Murat Karabetca claims that mighty Southwark Council’s ‘shoddy’ attitude towards his small shop, Jade Dry Cleaners, in south east London, has resulted in debts of £115,000 and a court hearing next month which could result in his business going bust. He has been stymied by town hall chiefs pushing ahead with controversial multi-million pound plans to spruce up the area around Queen’s Road train station.
A source, who did not wish to be named, has informed The-Latest that this will include the building of a new Tesco Metro store, which will upset local shops struggling to survive.
Murat said: “I’ve tried to fight it but I can’t see any future. I can’t make the money anymore and I can’t pay off these debts. I’m going to be bankrupt and blacklisted with every bank out there”. The council’s dealings with Jade Dry Cleaners were highlighted by Lord Herman Ouseley, former head of the Commission For Racial Equality, in his independent race equality review of the council, published in 2005. Lord Ouseley had lived in Peckham for 44 years.
In January 2002, Murat and his then wife Vasi, were given an offer by the council to buy the freehold of the shop and the living space above for £255,000. Having convinced a bank to lend them the cash, the couple took out a £76,000 loan and proceeded to create a three-bedroom flat on the first floor, whilst giving the whole building a drastic make-over.
Murat intended to recoup the money by selling the leasehold of the flat and setting up a dry cleaning wholesale business in the yard to the rear of the shop. However, the council suddenly backed out of the deal. They said they were no longer able to buy the freehold because of proposed regeneration and increased the rent by almost 300 per cent.
The struggling shop owner, who has a five-year lease with a six month notice period, says the stress of paying the incurred debt ended his marriage and caused him to take anti-depressant tablets. He said: “I have been here thirteen years and I will lose everything if they keep asking me for money. Every day I wake up and there’s bill after bill. I want to carry on trading in this area but can’t unless the council clears these bills that were their fault”.
A council spokeswoman said: “Mr Karabetca’s original complaint was that the council decided not sell to his partner the freehold of the property that she was renting from the council. This was thoroughly investigated. We apologised for the way that we dealt with the request and the length of time it took and reached a financial agreement with his partner.
At the same time we offered Mr Karabetca a new lease with a six month notice period and explained it was the council’s intention to find a developer for this area to bring in much needed investment and improvements. Along with work we have completed to the adjacent Queen’s Road station forecourt, this will attract more shoppers and visitors to the area and give access to disabled shoppers. As part of the sale the purchaser has agreed to make an offer of a unit in the new development to Mr Karabetca. We’re sorry that he feels we have let him down but he is in severe rent arrears and we feel we have done everything we can to help him, including providing housing and business advice”.
One of the key recommendations in Lord Ouseley’s review was that “the council needs to improve community understanding and awareness of the planning and regeneration process and fully engage with all sections of the community”. Commenting on the report Councillor Nick Stanton, leader of Southwark Council said: “Lord Ouseley concluded that not only must the council act in a fair way to everyone, it must be seen to do so. Even if one person believes that the council is treating people unfairly, we must work hard to regain their confidence”
Southwark is run by the Liberal Democrats in alliance with the Conservatives.