A WOKING businessman has condemned the borough council’s failure to compensate small enterprises whose trade was damaged when cladding fell from a council-owned building.

Roland Foxcroft, proprietor of award-winning wine bar Cellar Magnifique, was one of those affected when a panel dislodged from Albion House on 5 October last year and landed in Church Path, the pedestrian walkway from the railway station to the town centre and on which Cellar Magnifique stands.

“Poorly secured cladding at Albion House endangered the lives of my customers, my staff and myself,” Mr Foxcroft said.

“In addition to endangering our lives, the council’s falling cladding has threatened our livelihoods. Our businesses were closed for almost a week to allow for scaffolding to be erected.

“It [the scaffolding] was in place for five months, inhibiting critical festive shopper-footfall, as the council took an inordinately long time to undertake repairs.

“The council suggested we pay external accountants to validate statements of loss, which it then failed to reimburse. To add insult to injury, our business rates have been increased retrospectively, and we have received demands from the council giving us 14 days’ notice to pay them.”

Mr Foxcroft made an application to the council for loss of business, which, he says, the council encouraged, but was turned down.

In an email to Mr Foxcroft, seen by the News & Mail, the council’s business liaison manager, wrote: “The Corporate Leadership Board did not approve your claim. This was based on advice received from colleagues in our legal department and from our insurance company. They advise that all loss of business claims should be made through your own insurance policies when the liable party is known.”

However, Mr Foxcroft quickly lists his multiple problems with the council’s advice, beginning with the question of liability.

“I don’t have the time to wait until the liable party is known, I had to commence a claim because of the financial pressures placed on my business.

“We have had verbal discussions with council representatives where the council has blamed the building contractor and the building contractor has blamed a third party,” he said. “In those same discussions it was stated that it may take years to resolve.

“But I needed cash to pay staff in October 2022. In six months the council has not even resolved liability. Small businesses cannot hold debts indefinitely, particularly when they’re already indebted due to the pandemic.

“If I use my own insurance, a claim will see a deduction of excess and would be likely to substantially increase future premiums.

“And any claim will not cover the accountant fees that the council led us to incur, nor compensate us for management time, brand impact, long-term changes to customer habits, and so on.”

Responding to Mr Foxcroft, a Woking Borough Council spokesperson said: “We sympathise with traders who were directly impacted by the immediate closure of Church Path following the displacement of an exterior panel from Albion House.

“Following the incident on Wednesday 5 October 2022, officers acted swiftly to close Church Path ensuring the safety of pedestrians and traders. Robust measures were put in place at significant cost to the council that allowed for the safe reopening of Church Path as soon as possible.

“Whilst the council is the owner of Albion House, we continue to work with all parties to determine liability for this incident.

“Until this is resolved we are unable to consider any compensation claims that relate to this incident.

“In the meantime, we remain in contact with traders and have previously advised them that they should file a claim for loss of business through their own insurance company who will manage their claim against the liable party once known.”

Unmoved, Mr Foxcroft added: “I challenge Julie Fisher, CEO of Woking Borough Council, to join us in Church Path to explain why she feels the council should not be held responsible for endangering the lives of local residents.”

The dislodged panel has yet to be replaced.