Police called as council change locks to evict popular Aylesbury business

The civil dispute has escalated between the council and this Aylesbury business.

By James Lowson
Thursday, 5th August 2021, 12:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th August 2021, 12:08 pm

A Bucks Council official changed the locks on the shutters of Unit 5 of Vale Retail Park to aid the eviction of Fruity Tooty.

In the early hours of yesterday morning (August 4) the council sent a security contractor to change the locks and stop the grassroots Aylesbury business trading.

A Thames Valley Police officer was called to the scene, the council claims the contractor was abused, an allegation denied by Fruity Tooty.

Fruity Tooty

A Thames Valley Police spokesperson confirmed its presence, the officer on the scene didn't identify any offences and concluded this was a civil matter.

Fruity Tooty believes it still has a legal right to trade on the building and after gaining access to the site continued trading yesterday.

The Council wants the business out of the unit as Fruity Tooty's lease on the building expired on August 1.

A spokesperson for the business released the following statement on its Facebook page yesterday, saying: "The Council made the decision to change the locks on the Unit 5 store last night. We have gained access and trading will continue but...

"They attempted to kill a small business, they attempted to destroy a family run business and they simply do not care! They do not care about the people that may lose their jobs or the people that may lose their homes as a result."

The council issued the following response to the Bucks Herald addressing the lock change. A Bucks Council spokesperson said: “After 12 months of exceptional support from the council, Fruity Tooty must find a new home for its business.

"We helped the small business during the Covid pandemic by providing accommodation with special low occupancy costs and easy exit terms if things didn’t work out for the business. The temporary short-term occupancy agreement to trade from an empty unit at Vale Retail Park came to an end last Saturday.

“It was made clear to Fruity Tooty from the outset that this was a special time limited arrangement until the premises could be rented out at full commercial rate. With a commercial tenant now lined up for this unit we simply cannot continue to offer such exceptional terms to Fruity Tooty, which is why they now have to vacate the building.

“Last night we attempted to secure the building. Our security contractor was abused and the owner of the shop arrived on site and drilled the locks. He is now in the premises illegally. Police attended. Unfortunately, we now have no option but to proceed with legal action against the owner.

“It is a real shame that after we have done so much to help them for a year, Fruity Tooty have not respected the terms of their agreement with us and have not moved out of the building at the end of their contract as they are legally required to do. Fruity Tooty’s actions have left the Council with no choice but to take decisive action. This not only adds to the distress for all parties concerned but it also adds more to the cost to the council taxpayer of helping this local business.”

Fruity Tooty responded issuing the following statement to the Bucks Herald: "The Council did not help us at all during the Pandemic but instead were using us to line their own pockets through reduction in their own rates liability but also to allow themselves to be reimbursed for our rates from central Government.

"The Council profited significantly from placing us in the Unit. We not only supported the residents and communities of Aylesbury but also supported the Council by using its empty building.

It was never made clear to Fruity Tooty from the outset that this was a special time limited arrangement and the actions of the Council never made this clear; instead they actually implied that we could stay long term.

"Fruity Tooty are willing to negotiate a full commercial rent and always have been, however, the Council are unwilling to listen or even respond to our emails; how can we negotiate if they do not respond.

"The Commercial Tenant is lined up but the offer has not been accepted and the Council are under a duty to find the best possible market rent; this would include listening to our offers and commercial justification. The Council are yet to fulfil this duty.

"Fruity Tooty denies that any contractor was abused and there does not seem to be any evidence of this in police reports or complaints. Fruity Tooty requires the Council to prove this allegation. Police attended but agreed that this was a civil matter. The Council have damaged our locks to which we consider to be criminal damage.

"Fruity Tooty denies that it is in the building illegally and that there is no court order stating that we are occupying illegally or that we must vacate.

"The Council have deceived Fruity Tooty and the public into thinking that they have helped during this pandemic; they were using us as a small business for their own financial gain and once that had finished they pushed us out with no justification or chance to negotiate. The Conservative Council have shown that there is no room for small businesses in Aylesbury."

Fruity Tooty was moved into Unit 5 of Vale Retail Park during the pandemic and kept on the property with short term lease agreements with the council.

The business' contract at the shopping site has expired within months of a 'major' retailer taking over units one to three in the park.

News broke of a major retailer taking over a large portion of the retail park in April. The Council has facilitated that takeover by approving a £1.8m to help set up the new business.

Fruity Tooty has received plenty of local support since news of its imminent eviction filtered out at the end of last month.

A petition challenging its eviction has received over 2,000 signatures at the time of writing. The Bucks Herald has also received copies of letters addressed to Council Leader Martin Tett asking him to reverse the decision.

Fruity Tooty says it plans to meet with its solicitor today to decide on how best to move forward after yesterday's incident.