The Times - May 4th 2009
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Lance Forman is in the right business. After four years of fighting the bureaucrats who threatened his livelihood, the owner of Britain's oldest salmon smokery is preparing to feed them from his front-row seat at the London Olympic Games.
The irony is as delicious as the wild smoked salmon produced in his factory, aptly perched on Fish Island on the edge of the 500-acre Olympic Park after the biggest and most controversial forced relocation in Britain.
Mr Forman is thriving, but dozens of his former neighbours are less fortunate. Nearly 200 businesses had to move and scores were affected adversely. More than a third are awaiting full reimbursement. Mr Forman said that he survived only because he was “a huge thorn in the side” of the London Development Agency (LDA).
So, although the spot formerly occupied by H. Forman & Son, whose customers include Fortnum & Mason, the House of Lords and YO! Sushi, is destined to be the Royal Box in the 80,000-capacity stadium, his new riverside premises offer an unbeatable perspective of the developing Olympic Park landscape.
His restaurant, which opened this month, could hardly be closer to the 9.3 billion pound project. From his unique vantage point, he could throw a canape at the spot earmarked for VIP and sponsor tents and the roof terrace would be a perfect cocktail reception venue for Olympic bigwigs during the Games.
“There's nowhere else to eat round here,” Mr Forman said while surveying the bleak industrial landscape bordering the park in Stratford. “We have the best view. For many people, this will be their first glimpse of the stadium.” What better way to enjoy it than with a crisp glass of Chapel Down and the best of British food, including 20 types of cured salmon, scallops, duck and caviar prepared by a Roux-trained chef?
One of his first bookings is from the blue-badge guides coming to the area in advance of the Olympic tourists. And, with 2012 organisers keen to limit food miles as part of their green strategy, he may even end up an official supplier. It would cap a remarkable turnaround for Mr Forman, whose immigrant great-grandfather founded the business in 1905.
“People say we've done very well out of this, but there were four bad years when the economy was booming,” he said. “Now we are playing catch-up in a recession.”
Mr Forman was rewarded for his perseverance. “There was a time when I thought it was the end, but I would never have given up,” he said. “In a funny way, I think they have some respect for us not keeling over.” Other businesses forced out by the Government's compulsory purchase order (CPO) scheme relocated from Stratford, where business rates trebled. Some shut up shop altogether: Javed Iqbal, who ran an auto parts business, returned to his native Pakistan; Seamus Gannon sold his concrete recycling company eight months after moving to an unsuitable site, accusing the LDA of a “Mafia-style” approach.
A carpenter, who asked not to be named, accepted 50,000 pounds to move away. “It killed my business,” he said. “I wanted to carry on, but unless you had big-boy lawyers on your side, you stood no chance.”
Kam Johal, managing director of JG Belts, a fashion accessories manufacturer, claimed that he was 100,000 pounds out of pocket. He was one of 193 businesses affected by the CPO order and among the 76 still owed compensation for removal costs and disrupted trade.
Mr Johal said that in Stratford he had a 30-year lease that cost him £120 a week in rent. For the same space in Barking, he is paying 400 pounds a week. He agreed a settlement with the LDA three years ago but said that he was still owed money.
“I ring them every day,” he said. “Our business is really suffering, especially now. Orders are down and customers are going bust. It's been touch and go and I have been thinking about closing down.”
The LDA said that JG Belts received a five-figure sum in October 2006, under a statutory requirement for 90percent of the initial valuation to be paid in advance. It is reviewing a further six-figure claim lodged four months ago.
“It can take years for loss-of-profit claims to be finally submitted,” an agency spokesman said. “It is up to the business to decide when to receive its full and final settlement. A lot are waiting until they can see the difference the move has made.”
Businesses unhappy with their valuations can appeal to the Lands Tribunal. So far, only one case has been referred and the claim was unsuccessful.
Mike Brundle, who runs a fifth-generation family steel products company, relocated to Essex successfully. “We've survived both world wars and an Olympics, but it was no thanks to the Government,” he said.