Hearing set over parking debt issue

BUSINESSMAN: Neil Charles-Jones used to run the Secret Garden.
BUSINESSMAN: Neil Charles-Jones used to run the Secret Garden.

A Blenheim businessman is challenging a Marlborough District Council demand he pay a five-year-old $28,000 debt for not having the required parking outside his "failed" business.

Neil Charles-Jones has applied to an independent commissioner, Ron Crosby, to have the debt waived, and it will be heard at the end of next month.

Charles-Jones' family trust ran the Secret Garden bar and cafe in Maxwell Rd until July last year.

As part of its original consent in 2009, he was to pay the Marlborough District Council $27,374 instead of providing parking outside the bar.

Charles-Jones objected to that, saying it was "excessive and and unreasonable" and bore "no relation to equivalent decisions". He met Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman and council chief executive Andrew Besley to detail his concerns. After that meeting, an invoice was not sent to him, despite the bar's liquor licence being renewed several times, and he assumed it had been waived.

The bar was shut last year, and the company which held the resource consent for the bar, CJFT Holding, was wound up.

Charles-Jones leased the premises to Joe Johnstone and a new bar, the Yard Bar and Bistro, opened there this year.

When Johnstone applied for a liquor licence for the Yard Bar, the council billed him for the debt, which was passed on to Charles-Jones.

Charles-Jones is overseas, and declined to comment.

In his application, which is a public document on the council's website, he said the delayed application of the capital charge was believed to be unfair.

He had had a sympathetic meeting with Sowman and Besley and had applied for liquor licences in 2009 and later, all which needed checking of the resource consent, and all were granted.

"No invoice for the proposed capital sum was ever received. My meeting had - I reasonably believed - had the desired effect.

"It seems my belief was misplaced, given - probably quite rightly - the inability of the mayor and chief executive to affect the resource consent decision. However, it does seem unreasonable to wait for more than four years to levy the noted charge.

"As noted . . . despite best endeavours, the business was not profitable . . . and we shut the doors in June 2013. Had the prior charge been levied, we most certainly would have shut the doors sooner, for we would have simply run out of cash sooner!"

In a letter to Charles-Jones in May which was attached to the application, Besley said the obligation to pay the financial contribution remained in force.

"The resource consent is a land use consent which runs with the land, and the conditions of that consent also run with the land. The obligation is now an obligation of the owners of the subject property, which you state are the trustees of your family trust."

He "appreciated the point" that no invoice was issued. "I think this was possibly the result of some confusion caused by the meeting you sought with the mayor and myself back in 2009. The obligation was triggered again recently when the renewal of the former Secret Garden liquor licence had to be addressed."

Charles-Jones could apply to have the condition on the resource consent varied, and it would be heard by an independent commissioner. The council's compliance staff would hold off enforcement action for two months to allow him time to consider if he wanted to do that.

Crosby will hear Charles-Jones' application on September 29.

The Marlborough Express