Angry traders slam council's building hit list

Issue 435

ANGRY traders in Dewsbury whose shops have been branded ‘eyesores’ have hit back at Kirklees Council for “declaring war” on them.
Traders say the first they knew about threats of enforcement action over the condition of their premises was when they read it in The Press.
Last week we reported how Kirklees Council had threatened a ‘big stick approach’ to the owners of a dozen or so rundown or derelict buildings around the town in desperate need of repair.
The council’s Cabinet said that the owners of the properties would be told to carry out the work otherwise the council would do it – and send them the bill.
The Cabinet set aside a budget of £750,000 for the work and said a legal charge would be put on the property, blocking a sale until the money was repaid.
But two of the shops highlighted – Homeworld and Natasha’s in Northgate – are angry that their premises have been picked out.
Ian Calvert, joint owner of Homeworld, and Natasha Dhir, manager of Natasha’s school uniform shop, say they were left completely in the dark.
Ms Dhir said she felt betrayed by the council because she had tried to secure a shop improvement grant from the council.
And Mr Calvert pointed to the neglected Pioneer House opposite his shop and said: “How can Kirklees say my shop is an eyesore when they have let Pioneer House get into such a state?”
Ms Dhir, whose family business has been in Dewsbury for more than 30 years, said the council had done nothing to help them and added: “We went through the process of applying for a grant several months ago.
“We were visited by council officials and got three quotes for a new shop front. We heard nothing back from them. Now they’re threatening enforcement action. I didn’t know anything about that until it was in the paper.
“I was mortified. It implies to our customers that we don’t care about running a good business.
“That’s not the case. But we can’t afford the sort of renovations the council are talking about. We’ve been hit by the recession. That why we applied for a grant.”
Mr Calvert also blasted the lack of consultation from council planners and said he had painted the front and back of his shop over the last two years.
“We’ve done work on the shop when money has allowed,” he said. “We’re a small business and have had to tighten our belts since the recession.
“We’ve had no correspondence from the council at all. It would have been nice to have had a letter from them warning they were about to declare war on us.
“But even if we had been notified, it wouldn’t have made much difference to our situation. We can’t afford the work.”
Mr Calvert was shocked that the council had put an estimate on repairs to the row of shops where his premises are at £60,000.
That was for window repairs or replacement and shop front repainting.
Another of the buildings identified was the listed GML Business Centre in Daisy Hill and tenant Mike Greaves said it would have been “common courtesy” to have been contacted by the council before it went public.
“That’s particularly the case since I spoke regularly to the Labour councillors who worked out of the former MP Shahid Mailk’s office which is straight opposite. Nothing was ever mentioned.”
The council put roof repairs and repainting at £75,000 and Mr Greaves said: “They have never approached us as tenants or the landlord so how have they carried out a survey to know what condition the roof is in?
“All we have seen is a girl hardly old enough to be out of school taking photographs.
“When we challenged her she said she was taking pictures because there were grants available. The council have handled this badly.”
Also highlighted was the Old Anchor pub in Mill Street West where works started several weeks ago.
Other buildings named were: Stanbury Buildings opposite Lidl in Bradford Road; McKinnans Mill in High Road/Wakefield Road, Earlsheaton; A1 Performance Tyres in Wakefield Road; the former Savile Arms pub in Savile Road; a warehouse at 2327 Bradford Road; and derelict shops in Westgate and Union Street.
A council spokesman said: “It is vital to stress that we will be working alongside local traders to improve their premises and will only use enforcement where necessary.
“This partnership approach will visually improve key routes and town centre areas, which will help to attract more visitors and shoppers into Dewsbury.
“Businesses will be fully involved in trying to achieve these aims and we have recently spoken to Mr Calvert and explained the situation in full.
“Now that this important regeneration scheme has been approved, the council is able press ahead and start negotiating with local businesses.”
On Natasha’s shop front improvement grant the spokesman said: “We had discussions with traders on Northgate to explain the process for shop front improvement grants. They were among the first people consulted.
“An application pack was sent to Natasha’s in 2008 but we have not received an application for funding. If we do, it will be processed straight away.”

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