reached and in May the council said that it needed to take independent advice.

However, it took the authority 19 weeks to come back with this advice, leaving Mr and Mrs Hirani in limbo.

Not knowing whether it was worth moving into Ellis Street for what could have been only a few weeks, the Hiranis say they were forced to temporarily stop trading and dispose of their dry cleaning machinery - even though they still had to pay their mortgage and the council’s empty property rates.

Mr Hirani said it was a ‘stressful’ time and the family encountered ‘hardship’ as a result.

“I was seriously looking for a job,” he said.

“At my age it’s difficult to find a job, but I wanted to find one and get some income.”

When the council did come back to them, officers said that they were not prepared to pay the asking price and denied that negotiations had been on a CPO basis.

Mr Beeching said that they had been very ‘unsympathetic’ to the Hiranis plight.

He said: “The council reneged completely on the fact it was going to be on a CPO basis.

“They took 19 weeks to make their mind up and business had to close.”

Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero also wrote to the council about the issue.

In a reply to her, the council said that no planning or regeneration schemes were in place and no CPO proceedings on 1 Ellis Street were underway.

The letter said that as ‘the regeneration works to make Ellis Street a two-way route remain aspirational, there is no blight to Mr Hirani’s premises. The council cannot guarantee there would be no CPO proceedings in the future.’

Though this leaves the future of 1 Ellis Street uncertain, Mr and Mrs Hirani decided to open Ashfield Dry Cleaners last month.

Said Mrs Hirani: “All I want to know is: ‘are they going to come back again?

“We want to know if we will be left alone to run our business.”

A spokesman for the council said that all negotiations with Mr and Mrs Hirani and agents were undertaken on a ‘without prejudice’ basis, which the agents were aware of.

“Mr Beeching adopted the negotiation approach on a CPO basis,” he said.

“Although the council has CPO powers, its negotiation stance was on a market value basis.

“The council has repeatedly stressed to Mr Beeching that a CPO situation did not exist.”

The spokesman added that Mr Hirani could have occupied 1 Ellis Street at anytime but chose not to do so and rejected all other relocation opportunities.

He said that no agreement was reached and the time taken to seek legal advice because of Mr Hirani’s financial demands and because the council’s opinion that a CPO position did not exist, had to be confirmed by an external advisor.

Reiterating there was no blight to the property because no regeneration schemes are in place, he concluded: “The present situation is no different to the position Mr Hirani was in when he purchased the premises in the full knowledge that the council had been looking at the property as part of a potential scheme.”