Royal Teas

Ok – a long – but important one today…

I guess most of you will have heard by now that Royal Teas have finally lost their long-running battle with Greenwich Council over their ability to run the cafe properly – or indeed at all, given the restrictions they will now be put under. If you’re anything like me, the thing had been rumbling on so long that you would have thought that the charges had been quietly dropped, but sadly not. Thanks to the small-mindedness of individuals, we are in grave, possibly imminent, danger of losing one of our best cafes.

I don’t know about you, but I managed to get myself very confused about this over the years – a bit like when you start watching a situation, then a crisis, then finally a war break out over a period of months in the news. You’re drip-fed info on a piecemeal basis – at first it seems like a storm in a Fair Trade teacup and you take little notice. By the time it’s got serious, you’re already lost in minutiae.

So I dropped a line to Raymond Voce, owner of Royal Teas, to get the record straight, which is why I didn’t talk about this as soon as I heard (thanks to everyone who sent me the bad news – I guess I’d always rather know than not.) I’m going to give you pretty much what he told me – the bits in greeny-blue are his words. The rest are mine. This isn’t quite over yet and there are things best whispered by a Phantom…

So, for the moment, over to you, Raymond…

“I have been at the cafe since 1999. From the onset I tried to get planning permission to knock down and rebuild our delightful toilet.

After a number of applications I got permission. Two weeks after getting this permission I received a letter from the Council saying I was not allowed to continue cooking on the premises. This is 2002. We appealed this decision and had a hearing at the Council in 2004. Before this we were required to draw up an extraction system for the kitchen, which we did and received a letter back from Environmental Health that our system was acceptable.

So the hearing took place no mention of the system was made by the Inspector during the eight hours – included a site visit – and we didn’t bring it up because we thought it was no longer an issue. When we received his report it stated that we had lost and the majority of it was about how our proposed extraction system was not good enough. We felt that the
Inspector was at fault because to our minds his job is to ensure all the relevant points are discussed which he didn’t do.

We had no chance to put our points across re this system. So we felt we didn’t have a fair hearing and took this matter to the high court.

Are you still with me? I know, it is kind of boring. We lost at the High Court last year. The judge said we should have known the extraction system was always an issue. Incidentally, this took so long to be heard because Greenwich Council took forever to get their paperwork in.

We next applied to the Court of Appeal. An intermediate judge gave the go ahead as he was very concerned about the Councils behaviour. That takes us up to last week where we once again lost.

This time the conclusion was that if I had represented myself at the original Council hearing I would have had a very good case against the Inspector but as I took along a planning consultant – a professional – the onus was on him to raise any appropriate points. So how I see it is, the Inspector’s job changes dependent on who else is there.

Doesn’t seem right. Our Barrister is thinking of challenging this decision in the House of Lords – our case has now set this new precedent. It never ends!

Back back back.

The Inspectors report when dissing our extraction system made references to Public Services division section blah point blah. None of us had heard of them and it took a number attempts ringing the Council to find out who they were.

Well, they no longer existed and were superseded by two Environmental Health Departments. We had only got approval for the system from one of them. You would have thought that when we sent the plans to the address we were given by planning that they would ensure all relevant departments would see it. My point being with regards to the Court of Appeal decision, the planning Department itself didn’t seem to know about this Public Services Department and the two new strands of the Environmental Department so how would an outsider, even if he is a ‘professional,’know?”

Phantom, here, guys…

So anyway, While all this was going on, various individuals started coming out of the woodwork. People living around, complaining. So we basically have people moving in right slap bang over/next to a cafe and complaining they live right-slap bang over/next to a cafe. Raymond points out:

“At no other time have we received any other written complaints while I have been there.”

Eventually the cafe got permission to extend – it’s not very big – really just to improve that toilet (though I have to say as tiny, creaky old loos go, I don’t hate it – there are far worse I could mention…) and maybe get an extra table (some pushchair space for those sodding buggies would do me.)But as Raymond says

“Obviously I can’t spend that sort of money while this uncertainty is hanging.”

So these individuals turned to moaning about the cooking smells. The main problem seems to be with the hideous smell of bacon. From a vegetarian cafe. Nice one.

Raymond Voce, admits that “Royal Teas does have a ‘no cooking’ condition attached to it.”

But – and stay with us here – “because we have no commercial equipment and the soups and lunches we make are done in bulk and then reheated as ordered we were able to continue. We had over the years any number of people from Planning down and we were told just not to extend the menu, which we never have.

After getting permission for the extension it seems someone saw our file and encouraged the Council to take action even though we had been doing this since 1990.”

The sundry individuals who hadn’t noticed that they’d moved in next to a cafe, suddenly had the shock of their lives. Heavens! It seems they’d accidentally moved in by a pub too!!! That pesky pub and naughty cafe were clearly hiding when these people went to view the property. So now, the brewery were involved. Raymond is throwing his hands up here.

“Myself and the tenants at the pub really do our utmost to keep the impact of our businesses minimal to the surrounding area. We are very good neighbours, even if I do say so myself.

So at the Council hearing we applied to remove this ‘no cooking’ condition or alter it and specify exactly what we would be allowed to produce. Both suggestions were rejected.”

So what now? – House of Lords possibly. Just to mention here that the Barrister has acted for us free of charge. He is an angel. The Planning Consultant after the Councils hearing also offered his service free of charge.

I am now in the process of trying to alter the menu. I need to hire a kitchen elsewhere in order to prepare the soups and lunches and I will also have to hire another person. Extra costs that are going to be difficult to cover. At the weekends when we make most of our money 90% of people will have one of the breakfasts that I am no longer able to produce.

At the Council hearing much was made of cooking and reheating and the distinction between the two. I am able to reheat I am told. We spent twenty minutes discussing whether cheesy beans on our menu was cooking or reheating. No conclusion was reached. It is difficult planning a menu when it is so vague as to what I am allowed to do. I have been told by planning that toast is cooking but I have also been told that it is ok for me to bake cakes. Makes no sense to me. We are listed as a tearoom and coffee shop surely I should be allowed to make toast.”

What to do, folks? It worries me that some kind of nasty legal precedent seems to have been set here, allowing mean individuals up and down the country to move in next to places and then force them to change because they don’t like it. All I can say is that I hope Raymond doesn’t give up on the legal process. I don’t believe he intends to.

“I love the cafe and our customers are great. There are not enough independent cafes as it is and so every effort will be made by us to keep this one going.”

Here’s one thought, Raymond – though it’s not a cheap one…

As a dedicated East Greenwich-er, I have to tramp through the Park (what a hardship) to get to you. There’s a lovely empty shop next door to Theatre of Wine (opposite the Arches) – why not have that as your “cooking facilities” – let’s face it – no one can complain about the smell – it used to be a fish shop. At the same time, open it as Royal Teas II (or some other wonderful pun – I’m sure my readers will come up with some corkers for you) – and maybe a lovely wine-tasting shop in the evening, in conjunction with ToW????

Ok, I’ll take my Phantom Fantasy Hat off now. Good luck.

In the name of Fairness, if any of those individuals who’ve been moaning about having moved into a place next door to a cafe and pub that were hiding when they viewed their new gaff want to tell me their side of the story, I’d LOVE to hear it…

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