By Amit Roy
IN THE age of Black Lives Matter, why is Marston Properties causing such distress by seeking to oust leaseholders Yadgar Marker and his daughter Phiroza who run the India Club at 143-145 Strand in London?
In the last few years, they have kept on and on, the Markers say, apparently using every little pretext to try and drive them out of business and shut down the India Club. Their agents have been sent to check everything from “fire safety” to “cleanliness”. All this the Markers have suffered with quiet dignity.
To the ordinary observer, this does not seem ethically or morally right.
The club is one of the most valued – and loved – Indian institutions in the capital and probably in the country. It is linked to the nation’s independence movement, but the India Club is not just about the past. Nor is just a restaurant.
This is a venue where friends of India from all sections of society meet to share a meal and enjoy each other’s company. What on the earth is the point of destroying such a place?
Back in August 2018, Westminster Council refused to give Marston Properties permission to get rid of the India Club during a planned redevelopment. Councillor Tony Devenish, chairman of the council’s planning sub-committee, had said: “Westminster Council refused permission for the redevelopment of 143-145 Strand due to the potential loss of an important cultural venue located on its site, the India Club.
“The India Club has a special place in the history of our Indian community and it is right that we protect it from demolition.”
Any sensible property company would have seen the India Club as an asset and made a virtue of including it in any redevelopment.
According to Marker, “the landlord has served us with a notice to vacate the premises so that they can run a modernised hotel instead. There’s no mention of the India Club.
“Proceedings have been filed at court with an eviction date of February 22, although we are disputing this.
“It is no longer going through Westminster Council, but it’s up to the court to decide. We have a protected tenancy under the Landlord & Tenant Act (1954). The lease is currently being rolled over until a resolution is formed. We have appointed a barrister and solicitor to help us fight this notice.
“Due to Covid-19 severely affecting our business, we have started a crowdfunder to help with legal fees. We aim to raise at least £50,000 to cover legal fees and keep us afloat during these times. We have three weeks remaining to raise this amount and crucially need the momentum to continue.”
Marker adds that the landlord’s legal action “comes at a time when we have worked tirelessly to survive the pandemic, like many in the hospitality industry. Our aim has always been to preserve the India Club for future generations and we are now appealing for help.”
He points out: “The landlord has served us with a notice to modernise and run their own hotel from the property. If this fails, they want a crippling 80 per cent increase in rent, amid a pandemic which has already had a devastating effect on us as a local independent business. To date, we have always met our rent obligations.”
Marker says he was told to leave and to “take the India Club with you”.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the landlords said: “Marston Properties is proud to have been investing in buildings in London for over 125 years. We have owned an interest in the building since 1981 and originally purchased it with the intention of running the hotel one day.
“For some time, we have been concerned about the viability and condition of the building. Many options have been explored over the last few years to resolve these issues including seeking planning permission for two different redevelopment schemes.
“We have had many discussions with Goldsand Hotels, who run the Strand Continental Hotel, incorporating the India Club Bar and Restaurant at the property, but have been unable to achieve a mutually agreeable solution with them.
“As the landlord we are entitled, following the expiry of the lease, to regain possession to occupy the building for our own business use and therefore notice was served on Goldsand Hotels in August 2020.
“It will be for the courts to determine our entitlement to regain possession and occupy the building for our own use.
“Marston Properties and Goldsand Hotels are engaging in the court process and therefore further comment from Marston Properties is not appropriate.”
My own view is that all efforts must be made to save the India Club.