The owner of five small community-focused businesses – that have served Rotherhithe for over twenty years – has just days left before facing eviction, after a court hearing over his lease ruled against him.
The ongoing saga at the site on Rotherhithe New Road saw locals in an uproar when attempts were first made to evict him last year.
Plans to build a twelve-storey tower block on the site remain unclear after the council stepped in and refused full planning permission, saying the five businesses must be relocated as part of a policy in their Southwark Plan.
However, the landlord of the site did not renew the lease for Plush SE16, which includes a Caribbean food takeaway, a car wash, a barber, a hairdresser, and a music studio.
Owner Michael Clinkett is devastated by the news that his businesses will have to go and says a community asset and 28 jobs will all be lost as he must leave the site by 17th March.
He had taken his case to court to prevent a possession order, but the judge could not see any legal grounds for agreeing to his appeals, although Mr Clinkett claims he said: “Mr Clinkett it appears that there has been a great deal of injustice against you in regards to your Business Relocation”.
Mr Clinkett says he is stuck now between a landlord that wants him out and a developer and council, he claims, have failed to relocate him to a suitable site for all his five businesses.
In a statement from Southwark Council, the Cabinet member for Climate Emergency and Sustainable Development is under the impression that the developer no longer wants to go ahead.
Cllr James McAsh told the News: “We’re now in a position where the developer does not want to go ahead with the scheme, and the matter is now solely between the tenant and the private landlord. This was not the outcome anyone wanted, and we will continue to see if there’s anything more that we can do.”
However, Regent Land disputed that they were no longer interested in going ahead. The developer, who had originally applied to build the tower block with 48 new homes, twelve of which would be for social rent and one for ‘intermediate rent’, responded to our enquiries by saying “whilst our planning application has not yet received full planning permission … it would be a huge shame if this important regeneration site … fails to become a reality.”
Mr Clinkett is angry that he is being evicted by his landlord while nothing has been agreed on the site and says he has received overwhelming support from the local community.
“We started as a car wash and people said they were getting hungry, so we started the food, West Indian food. At the time, this was a predominantly white area and people weren’t used to what we were bringing – but they loved it and they kept coming back.”
Mr Clinkett said they built it up from there based on what local people – and people who would travel from even outside of London – were asking for.
“These aren’t just our businesses being lost – the people are losing them too.”
Counting down the days until Plush SE16 is lost to the community, which Mr Clinkett says he has worked so hard to build, starting the first business when he was only 21, he pleaded for more time.
He argues he was not informed soon enough and the limited relocation options for the five businesses to stay together are extremely rare in Southwark, with land at a premium.
“The clause states they must provide viable relocation options – but neither the council nor the developer has done that. All the places they have tried to relocate us to have been unsuitable,” he said.
He cites one example of a place near Millwall Football Ground with no electricity, gas or water and another in near the Blue Market Square which was far too small to accommodate even half of his five businesses. He added that some of the places put forward already had ongoing planning applications. “Their plan is just to fob me off to another site where I will have the same problem,” he added.
While the council says it will continue to look for suitable sites, the eviction deadline is looming.
Cllr James McAsh, said: “We have made every effort to ensure that Mr Clinkett can stay in his current premises or find an alternative, working with all those concerned to seek a resolution. Mr Clinkett and the developer could not reach an agreement on a relocation grant and although we suggested a number of places for relocation, we could not find one that Mr Clinkett considered suitable.”
A spokesperson for Regent Land released the following statement in response to our enquiries: “Our planning negotiations with Southwark Council for the redevelopment of this site have taken over three years, with the understanding that the business tenant at the site would be vacating their premises in accordance with their lease agreement with the current landlord. This lease expired in May of last year.
“Southwark Council only requested that Regent Land provide a relocation strategy once it became clear that the tenant was refusing to leave, which was after the Council had voted in favour of the plans.
“Despite the tenant occupying the site illegally, and paying no rent, since May last year, reflecting that this is a sensitive issue, we invested significant time and effort throughout last year to assist with his relocation efforts. This included suggesting numerous sites that might be appropriate for his businesses. We have always followed due process.
“Whilst our planning application has not yet received full planning permission, with the news this week that the number of new homes in England is expected to slump to its lowest level since the second world war, it would be a huge shame if this important regeneration site, that will include much-needed affordable housing for local people, fails to become a reality.”
Mr Clinkett disputes any suggestion that he was deliberately not paying rent saying he was directed to keep it aside to be paid when the lease issue was resolved.
Attempts by the News to see if the landlord would consider offering Plush SE16 a stay of execution are ongoing, but we did not receive a response at the time of going to press.