Letter to Editor: Horndon Village Playgroup and the “400%” rent increase

Dear Editor,I am writing to express my dismay at the treatment of Horndon Village Playgroup by Thurrock Council. My wife and I are both NHS workers that work full time shift work and need a safe, friendly, cheap and convenient Nursery for our four-year-old child.Horndon village playgroup provides just that to my family and several others in the local area.The Playgroup is a family run small business that has been open for 18 years. It employs eight people and has a good Ofsted rating. I cannot imagine why Thurrock Council Would want to force the closure of a Well established Nursery and can think of no valid reason other than short term monetary gain?The Council approached the Playgroup earlier this year with a proposed 400% increase in their rent with additional extra costs for the maintenance and upkeep of the property. For a small business such as this, with little profit after paying salaries, buying equipment and essential running costs, this can only have a catastrophic effect and force its closure. In these negotiations the Playgroup were not given a level playing field. The Council would offer no reduction on the cost of the proposed lease, they would only offer a 10 year lease period and would not have the ability to sublet to community groups in an effort to recoup some of the rent increase in order to continue running a viable Nursery.In the new tendering process the advert states a negotiable lease period with the ability to sublet.The closure of the Playgroup would have serious consequences for my family personally in regards to my wife and my ability to work and will have a massive economic impact in regards to lost wages, increased childcare costs, inconvenient transportation of our children and the likelihood of losing our present childminder who is able to pick our daughter up from the Playgroup as well as our elder daughter from the Primary school.On a wider level the closure will have a negative impact on the employees who lose their jobs, the parents that are inconvenienced and on the community as a whole. But most greatly, it will have a massive impact on the children of Horndon and the surrounding area who have forged strong bonds with the staff and each other that will likely continue throughout their formal Education.I can see no sense in the council forcing the closure of this lovely, well run, affordable, caring safe and convenient nursery that has long ties with the community established over many years.Surely the Council has a vested interest in the education of the boroughs children and would not want to risk that for a short sighted and ill implemented tender of a property to the highest bidder? I would like to iterate the resolve of myself, the Nursery, the Parents and the local community as a whole to fight this proposed closure as vehemently as possible in order for our children to continue to have such an excellent place for them to discover and learn.Horndon is a small village community and the Playgroup provides an invaluable and irreplaceable service in the education of our children. It works closely with Horndon C of E Primary school to provide seamless education from 6 months to the start of their formal education at the school.How the negotiations for the new lease and the subsequent tendering process has been handled by the Council is at best appalling. We have been made aware by the playgroup Horndon C of E Primary school would like to take over the lease of the Playgroup to provide a continuous school hour / term service and perhaps wrap around care facilities for the children already in school.The feeling amongst the community and parents is that this would be the ideal solution, the Playgroup has had strong links with the school since it was formed, helping the children to bond with each other and the school environment before they progress into Reception.It is clear that relationships formed at the playschool carry forward with the children throughout their school years, which is not only testament to the work of the Playgroup but also showing it is an amazing experience in our children’s development.The foundations are laid early putting development, friendships and structure into our children’s development and this is what helps to make the Playgroup more popular. If this service was removed, for example, and provided by a regular nursery , many of the children in the village would not attend as the current system of core school hours/terms is what works for the community. I fail to see how this would then be a worthwhile business proposition for any other provider.I hope that the local community will join together and attempt to force Thurrock Council to reconsider the dramatic increase in the rent of the property plus the only viable option for the community that the school be allowed to take over the lease with the full support of the council.Kind regards,Mr James Dunn.YT asked Thurrock Council whether they did propose a rent increase of 400% (£6K to £25K per annum).A spokesperson for Thurrock Council said: “Thurrock Council has an obligation to ensure fair value for residents across the borough.One part of that obligation means reviewing its commercial practices which includes regular reviews of its rental agreements.Nobody wants facilities or businesses, which communities regularly use, closing but equally, residents expect the council to keep council tax down and charge fairly for the use of its buildings. We are working with the tenant to establish a fair rental receipt whilst keeping services open.Thurrock Council is committed to providing good, safe and sustainable childcare to our youngest residents and we are currently out to tender for a new provider to work with us in the Horndon area.For information, visit: thurrock.gov.uk/lands

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