A BUSINESS owner who was set to lose his livelihood because of a council decision has told of the devastation he suffered before being told, after thousands signed a petition to help him, that his seafood kiosk would be saved.
Bim Hartgill of the much-loved Hartgill Seafood at The Hard was told by Portsmouth City Council in December that after operating in the space since 1999, the lease on his kiosk would not be renewed in March.
This left the 63-year-old in total shock that he would be turfed out with no source of income until council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson stepped in.
Bim made his situation public on Thursday after failing to persuade the council, which wanted to put the kiosk out to tender, to change its mind.
People power prevailed as an online petition to ‘Save Hartgill Seafood’ received more than 1,300 signatures and posts about Bim’s hardship were shared hundreds of times on social media.
A former councillor alerted council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson to Bim’s problem and he visited the kiosk and had the decision reversed.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson has expressed his worries that the council’s efforts to try and bring more money in means losing sight of hardworking locals like Bim.
Bim said: ‘It’s been a crazy few days. I am totally overwhelmed at all of the support I’ve received. I’m so relieved I can carry on with my business.
‘The letter I got from the council on December 4 was very terse, it basically said they wouldn’t be entering into negotiations with me on the renewal of my lease and that I’ve got to strip everything out and get out.
‘I was completely shocked and devastated, it’s my livelihood I’ve got nothing else, it would have been the end of my working life.’
Twenty years ago the council allowed Bim to put a trailer in the same spot the kiosk is now in, to sell seafood out of. The council wanted to tidy the area up and a few years later, built a kiosk for Bim and the fishermen who he shares the other side of the building with – but only his lease was not to be renewed.
Bim added: ‘I’ve been there for about 20 years and in the proper kiosk for more than 15, which was a bare shell to begin with.
‘I phoned the council to ask what was going on and they said they wanted to put it out to tender to seafood businesses because it’s in a prime position and that I should apply.
‘So basically it was about money – but they didn’t ask me if I could pay more – and that would have meant another business would be walking in and taking the customers I have built up over 20 years.
‘My lease was always renewed every five years.’
Bim sought help from MPs who were unable to change the council's decision.
At his wits end, he made the news public on Thursday, and within a few hours had an outpouring of public support.
‘I thought I had done everything I could, going back and forth with the council I got nowhere, so I told people,’ he said.
‘Friends set up a Facebook page for me and word got around – a petition was started and people from all over the world were posting about what was happening.
‘I just couldn’t believe it, then at 4pm on Friday out of the blue the council leader turned up and said he was going to sort my problem.
‘He left and called me back and said to tear up the original letter I got because it no longer applies.
‘I am so grateful to him.’
Bim feeds the homeless every day and said residents enjoy meeting outside his popular kiosk.
Cllr Vernon Jackson said the council must get the balance between doing the best for itself financially and taking care of locals.
He said: ‘Things go wrong, I knew nothing about this and as soon as I found out, I made sure it was sorted.
‘I don’t quite know what happened but clearly the decision was made because staff were trying to bring in more money. Every pound that comes from rent goes towards helping to stop cuts being made.
‘But I’m worried the council’s push to be entrepreneurial means losing sight of the needs of local residents.
‘If the council thinks about pounds and not people what is the point of the council? We need to get the balance right.’
One comment on the petition read: ‘This is ludicrous. You can’t just uproot someone’s livelihood for the sake of selling the space to the highest bidder. Especially someone that’s such a fundamental part of the community.’
The kiosk is at near the entrance to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.