A SMALL business owner has accused Wiltshire Council of ‘sharp practice’ in asking for a £18,000 ‘premium’ to allow him to take over an industrial unit and bring it back into commercial use.

Alan Janes says the council wants him to pay the ‘extortionate’ fee in addition to the £56,000 purchase price he has already agreed with the unit’s seller.

Mr Janes, 69, wants to buy Unit 4 on the Pound Barton Industrial Estate at Sutton Veny as an investment for the future. He is hoping to sub-let the unit or sell the leasehold in the future to provide an income during retirement.

Mr Janes, who lives in Ash Walk, Warminster, said: “It is an outrageous situation. It just does not feel right and to me it smacks of sharp practice.

“In essence it appears to me that the council are trying to use the need to vary the absolute covenants to bring this commercial unit back into productive use as an excuse to charge an extraordinary disproportionate premium, which is in excess of 25 per cent of the purchase price and to pass on costs the council are obliged to meet under the lease as set out above for no value.

“While I appreciate the council needs to be funded this does not feel to be a very ethical way of doing it.”

Mr Janes runs a business called Copper Fayre, a leading name with over 35 years’ experience in supplying retailers, wholesalers and multiple retailers worldwide with pure copper bracelets.

He relocated the business from Benfleet in Essex in January last year and has been searching for an industrial unit large enough to provide space for his company.

He found the 700sq ft unit at Pound Barton and has agreed a £56,000 purchase price with the seller. He wants to vary the covenant on the unit which restricts its use to textile manufacture and to enable him to sub-let it.

But Wiltshire Council has asked him to pay £13,000 to vary the restrictive covenant relating to textile manufacture, and a further £5,000 to vary the sub-letting restriction and take on repair and maintenance responsibilities left under the lease, which has another 959 years to run.

Mr Janes has complained to his local MP, Dr Andrew Murrison and to his local Wiltshire councillor Andrew Davis.

Cllr Phil Alford, Cabinet Member for Strategic Assets said: “The council owns Pound Barton Industrial Estate and manages the estate in a similar way to private commercial landlords. In this case the industrial unit is subject to a long lease that has restrictions on the use and ability to sub-let.

“As an existing lease is in place which Mr Janes is interested in, negotiations relating to variations should take place between the council and its current tenant not Mr Janes.

"The council will work with its tenant, or their representatives, to enable them to dispose of the remainder of their lease.

"The terms of the variation have to be acceptable to the council, provided that an agreement to any changes satisfies the obligation on the council to obtain best consideration.

"The council does not have to change any of the terms originally granted."

Cllr Alford added: “The estate was previously managed by an external party but is now in direct management of the council and we are looking at ways to improve the site management for the future.

"Having direct relationships with the occupiers is considered appropriate for management of the estate and as such allowing tenants to sub-let to others will not be the preferred approach.

“The council is in direct dialogue with the current tenants’ representatives and will continue to work with them to enable their client to dispose of their interest. Any costs associated with variations to the lease would be charged to the tenant making the application.”

But Mr Janes added: “Why restricting use to textile manufacture has any benefit to the amenity value of the area is lost on me. The management of the vendors have no knowledge of when or if the unit has been used for textile manufacture.

“The council had offered to amend this on payment of £5,000. The council solicitor acting has now withdrawn that by saying #the council will not consider any alterations to the alienation provisions in the lease”. #

“When I retire in a few years’ time I was hoping to rent the unit out to supplement my pension.”

Mr Janes says the council also wants him to take on all the maintenance and repair obligations without giving him any information on how much they have spent on these over the past 40 years.

He said: “Although the council have been responsible for all of the above for the 40 years since 1981 they responded by saying

“I am unable to provide you with the historical information you have asked for”.

“I was also told the council are aiming to commission condition surveys and the council will decide what works will be done, when and by whom.”

Mr Janes says this could lead to him having to pay thousands of pounds to remove a cesspit and connect sewerage systems to the mains sewers.