DESPITE assurances and promises by Canal & River Trust to work with George's Pork and Poultry to find an acceptable way forward for all parties and allow the shop at the bottom of Audlem Locks to continue trading, the Trust has reneged on its promise.
The Trust has now decided to give one month's notice on the lease previously agreed with Mr. George, writes Graham Phillips, CaRT stating in a Press Release on Tuesday 5th February:
Following lengthy discussions with Mr George, we are disappointed that together a solution hasn't been found to the issues at Audlem Lock Hut on the Shropshire Union Canal.
We have bent over backwards to help, particularly in recent months. Despite being clear and telling Mr George what to do, he simply hasn't done it.
Mr George entered into an agreement with the Trust in 2010 to lease a small 19th Century lock hut and land for storage and growing vegetables. Since then he has changed the focus of his business, now operating the shop at the site. Due to the location on the off side of the canal, non-boating customers can only access the shop by crossing the balance beam which is dangerous especially if they are carrying heavy produce. Mr George has also erected sheds, all without consent.
Given that Mr George has been unable, and in some cases unwilling, to take down the buildings or secure suitable access to the site both crucial to the terms of his lease—we are regretfully serving notice to end his lease.
We appreciate that Mr Georges business is used by some local residents and boaters, however, anyone responsible for a 200 year old piece of history has to ensure that there are guidelines in place to ensure the character and appearance is maintained, and for the safety of those who visit. It is important they are applied to all people fairly and equally, and as such we are disappointed, having exhausted all avenues, that we have been left with no option but to take action on this occasion.
Much of the Press Release is pure fairytale
Following the meeting with CaRT in December, Mr George has been attaining the necessary quotes for a shed which meets health and safety, and environmental health guidelines and which is in accordance with his lease and the requirements of CaRT. He submitted the plans to CaRT on 29th Jan 2013 and has been awaiting confirmation from CaRT that the building would be acceptable to them. Instead, Mr George was very surprised to receive the one month notice to quit.
It appears that although the shed meets health and hygiene requirements, CaRT are of the opinion that the proposed building is unsuitable because they believe Mr George is not taking them seriously. For information CaRT had previously suggested a Portacabin which would be far bigger and more of an 'eyesore' than the one proposed by Danny George.
Refusing to talk
Alison Tuck, the boater who initially brokered the meeting in December maintains CaRT are refusing to talk. It states that the plans submitted from Mr George were ridiculous, and the shed didn't need to be that elaborate and this is the reason why they have pulled the plug because they feel Mr George isn't taking the requirements seriously
She continued that CaRT shows a complete lack of understanding of the regulations that applies to food retails (or any other commercial business) and raises concerns about CaRT management of other sites on the system
'Forgot' the crossing
In its Press Release, CaRT have put particular emphasis on the health and Safety issue, citing that due to the location on the off side of the canal, non-boating customers can only access the shop by crossing the balance beam which is dangerous. There are however, no issues raised about the safety of the hundreds of boaters using the lock who have to use the off-side nor is there conveniently any mention of the bridge crossing on the bottom gate which is the most sensible way to cross a lock.
Refused to answer
When asked on the CaRT Boaters Facebook page Damien Kemp refused to answer the question. Damien, can you please explain to me why, if crossing lock gates is so hazardous (one reason for CaRT have given for terminating the lease), that thousands of us are permitted to do it every year without any signs to caution us of the risk. Surely, if it is sufficient reason to prevent someone from trading on the offside you, as trustees, are failing in your duty of care to canal users not to warn us at each and every lock of the risk.
Earlier Damien Kemp deleted a question From Peter Underwood from the CaRT Facebook page regarding George's citing that it was defamatory. It was not and goes specifically against the assurances given by John Dodwell to narrowboatworld that this practice did not happen.
CaRT have indeed bent over backwards, but not to help Mr George and his business, but to put as many obstacles in Mr George's way as possible even though he has answered every single one of their requests.