Wallington's Heritage Farm Nursery in last-ditch talks with Surrey County Council today
A popular family run business is on the brink of closure after a council demanded a 167 per cent increase in its rent.
Heritage Farm Nurseries in Wallington, an animal centre and aquarium which specialises in fish, has had to make its 20 staff redundant and the owners are having to leave their home of eight years.
Stock has been sold, and the cafe, a community hub for mothers in the area, has been stripped, closed and assets sold off.
Owners Fiona and Jonathan Daniels received a letter in November saying either agree to what they call "extortionate" demands from Surrey County Council, including one per cent of turnover, or they would be kicked out.
Since the announcement on Friday the community has been galvanised and a petition to save business has gained nearly 2000 signatures.
Now after seeing the strength of public support for the business the council has agreed to reopen negotiations at a meeting today (Thursday 17).
The council has said it is driving up the rent because the business was acting commercially, and its previous rent was subsidised as it treated it as a farm.
But the Daniels have said they have invested over £400,000 in the business and the site since it opened in 2004 and a re a valued community resource and should be given a better deal.
The site is primarily a centre for children to look at animals including two Caimen, iguanas, turtles, tropical fish and a miniature railway.It also runs as a pet shop.
Mrs Daniels said: "Surrey County Council has made our lives hell. When we received the letter saying it's their way or the highway before Christmas, we thought that was it. We were told there was no room for negotiation. We have our family to think about, and when we were told we were going to be evicted, and all our assets taken, we decided to beat them to it and start selling things off - for peanuts really. It might be too late."
Mrs Daniels said she has been overwhelmed by the public support, and thanks to them, the council has said it would meet this week where it hopes to "reach an agreement".
She said: "I want to say a massive thanks to Carshalton mums, they have done so much for us, and if it wasn't for them, the council would not have come back to the table. Stephanie Kvam, a mother-of-two who regularly visits, said: "This is such a wonderful, family friendly place, there is so much to do for the kids while us mums can sit in the cafe and chat - its welcome relief and it only costs the price of a coffee. This place is completely unique and everyone who comes here loves it."
Tom Brake MP for Carshalton and Wallington, said he was "very disappointed at what appeared to be a very hard line approach" taken by the council. Tim Crowley, deputy leader of the opposition, said: "I'm extremely disappointed it has come to this and 20 people will lose their jobs."
A Surrey County Council spokesman praised the business but said: "Mr Daniels' rent has not been increased since 2001, when his business was farming. Since then he has diversified into retail, made substantial changes to the property and grown a successful business.
"While we applaud Mr Daniels' initiative, we have to ask a reasonable commercial rent, in line with the open market, as Surrey taxpayers cannot be expected to subsidise a successful private business."