A community riding school saddled with a £10,000 plus bill from a landlord to clear
brambles has been closed down by bailiffs.
Pink Willow Equestrian Centre was told to leave its home of more than 50 years in Ronver Road, Lee by bailiffs acting on behalf of Isle of Man-based landowners Austringer Estates Limited.
The move was made after it was claimed there was a breach of lease as owner Chloe Williams and her family were not able to pay the full price of £10,000 for the contractor the landlord brought in to clear the brambles.
Ms Williams and her family say they were undertaking the clearance of the brambles, at a lower cost, but the landlord brought in the contractor who charged “a exorbitant price”
It marks the end of an era for the riding school which has provided affordable lessons for people of all abilities for about 56 years.
A devastated Ms Williams, who took over the running of the school in 2015, was faced with an anxious four days returning up to 40 horses to owners and finding new homes for the rescue horses which were kept at the stables. A tearful crowd of people including those who had rode at the school and well-wishers turned up to say a goodbye to the centre on its final day Saturday, February 11.
Ms Williams, said on the arrival of the bailiffs; “I am devastated – it’s just a nightmare The bailiffs would not let me in and feed or care for the horses unless I signed the paper to say we would leave in four days time.
“I was so worried about the horses I just had to sign it. I don’t know where the horses are going to go and the paper said if they have not gone in four days they will be seized and disposed of. I did offer to make part payments for the debt with £2,500 on the day but they did not accept this.”
Pat Williams, her grandmother who runs Willow Wildlife Rescue in Chislehurst told the South London Press: “Chloe was served a notice to clear the brambles and had a contractor in to start the job last January who charged £400.
“The site is classified as being of Special Importance for Nature Conservation and all the trees have protection orders which is why the bramble clearance undertaken by Pink Willow was done very carefully by hand until after the wildlife breeding season at the end of October. A contractor was booked for that time to do a mechanical clearance for an estimated £450.
“But then the company sent in a contractor who charged the exorbitant rate. £10,000 is an astronomical amount for the job and we have been told we will also have to pay the landlord’s legal bills.
“We can’t afford to pay it and we can’t afford to fight it either – we have already spent £3,000 getting legal advice. The landlord doesn’t care about the little people like us.
“It is so sad there has been a riding school on the site for 56 years – it has always been a great facility for people in the area and offers classes for disabled children .”
She said: “On the final day, a large group of people, old and young, gathered at the gates, including four children expecting to have a birthday party in the yard with the horses that weekend.
“Many were distressed and crying to see half a century of affordable, friendly riding opportunities to end.
“Last to leave, going on to as yet an unknown future was Ginger the yard cat who knows no other place as he was born there.”
A spokeswoman for Austringer Estates Limited, said: “The current landowner purchased the site in 2008 and at this point could have obtained vacant possession.
“Instead of taking possession, the landowner continued to work with the local community and the previous tenant with no issue. In 2015, our current tenant took over the site on very favourable terms.
“In exchange for land management including clearance of the brambles we charged the current tenant a nominal rent of £200 per month. The land demised to the current tenant totals approximately seven acres and it is this extensive area that the current tenant was to maintain in good order.
“In April 2016, a notice was served in respect of the brambles and we gave the current tenant extensive time beyond what was legally required to remedy this situation.
“We tried to work with the tenant but were left with no choice other than instruct a third party to deal with the clearance of the brambles. The cost of the clearance was a commercial price and was fair. The clearance of thick brambles was about £1,00 per acre plus VAT. The total costs due as of today represent clearance costs and legal fees.
She said: “The horses’ welfare was dealt with. We had contingency plans in place to ensure they were fed, watered and kept healthy throughout this process. We hope to find a replacement tenant that can offer similar benefits to the area.”