“If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business!”

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Last month I spoke with Ali, the business owner of Mez Mangal, a Turkish restaurant on 379 New Cross Road. When I came in, he was behind the counter preparing for lunch business. The food there is lovely and freshly prepared to order in the restaurant (For more information on the restaurant, please visit mezmangal.com or facebook.com/Mezmangal).  I’d met Ali a year earlier just after opening this new restaurant. At the time, he was full of hope, energy and enthusiasm. Last month I met a changed man: stressed, suffering from depression and without hope.

Ali once owned a café in Covent Garden and after a few years of doing jobs here and there, he wanted to own his own business again. He wanted to have a secure future for his wife and children and was happy to invest in this. He took over a 7-year lease on this council property just over a year ago, costing him £100,000. He then spent a fortune on refurbishing and decorating the beautiful and large restaurant, and as it takes time to create a customer base, he has also been without a wage for the past year. Sadly, business isn’t going well yet for Mez Mangal – Ali isn’t getting the number of customers he needs to earn a wage and he has recently had to take out a loan to pay some of the bills. He shows me his bank balance – he’s massively in debt. One might think this is a simple story of a new business not having taken off yet. However, there is more to it than that.

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Just over a year ago, when Ali was planning his hopeful future, other residents and shopkeepers already knew that there are plans to demolish 379 New Cross Road along with the other buildings on New Cross Parade and the shops on Clifton Rise, as well as the 4 council blocks on Achilles Street to redevelop the area. The Achilles Street Stop and Listen Campaign had already been launched to stop the redevelopment plans with information posted on their blog: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com. Please see planning proposal from 2016 here: achillesstreetstopandlisten.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/05-11-16-achilles-street-consultation-boards-small-file-size.pdf

According to Ali, he wasn’t given any information about these plans when signing the lease. He even paid a solicitor to check whether the council had plans for demolition and redevelopment. Ali tells me he was told he could safely invest in 379 New Cross Road. He has since been made aware of the redevelopment plans by the Campaign group and is very worried about his future: “If I lose this business, I will lose everything! I have put my life into this business, I’m in huge debt and I have no idea what’s happening in the future!” Ali feels cheated: “Since I’ve been here, there has been no information from the council whatsoever. The only information I have is from the campaign group. This is wrong! I have put my children’s future into this business! In total, with the lease, the refurbishment and the loss of wages I have spent about £300,000, and that for a business that might be demolished some time I don’t know when. If the council want to give me £300,000 okay, I’ll go and start again. But who is going to compensate me for my stress? If I’d known they were going to demolish this, I wouldn’t have invested in this business!”

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Since Ali has found out about the uncertainty of his future, he has suffered badly from stress, depression and at times suicidal thoughts. He can’t concentrate on his work and has been unable to sleep because he is so worried about what’s going to happen. On top of that, his worry and stress over the last year have ended in divorce after 18 years of marriage. “I am losing everything. I have lost money, I have lost hope and now I have lost my family because they can’t cope with me being stressed all the time! What am I supposed to do – go and kill myself? I am not joking, I have thought about it. Who’s going to compensate me for all this? I feel cheated, without hope and without a future. I think I should take the council to court.”

Ali needs to know what’s going to happen so that he can move on with his life. He needs to know whether 379 New Cross Road will be demolished and, if so, when; he needs to know whether the council will compensate him financially and, if so, how much; he needs to know whether there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel so that he might have hope again. In the planning proposal (link above), the council has said that in previous consultations, business owners requested more information and time scales. The council also said that feedback is extremely important to them. So why, then, hasn’t Ali had any information from the council in the last year and a half about the plans to demolish his business? The council also promises to “provide financial and practical assistance to all affected businesses” (in planning proposal 2016, link above) but will they pay off the debt Ali has accumulated due to not being told about these plans? And as he says, how can he ever be compensated for the stress and personal upheaval he has suffered? And the final question that needs answering, if all this information was already available in November 2016, why wasn’t Ali informed about this when signing the lease in 2017, when investing his whole life into this business?

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