Hitchin shopkeeper asks: ‘Why can’t they be fair?’ after body refuses to lower her rent despite evicting 100 nearby residents and customers

Shop owner Bal Chahal has lost 20 per cent of her business after North Herts Homes have moved 100 pe

Shop owner Bal Chahal has lost 20 per cent of her business after North Herts Homes have moved 100 people out of the area but they are refusing to lower her rent. - Credit: Archant

The owner of a family-run convenience store in the heart of the Westmill community is facing ruin after a regeneration project has seen more than 100 regular customers evicted from the area.

Bal Chahal, 52, owner of the Londis Convenience Store on John Barker Place, has seen her takings drop by between £400 to £500 a day since the six flats above her were made vacant and the entire Freeman’s block nearby were vacated between December 2015 and March 2016.

The drop in her takings equates to around 20 per cent – yet despite asking her landlord North Herts Homes for an equivalent reduction in her rent they have so far refused to budge.

With the shop-owner fearing for the future of her business she spoke to the Comet to raise her fears. She said: “I have three units which costs £3,300 a quarter – but NHH will simply not listen to my pleas to reduce the my rent.

“We don’t just offer the things a shop like ours offers – we willingly provide a service to the community as well.

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“And if our takings continue to be hit by losing many of our most loyal customers in order to regenerate the area around John Barker Place I am very fearful for the future of the shop. If we close many people will be hit.

“We offer free delivery to anyone who buys their shopping from us. My son happily drives people back to their homes if their shopping is too heavy to carry.

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“I also help people who may struggle with paperwork by lending a hand when they have to fill in ‘red tape’ forms for a whole variety of issues and problems.

“I also offer the ‘check and send’ passport service free of charge, which would cost £9.75 if you went to the post office. I even put my passport number on people’s applications.

“It’s the little things which make a community shop – and although NHH don’t consider such intangibles the community would miss them – and I would miss helping people.

“Quite simply the future of the shop is being put in jeopardy by NHH refusing to lower the rent, until they rehouse my customers.

“I’m only asking them to be fair having taken a large number of my customers away.”

The Comet talked to North Herts Labour leader Frank Radcliffe who was busy canvassing the area in support of Labour’s candidate at next week’s Oughton Ward by-election, Martin Stears-Handscomb.

He said: “This government’s austerity programme has seen cuts everywhere at local level including at NHH, meaning the regeneration project is still ongoing – meaning people have to wait for new homes, people like Bal Chahal and her business suffer, and the community suffers.”

NHH’s Neil Brooks said: “The delay in progress is due to an unfortunate combination of funding challenges, escalating construction costs and a reduction in the rents we’re permitted to charge. All of that means we have less income to build new homes with.

“We’re grateful for the commitment shown to the Westmill estate by the local shopkeepers and for the patience of all the community.”

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