TRUSTEES of Portishead’s Open Air Pool have taken possession of the lido’s Lockhouse Lounge restaurant.
Bailiffs arrived at the pool yesterday afternoon to issue a warrant to take possession of the building.
Deborah Griffith, who opened the restaurant in May 2009, had been staging a sit-in at the property since the notice to quit was issued by Portishead Pool Community Trust on Friday.
Mrs Griffith refused to hand over the keys and vowed to stay put to stop the trust taking the building back over.
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Trustees cut off the electricity to the Lockhouse Lounge on March 18 and issued a notice on March 23 – giving just two days’ notice to vacate the property.
It is understood an unpaid electricity bill of around £6,300 is at the centre of the dispute.
There has also been a dispute over the fact that the trust did not issue the Lockhouse Lounge with a fixed-term lease.
The restaurant was let under a “tenancy at will”, which can be terminated by either side giving reasonable notice, despite the granting of a five-year lease being a pre-condition of the trust’s 99-year lease with North Somerset Council, which was granted in December 2010.
Police attended the pool yesterday while the bailiffs and pool representatives took control of the building.
Mrs Griffith was not at the restaurant at the time and the property was being looked after by a friend.
A team of locksmiths were called in to secure the building and hand it back to the trust.
Certified bailiff Stephen Wood, of Able Investigations and Enforcement Solutions said: “We took peaceful possession of the property on behalf of the pool trust.
“Forfeiture notices have gone up on the restaurant building and any attempt to get back in will be deemed a criminal offence.”
Mrs Griffith, who has invested £160,000 in the restaurant over the last two years and employs a team of eight staff, had been pressing for talks between the pool trust and North Somerset Council in an attempt to resolve disagreements with the trust.
She says she is now considering issuing a claim against the trust for damages and loss of earnings.
Mrs Griffith said: “I was more than prepared to sit around the table and come to an agreement, but the trust has not responded.
“I am absolutely devastated it has come to this, especially when it was all avoidable.”
Trustees claimed that terms of the tenancy had been persistently breached by late payment of rent.
However, it is understood all rent payments, apart from this month, are up to date.
A spokesman for the Portishead Pool Community Trust said: “From June 2009 the trust sublet the cafe/restaurant area to the Lockhouse Lounge under a tenancy at will at a low rent, pending the outcome of negotiations with a view to reaching with the tenant mutually agreeable terms for an underlease at higher rental levels to replace the temporary tenancy at will.
“Mutually agreeable terms for an underlease were not able to be reached.
“In early August 2010 the proposed tenant’s solicitors informed the trust’s solicitors that they were seeking instructions from the Lockhouse Lounge but nothing further was heard from them, thereby suspending further negotiations on a new underlease at higher rental levels, with the tenant continuing to be subject to the lower rental level under its tenancy at will.”
The trust also said it had repeatedly demanded payment of electricity costs and earlier this month sent a final demand for £6,325 towards the arrears, which has not been paid.
The Evening Post understands the restaurant management disputed the amount of the arrears and asked for an itemised bill.
The Trust spokesman added: “Trustees continue to have regard to business realities in using their best endeavours to deliver public benefit to users of the pool.”
The pool was taken over by the Portishead Pool Community Trust in March 2009 following the successful Save the Open Air Pool campaign.