Stalemate in land dispute threatens village café

The cafe on the Clapham village recreation ground is under threat
The cafe on the Clapham village recreation ground is under threat

A land dispute that has divided Clapham village and threatened its beloved café remains unresolved.

The confusion surrounds the shop and café built on the Clapham village recreation ground.

Neil Austine, 40, and Mark Woods, 47, who run the Junction@Clapham shop and café, were told by Arun District Council that a new toilet and drainage system needs to be installed by August 17 or the café would have to close.

Despite a grassroots campaign to raise money for the necessary works, the café owners say they are still waiting for permission to have the drains put in.

Mr Tomkins said the parish council could not take over the land with a sitting tenant.

“It has turned into such a mess”, said café co-owner Mr Austine.

“The future of the project will rely on getting the drainage sorted.”

The land on which the café operates, donated to the parishioners of Clapham by the Somerset family in 1930, is held in a trust.

For decades it was leased to Arun District Council, who in turn leased part of the land to the shop and café. However the council chose not to renew its lease in July 2015.

The trustees of the recreation ground have since agreed to hand over responsibility for the land to Clapham Parish Council (CPC), subject to legal review.

A spokesperson for the trustees said: “No work can be carried out on the land until all agreements are in place and the land is transferred to the CPC.”

Cliff Tomkins, chairman of Clapham Parish Council, said: “The legal review has shown there are issues and these include boundaries, and the legal status of the tenancy of the current occupant of the shop is unclear.”

Mr Austine has sought legal advice and said the business is still ‘holding over’ on its previous lease from Arun District Council, a process by which an existing tenant continues to pay rent after a lease has expired.

A spokesperson for Arun District Council said: “Food businesses are required to comply with relevant legislation and this includes requirements for provision of suitable drainage and toilets. We can confirm that formal notices have been served.”

Villagers’ campaign Save our Shop and Café held a rally at the recreation ground to raise money for the café. The group has offered to pay for liability insurance for any drainage works needed but this offer has not be taken up.