Legal bombshell 'will put us all out of business'
Traders on the edge of a busy shopping area are battling Leicester City Council for the right to stay in business.
Greens DIY, Maharaja Superstore and Discount Flooring have been trading at 244, 246 and 248 Green Lane Road, North Evington, for two years.
They set up shop on the site of former hosiery warehouses. But when they sought formal planning permission to reclassify the buildings for retail use, as opposed to industrial, the council turned them down.
Four traders, together with the four people who own and lease the premises, are now being prosecuted by the council for breaching enforcement notices ordering them to close.
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They appeared at Leicester Magistrates' Court on Friday.
Speaking before the hearing, Jatinder Singh (47), who runs Maharaja Superstore, said: "We are being treated unfairly.
"The old industries will not be coming back and, in a time of recession, we are running successful businesses, employing up to 15 people between us.
"We have to support our families and there are also suppliers who rely on our business.
"It doesn't make any sense at all – we are creating jobs and providing services for the community in buildings that would otherwise be empty."
His brother and business partner Dalbir Singh, 45, said: "We had to borrow money to set up our business and we have to give the money back.
"The law needs to be changed."
Subhash Khunti, 35, director of Green DIY, said: "I've invested £100,000 in my business.
"We are talking about people's livelihoods here.
"The council has to show some common sense on this. We are honest, hardworking people."
The eight defendants were joined at court by supporters, including Leicester East MP Keith Vaz and ward councillors Mian Mayat and Deborah Sangster.
Mr Vaz and Councillor Mayat criticised the behaviour of the authority's planning authority – particularly as a city council consultation on extending the specified retail zone in Green Lane Road to include the presently unauthorised shops has only recently concluded, with a report on its conclusions awaiting publication.
Mr Vaz said: "I'm shocked that just four days before Christmas the city council is looking to put people out of their jobs and on the dole with potential criminal convictions – especially as we await the result of a consultation which could change everything.
"Even the Grinch wouldn't do this."
"I'm very disappointed with our (the city council's) enforcement department over this issue," said Coun Mayat.
"What makes this case so puzzling to me is that I was on the planning committee a few years back when other neighbouring shops, also outside the specified Green Lane Road retail area, were granted the precise change of use these three businesses have been asking for."
During the brief hearing, council lawyer Caroline Gutteridge said: "The council's position is that they are industrial units and should not be operated as retail units."
She said there were also traffic and parking issues in Green Lane Road caused by the continued operation of the businesses.
The case was adjourned until January 25.