Times change but the terms of the lease haven't

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I was first contacted by a newsagent over a year ago about the conditions in his lease that prevent him from selling alcohol or food. Rob Moody has a long-term lease for Sandown News, in Bobblestock, Hereford, and the Co-op is his landlord. The whole building belongs to the Co-op and the Co-op next door to him now sells everything that he sells (and obviously a lot more).

He has been dealing with a third-party agent, Hartnell Taylor Cook in Bristol, to try to get the restrictions lifted. In August 2017, when he first got in touch, he said that, after two-and-a-half years, he had finally got an answer from them and the answer was no.

I recommended a property specialist at the time who thought Rob had a good case, but said that there were no guarantees. He said he wouldn’t mind paying but only if there was a guarantee. Now, over a year later, he is still hoping.

I’ve seen a copy of the 99-year lease which was taken on in July 1983 and latterly acquired by the Moodys at the beginning of 2001. It clearly states that they can only operate as a newsagent and must not sell foodstuffs or alcohol. This wasn’t an issue at first but has clearly become one since. When the Moodys bought the store it was the biggest outlet for the lottery in all of Hereford and Worcester, and the Co-op didn’t have the lottery. It does now. And, as Rob points out, when the lease was first drawn up the Co-op didn’t do newspapers and magazines so there was a niche for a newsagent.

I’ve also seen the 40-odd emails Rob exchanged with the agent but, as you would expect in terms of a third party, there hasn’t been much response. One of them, though, did say that they had received the following comment from their client: “We have reviewed the position at this store and spoken to our legal advisors and do not consider that we are in breach of the Groceries Market Investigation (Controlled Land) Order 2010 requiring us to release you from the covenants in your lease.” The last conversation Rob had with the agent was along the lines that there was no point in proceeding other than going to court.

I’ve had a look at the Co-op’s website for Bobblestock and it does say that it has “a focus on ethical practices”. As this appeared to me to be a restrictive practice in the Moodys’ case, I put it to the Co-op that we hoped the restriction could be lifted for the sake of harmony in the convenience sector.

All I’ve managed to get so far, attributed to a spokesperson for the Co-op, is: “We have been made aware of the concerns that have been raised, and the matter is being looked into.”

One solution would be for the Co-op to buy the Moodys out (the Moodys have little hope of selling to anyone else). Hopefully, publicising this will bring it to the right people’s attention.

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