Jobs threatened by business centre demolition

Employers are being evicted and jobs threatened after a business centre’s owners decided to close its doors for good.

Twenty-five companies, employing over 50 people at Cromer House, on Caxton Way, Stevenage have been given until November 5 to get out of the building before it is demolished by owners Foxflame Ltd.

The businesses, the majority of which have been at the centre for over 10 years, joined together to negotiate with Foxflame for extra time until the end of the year and to halve rent to assist relocation costs - but both petitions were rejected on the grounds the landlord is making unsustainable losses.

Foxflame applied to Stevenage Borough Council for outline planning permission to demolish the building, which was granted in April, sparking concern among leaseholders, but they were reassured there were no imminent plans, they said en masse at a meeting last Thursday.

Quick Tyres owner Peter Ndivo said they were repeatedly put at ease.

“We have been told this will not affect us in any way. They were going to give us a lot of time to sort things out. Everyone was reassured that we were able to stay here a lot longer.

“It’s not fair to give us notice at two months. We are not trying to stay here for good - we just want time to move our businesses. If I can’t find somewhere we will have to close. People will lose their jobs.”

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Sharon and Mark Saxon only set up their Argos sales firm in the centre five weeks ago, using their life-savings to do so, and are facing ruin.

“We have only been here a short while,” Sharon said. “As far as I’m concerned they knew it was closing. Had we known this was happening we would never have come here. I feel so disappointed - we are going to go home, we haven’t got any money.”

Mark Joyce of diamond drilling firm T&M Drilling, who has been on the site for 18 years, said maintenance on the site, the main cost factor given for the need to shut, had always been poor, with leaseholders patching up the place, rather than the landlord.

He and others said they would stay put in the face of bulldozers moving in.

The landlord has offered alternative accommodation at nearby Caxton Point, but there are not enough ground floor units needed by the majority of the Cromer House companies, the leaseholders said.

Foxflame director Clifford Lawrence said the company is doing all it can to help leaseholders, offering Caxton Point, and giving two months’, rather than the legal one months’ notice to leaseholders – a timeframe he said was “more than enough” to relocate.

“It’s a centre where people come and go. The usual plan is they are locked in to a long term lease. It’s in the nature of a hotel really. It has operated very well.

“People are coming and going all the time. There’s always someone who’s coming recently.

“Some people have rolled on for years.”

He said it was not possible to give more notice as the company only decided to close the centre days before a letter was sent to businesses on September 3 which stated the cost of repairs and a boiler replacement were “too big to bear”.

“The building is an old building coming to the end of its useful life. The cost of maintaining the building has gone up recently. A couple of huge costs came in.

“There has to come a time when you have to stop. It’s just the reality of the business.”