title="Swallowfield Parish Council in Berkshire">

Swallowfield Parish Stores

Swallowfield Parish Stores - Forum for residents questions

The Parish Council is aware that a message has been published by others on Facebook advertising a public meeting for residents of the parish on 13 September but the Council had not confirmed the details of how that meeting would be held as it was still considering the logistics.
Having considered those logistics including the ability of residents to ask questions at such a meeting, the Council believes that a smaller meeting at this time would be more helpful and constructive in answering such questions and hearing residents’ views.
We are proposing to hold this meeting in the Rose Room at Swallowfield Parish Hall at 7.30pm next Monday, 13 September, with a spokesperson for parish residents and up to 5 further representatives of the residents selected from those that contact or have already contacted the Parish Council with questions or concerns about the shop. The main hall is already booked that evening so we cannot accommodate larger numbers.
It would be helpful for all attendees of the meeting if questions from residents were sent in advance please by email to the Clerk at clerk@swallowfieldpc.gov.uk
If you would like to represent the community at this meeting, or take the primary role of the spokesperson, please contact the Clerk at the email address above. But please also bear in mind that we will not be able to accommodate more than 6 representatives in the Rose Room so it is important that you submit your comments and questions beforehand in case you are not able to attend the meeting.
Please contact the Clerk before noon on Monday 13th, if more than 6 people wish to attend the council will select the attendees by lot.
 
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Swallowfield Parish Stores - Update

Swallowfield Parish Council are issuing this lengthy statement to explain the circumstances that led up to Mr Kumar closing the shop and new tenants being installed.

You may not wish to read all the details but there are those that will.

Please rest assured that everything the council has done over the last three years has been to ensure the long-term future of the village shop and post office.

The new tenants have signed a 15-year lease and are working with the Post Office so that the counter can be opened as soon as possible.

If you would like a printed copy of the full statement, please contact the office on 0118 9885 929 or clerk@swallowfieldpc.gov.uk.

Detailed statement by Swallowfield Parish Council about the Parish Stores and Post Office

Many residents will have seen the Facebook statement issued by Mr Kumar last Tuesday as he left the shop.  We appreciate the contribution to the village made by Mr Kumar over the last 13 years, particularly the kindness he has shown to the residents during lockdown. We are very sorry that Mr Kumar chose to withdraw from the proposed sale which the Council had supported and that the alternative proposal and associated business model suggested by his son turned out not to be viable. As Mr Kumar indicated in his statement, there are two sides to every story.  The Council ultimately came to the view that the long-term future of the village stores and post office would not lie with Mr Kumar or his son.  

We join other members of our community in thanking Mr Kumar and his family for their contribution and commitment towards the people of Swallowfield parish.

There follows an expanded statement detailing the circumstances and correcting various inaccuracies and misconceptions. The Council must continue to respect commercial confidentiality and people’s entitlement to privacy and is therefore limited in the depth of detail it is able to share.

The Council does not own or run the business at the village stores.  We own the building and are therefore the landlord of the tenant who runs the shop.  Mr Kumar as the tenant ran the shop business for himself and was employed directly by the Post Office under a contract to operate the post office counter.  The Council has no direct relationship with the Post Office but we understand that, as part of that contract with sub-postmasters, the Post Office requires their sub-postmasters such as Mr Kumar to have a lease of the premises from which they run the post office counter.  

As Mr Kumar has indicated, he had a 10-year lease for the old shop which ended in August 2018 during the refurbishment of the building which resulted in a much-improved larger modern shop being created for Mr Kumar at the Council’s expense.  Mr Kumar applied for, and received, a grant from the Post Office to upgrade the post office area within the new shop.  The Council paid for the shelving in the new shop and for specialist advice on the proposed layout of that shelving within the new shop which was discussed with, and accepted by, Mr Kumar.

In recognition of all the disruption caused by the refurbishment, the Council waived Mr Kumar’s rent for 12 months.  We recognise the importance of the village shop and post office to the parish and its residents; for that reason, we have not charged a market rent whilst Mr Kumar has run the shop.

We indicated to Mr Kumar that he would need to enter into a new lease for the new shop and that, without that new lease, he occupied the new shop under a tenancy at will.  A tenancy at will means that the landlord can end the tenancy immediately at any time.  We subsequently reminded Mr Kumar that he had a tenancy at will on various occasions.

We proposed a new 10-year lease on terms similar to Mr Kumar’s previous lease which expired in 2018 and arranged at our cost for our lawyer to prepare the new lease. There were not three different variations of the proposed new lease with lots of clauses as Mr Kumar’s statement suggested.  After discussions with Mr Kumar about the rent proposed, we agreed to reduce the suggested rent by a third to reflect the location of the shop and a second version was produced at our cost with the reduced rent.  Mr Kumar then requested that the term of the lease be reduced to 7 years.  The Council agreed to that request and again asked its lawyer at the Council’s cost to prepare a third version of the lease for signature by Mr Kumar. 

We did not receive any communications from Mr Kumar’s lawyer about the proposed new lease; nor were we given the name of his lawyer.  All communications about the lease came from Mr Kumar or his son, Mr Raghav Puri.

Mr Kumar also referred in his statement to side letters.  The principal side letter gave Mr Kumar a concessionary rent partly to recognise the disruption caused by the redevelopment. This was personal to him and therefore he was asked to keep it confidential.

The Council made repeated requests to Mr Kumar to sign the new lease and as indicated above, reminded him on more than one occasion that he had only a tenancy at will, including when we learnt that he had advertised the shop for sale without first consulting us.  But Mr Kumar did not sign the new lease despite these requests and despite previously indicating that he would sign.

Mr Kumar had indicated to the Council in 2017 that he wanted to retire and repeated that desire several times in the period that followed.  In 2020 and without informing the Council first, Mr Kumar advertised the shop for sale at the concessionary rent which was personal to him and which he had been requested to keep confidential.  Mr Kumar then informed us in October 2020 that he had found a buyer for the shop.  We then requested a meeting with Mr Kumar and his son, Mr Puri. We reminded them at that meeting that, as Mr Kumar had still not signed the new lease, he had only a tenancy at will which gave him no permanent right to occupy the shop and therefore no business as such to sell.  

As is usual for dealing with specific business items, a working group of two councillors and the Clerk attended the meeting with Mr Kumar and his son and then reported back to the full Council at the next monthly meeting so the full Council could consider the position in detail and make any decisions required.

We nonetheless agreed to meet the prospective buyers and, having done so, were comfortable with them taking over the shop.  We then explained to Mr Kumar and his son and to the prospective buyers that, in order for the buyers to take over the shop and buy Mr Kumar’s business, we would need to negotiate and agree a new lease for the shop with the buyers in tandem with their discussions on the business sale.

Negotiations with the prospective buyers and their lawyer for the new lease could not wait until the business sale was agreed, because the prospective buyers could not occupy the shop and buy the business from Mr Kumar unless the buyers signed the new lease at the same time as they signed the contract to buy the business from Mr Kumar.  If negotiations on the new lease had been delayed until the terms of the business sale had been agreed between Mr Kumar and the buyers, Mr Kumar would have had to wait for the lease to be agreed before he could complete the sale of his business. During the negotiations, Mr Kumar sent an email asking why there was a delay with agreeing the new lease If Mr Kumar had signed the 7-year lease prepared for him, he would have been able to transfer that lease to the buyers.

The Council therefore instructed its lawyer to prepare the new lease for the buyers.  The buyers requested a 15-year lease and we were happy to agree to that as we felt it would give long-term security to the shop. The new lease also included specific provisions about retaining a post office counter at the shop which the buyers agreed.  The buyers also agreed to pay half of the Council’s legal costs for preparing the new lease.  The Council did not ask Mr Kumar to contribute to its legal costs for the 7-year lease.  Mr Kumar was aware of the request for a longer lease and that it would prolong the timescale for delivering a draft lease.

The new lease was agreed with the buyers and was ready for signature as and when the terms for selling the business were agreed between Mr Kumar and the buyers.  We were not involved in those discussions as it was not the Council’s business.  We simply answered questions raised by Mr Kumar’s lawyer about the property such as the service charge due for the shop to cover items such as the maintenance of the outside of the property which is the Council’s responsibility to organise.

We then learnt in early April this year that Mr Kumar had withdrawn from the proposed sale at the last minute.  We asked him to meet us so we could establish what had happened and what he planned to do next given his previously stated desire to retire and the proposed sale. Mr Kumar and his son attended the meeting but did not explain specifically at that meeting why they had withdrawn from the sale other than that they felt it was for the good of the village.  Mr Kumar was reminded that he had only a tenancy at will.  He indicated that that did not matter as he could close the post office counter and take redundancy.

We asked Mr Kumar what his future plans for the shop were and were told that Mr Kumar’s son, Mr Puri, was considering taking over the management of the shop in addition to his current full-time job with Mr Kumar continuing to run the post office counter.  We asked Mr Puri to send us his proposals for the shop so we could review these.  We indicated that we would expect Mr Puri to sign a lease on the same terms as that agreed with the buyers as we did not want to incur yet more legal fees. We also indicated separately to Mr Puri that we expected the rent payable to be the same as that agreed with the buyers.   We sent a copy of that new lease to Mr Puri for his lawyer to review.  

The Council decided also that it would be prudent at this stage to consider alternative proposals for the long-term future of the shop and post office.

Mr Puri subsequently sent us his proposals for the shop which included requirements for a franchise with Nisa as franchisor, a revised layout of the shop and new larger chillers and freezers with fans (heat exchangers) mounted externally on the building.  Mr Puri also told us that without these changes he did not think the shop could support the rent proposed. He arranged for Nisa to visit the shop to assess its suitability but, after that visit, told us that Nisa considered the shop unsuitable for their franchise.    

The Council had examined with its architect at the time of the Fieldfare redevelopment whether it was possible to install external fans for chillers and it was concluded then that this would not be possible because of the surrounding residential units.

Following their review of the lease as originally prepared for the buyer they had introduced, Mr Puri’s lawyer eventually indicated to the Council that certain provisions in that lease would not be acceptable to Mr Puri and his father if this proposal was to go ahead.  We explained why we would not be able to agree to the changes proposed.  Mr Puri’s lawyer subsequently made a further proposal which would have required further changes to that lease.

We in the Council are committed to the long-term future of the shop and the post office counter.  The Council has worked with Mr Kumar over the last 13 years to ensure that future as the owner of the building but, following the events of the last 10 months and his failure over 3 years to sign a new lease for the shop, we reluctantly came to the conclusion after many discussions at Council meetings that the long-term future of the shop and post office did not lie with Mr Kumar.  Like all matters of a commercial nature, those discussions were held in private. It would not have been appropriate for commercially sensitive and personal details of Mr Kumar’s business and of the dealings between Mr Kumar and the Council to have been discussed in a public forum.

The Council has previously canvassed the views of local residents about the shop but ultimately the decision about which tenant to appoint rests with the Council as the owner of the building.  We identified new tenants who were willing to work with us to take on the shop and the post office as soon as practicable on a long-term basis.  Mr Kumar was informed by letter advising him that the Council intended to terminate his tenancy at will and asked him and, if he wished, Mr Puri to attend a meeting to discuss the arrangements for an orderly exit from the shop.  Mr Kumar’s response was to shut the shop. It was made clear to Mr Puri both before and at that meeting with Mr Puri and his sister that the Council had already made the decision to terminate the tenancy at will and that the meeting was to discuss the arrangements for Mr Kumar’s departure.  We indicated that we would assist Mr Kumar as far as we could to make his departure from the shop as easy as possible in the circumstances.  We would like to thank Mr Puri and his sister for their efforts and co-operation in completing this task.

On behalf of Swallowfield Parish Council

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Swallowfield Parish Council announces the reopening of the Parish Stores

We are delighted to welcome to the parish Jasdeep Singh and his wife, Avneet Juneja as new tenants of the Parish Stores.  As you may have seen, they are working hard over the weekend to get the shop ready to re-open on Monday.  Initially they will be able to offer all the essentials including milk, bread, eggs, butter as well as a good selection of other items. Newspapers should be available from the following week and the post office counter will reopen in due course. Jasdeep will be adding to the range of products held at the shop as soon as practicable and would welcome suggestions from the community for items that you would like to see stocked.

They will be serving fresh tea, coffee, cakes and snacks “on the house” for their opening day to welcome residents.   So please do call into the shop to say hello.

Please note that for the time being they will only be able to accept cash payments but they will get a card machine set up as soon as possible.

The steps required to reopen the post office counter have also started but that reopening will take a little longer because of the formalities required by the Post Office.

 

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Swallowfield Village Shop

The Parish Council is issuing this statement to update the community on the current situation relating to the shop and post office.  The Council is sorry about the uncertainty caused by Mr Kumar so suddenly shutting his shop.  It has, because of legal considerations and commercial confidentiality, been unable to explain in more detail the situation until now.   

The Council’s aim has always been to maintain a village shop and post office for the community that will endure for the long term.

Mr Kumar was a tenant and owned the business at the shop and the Council was his landlord. The Council acknowledges Mr Kumar's efforts to build up the shop and to support individual members of the community particularly through the pandemic and regret that business negotiations with Mr Kumar have broken down and the current situation has resulted.

In August 2018 just after the refurbishment of the shop and other premises at Fieldfare, Mr Kumar’s original 10 year lease expired. A period of negotiation took place with various iterations of a proposed new lease to reflect the tenure of the refurbished premises, culminating in a version that the parties could agree. The rent was set at below market level to reflect the location and the Council also, partly in recognition of the disturbance caused by the refurbishment, gave Mr Kumar an additional concession on the rent which was personal to him. Over the last three years, at the Council’s expense, the Council’s solicitor has prepared and issued, for signature, three versions of the new lease to reflect changes requested by Mr Kumar and, although he stated that he would sign, he did not despite the repeated efforts of the Clerk and members of the Council and letters urging him to do so. He was informed on a number of occasions that he occupied the shop only as a tenant at will (which means that he did not have a formal lease for a fixed term and his tenancy could be terminated immediately by the Council as his landlord) because he had not signed the new lease.

Mr Kumar has been telling the Council and others periodically from as long ago as 2017 of his wish to retire and that he would like to sell his business.  It is also a matter of public record that Mr Kumar put his business on the market on Rightmove in October 2020. He did this without informing the Council first. He subsequently introduced a potential buyer to the Council.  Having met the prospective buyer, the Council agreed to assist Mr Kumar with the sale.  Since Mr Kumar did not have a formal lease to assign to a buyer, the Council agreed to instruct their solicitor to prepare and negotiate a longer-term lease as requested by the buyer. The new lease was ready to be signed by the prospective buyer contemporaneously with the business sale contract offered by Mr Kumar on terms that the buyer was ultimately willing to accept. Then, at the very last minute, Mr Kumar withdrew from the sale to the buyer.

Following Mr Kumar’s withdrawal from the sale, the Council met Mr Kumar and his son, Mr Puri, and requested their proposals for running the shop given Mr Kumar’s declared intention to sell the shop and the events over the preceding few years.  Mr Puri asked if they could review the lease which had been prepared for the prospective buyer, and the Council agreed.  The Council exchanged a number of emails with Mr Puri and Mr Kumar’s solicitor regarding the terms of that lease and the proposals made by Mr Puri.  The Council considered in detail these proposals and concluded that these proposals were not in the best interests for the long-term future of the shop.   The Council then indicated to Mr Kumar last week that it intended to serve a formal notice to terminate his tenancy at will of the shop and that notice was served on 24 August 2021.

After Mr Kumar withdrew from the sale, the Council also considered contingency plans for the continued operation of the shop if it was not possible for Mr Kumar to remain at the shop.  There is a new tenant ready to take over the shop once Mr Kumar has completed the removal of his items from the shop. The Council is also making arrangements with the Post Office for the continued operation of the post office counter.  The Council will update the community when it has more news about the reopening of the shop and the post office counter. 

 

On behalf of Swallowfield Parish Council