In what must be a first, Mr Paul Wakeman, proprietor of Bah-Humbug Sweet Shop in Littlehampton has written a letter attacking Pier Road Traders.
A clearly disgruntled Mr Wakeman, opens his letter with the following statement:
“In the middle of the summer, I went to Arun District Council and sat for five minutes with a chief staff member who closely explained what is going on.”
This in reference to the Sea Defence and Regeneration scheme currently being undertaken in Pier Road.
He continues his letter as follows:
From what I understand, the business [sic] have already agreed compensation while the work goes on
The fact is that compensation has not been agreed with businesses in Pier Road and is currently the subject of ongoing negotiations, which at the time of writing, are regrettably becoming increasingly fraught and distressing.
The second fact is that Arun District Council are not responsible for handling compensation claims, the Environment Agency are. And accordingly, staff from Arun District Council have not been involved in compensation meetings with Pier Road Traders
Therefore, Mr Wakeman’s source at Arun District Council has no real knowledge of what has or hasn’t been agreed.
But for the sake of clarity, at the time of writing this post (Sunday, 27th October) Compensation arrangements have not been agreed with businesses in Pier Road.
Neither is compensation as clear-cut as Mr Wakeman likes to portray.
The Environment Agency are bound by law as to what, if any compensation they can offer when their works impact on businesses. The legislation that provides a mechanism for compensating businesses is The Water Resources Act. A bureaucratic and demanding piece of legislation that was created in 1990 on the basis of compensation being paid for what would be emergency repairs.
Consequently, the Act lacks any real redress for businesses that find themselves as we do in Pier Road in the midst of a major pre-planned capital expenditure programme.
The first thing to note with this legislation is that it only covers loss that can be attributed to the actual works and this loss is confined to loss of profit, not loss of turnover.
Thus, for example, where a business can demonstrate that it has lost £10,000 worth of business in one month, the business will not be repaid the loss of £10,000 worth of business, but the loss of the profit element of that £10,000.
Given that we are all still in a period of unprecedented recession, and consequently our profit margins have suffered continuing decline, this can mean that rather than be reimbursed the £10.000 (or whatever the loss of turnover amounts to), we will instead be reimbursed only the element of profit loss. This stipulation is different from all other compensation schemes, where turnover is repaid.
A business could submit a claim for a loss of £10,000 revenue in one month only to find their being offered a few hundred pounds by way of compensation.
Cash flow is the lifeblood of all our businesses and without sales revenues – as opposed to simply the profit element – we’ll die a quick and painful death.
It’s not difficult to see that with such a dramatic and sudden loss of cash flow, it won’t take long before businesses close and staff loose jobs.
Neither does the compensation scheme cover employees loss of earnings. As many of Pier Road businesses are restaurants and cafes, staff rely on tips from customers to boost their incomes.
But the problems don’t end there.
The Act also contains a provision that requires claimants to prove that they have mitigated their losses. And the Environment Agency have been quite clear in spelling out what this means in real terms, and I quote them by saying we have been instructed in writing where necessary to – WORK LESS HOURS.
They’ve also made it clear that they will not be paying for our staff to ‘do nothing’.
So, the reality is – that on an ongoing basis we have to demonstrate continued mitigation of our losses, which means we have to continually assess our business costs and cut where appropriate, which could include cutting back on staff hours, job losses and even closing our businesses altogether.
Yet, Mr Wakeman writes in his letter:
If Pier Road traders are worried about their trade they would have been compensated for and could end up a bonus as they still do not know what loss of figures they could could suffer, if any.
In reality, Pier Road Traders and their staff are facing an extremely uncertain future and while the Environment Staff are working as hard as they can to support us during this period, they are however bound by the Water Resources Act, which dictates how and where compensation can be paid.
Hopefully with the continued support of our loyal customers, the cutting back of staff hours, staff positions and the closure of businesses won’t happen, however this will ultimately be dictated, not by compensation, but by the continued support of our customers.
Mr Wakeman’s letter is extremely unhelpful as it suggests that regardless of what business we do in Pier Road during the scheme’s works, we will still be in business with the same number of staff.
This is simply not true.
It’s somewhat ironic that the £14m Regeneration scheme taking place outside our door is in fact potentially jeopardizing the very livelihoods of those that the scheme seeks to protect.
The next incorrect statement Mr Wakeman makes in his letter is as follows:
“..while the work goes on it will be done as quickly as possible out of summer trading hours and there are fines for not carrying out the work who don’t need the final dates.”
Again, Mr Wakeman’s ‘senior council member’ had mislead him as The Environment Agency are prohibited from imposing fines on their contractor’s in the event they run overtime. I’m surprised Mr Wakeman’s source at Arun District Council wasn’t aware of this, as the Environment Agency’s Project Manager has stated this on a number of occasions during our Consultation Meetings, which incidentally have been ongoing since 2010 and have lasted far longer than the five minutes it has taken Mr Wakeman to reach his conclusions.
Regarding not working outside of summer hours and peak periods, as claimed by Mr Wakeman.
Pier Road is not expected to re-open before June 2014, with Arun Parade not expected to re-open before August 2014.
These periods cover Spring, Easter and pretty much all of our summer trading period.
Mr Wakeman’s next statement is as follows:
“The road on the corner opposite the nelson was amended at their request, just to help.”
Again, this is incorrect.
During the consultation period (ongoing since 2010 with 6 weekly meetings between the scheme providers and Pier Road Traders), various draft plans for the scheme’s enhancements, which Arun District Council are responsible for were presented at the meetings for discussions.
The first Draft Plan included a proposal to reduce the width of the existing road outside the Nelson Hotel by over 4 meters.
Those familiar with this junction will appreciate that reducing the width of this road by such a huge amount, will potentially cause serious danger to road users and will not allow two relatively large vehicles to pass each other safely when travelling in opposite directions.
As this is a consultation process, the safety of the road was discussed. Our concerns were well founded as during a simulation exercises of traffic flows, it was apparent that what we had said was correct – two large vehicles could not pass each other at all, at this junction, let alone safely.
According the Draft plan was amended to create a safer junction for all as opposed to the appeasement measure claimed by Mr Wakeman.
Mr Wakeman then goes onto say in his letter:
“They have been given free car parking for the time it takes to complete the works and for their customers.”
While we are very grateful to Arun District Council, particularly Councillor Norman Dingmans who suggested and offered a free parking area for Pier Road customers, it must be balanced against the fact that Arun Parade, which provides all-year-round free parking for all seafront visitors will not be open until August 2014.
And far from us having additional free parking in the Pier Road area, there is considerably less free parking for all visitors to our area, whether or not they are customers of Pier Road businesses.
The free parking area opened up by Arun District Council in the Windmill Car Park can be used by anyone, not just Pier road customers.
Mr Wakeman concludes his letter by saying:
“Think yourself lucky, traders in Pier Road, you are paying nothing towards this.”
Mr Wakeman would do well to remember (or perhaps be aware) that the shop he currently trades from is only possible as a result of a previous Regeneration programme by Arun District Council, of which he and his fellow town centre traders have not been required to pay for.
Typically, businesses and residents don’t pay directly for regeneration projects such as the one taking place in Pier Road. However, we all pay for these projects through taxation.
We are all looking forward to the new Pier Road and may I take this opportunity to thank: Andrew Walker (EA), Peter Borseberry (EA), Roger Spencer (Arun District Council) for the enormous support they have been to us here in trying to so hard to mitigate the impact that this scheme will potentially have on us.
Thankfully the positive, constructive relationships we have built with these people cannot be undone or reduced in any serious way by Mr Wakeman’s extraordinary, and wholly inaccurate outburst in our local newspaper.
May I finish with a heart-felt plea, on behalf of us all in Pier Road, please do continue to support us. As I said earlier, our business well-being and the future of our staff will not be determined by over-bureaucratic, wholly ineffectual compensation schemes, but on the continued support of our loyal customers.
To whom we are all grateful to.