Businesses could be knocked down to improve access to Spode China Hall

Naveed Ahmad and Tim Wyatt in front of their businesses at Gordon HouseĀ 

Business owners in Stoke say they are devastated after finding they could be forced out.

The city council has announced it is looking at plans to maximise the potential of the China Halls event space at Spode, which is now being used as a venue for private functions and events - such as  Stoke-on-Trent Beer Festival and black-tie charity balls.

One idea involves knocking down the council-owned Gordon House on Kingsway, which the authority says would make the site more visible and accessible from street level, and improving public access.

The council no longer has staff based there, but other units are occupied by three restaurants and a hair salon.

Staff there have told Signal that they were visited by a council official to tell them about the proposals that were being considered, and that if they do go ahead they would have six months to leave.

Baby Russets is one of the businesses which could be forced to move, after 9 years on Kingsway.

One of the co-owners, David Stubbs, says the news is heartbreaking - at a time when trading is already tough.

He said: "With Brexit at the moment and everybody worrying about how much they spend we just don't need this.

"We just want to get on with the business and keep our heads above water, because it is hard.

"With food prices going up we are struggling, and this is just not helping whatsoever."  

David Stubbs and Steve Sayer run Baby Russets in Gordon House

Tim Wyatt has run He & She Hair Fashions on the site for 45 years.

He said: "In Stoke, Kingsway is the only area where the units are occupied.

"If you go into the main town you will find most of them are either charity shops or empty.

"Spode is great, and last year we had our works do at the hotel there last year.

"Regarding the main building, it is just an empty shell.

"If they are on about knocking us down and turning us into a garden, the money they would spend on that should be used to put their own house in order first."

Restaurant Sangam has been in Gordon House for 26 years.

Partner Naveed Ahmad says that rather than moving out they would be interested in expanding into the vacant unit next to them, which was formerly council offices.

He says news of what the authority are planning to do was 'dropped like a bombshell'

Naveed said: "It has upset our employees as well as us, because some of us have been here since the day we opened.

"Now they are thinking of what they are going to do if this restaurant is forced to close."

Cllr Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, infrastructure and heritage, said: "Spode is going from strength to strength as a creative village in the centre of Stoke town.

"The China Hall is an amazing venue and we continue to develop that.

"We cannot just forever be locked in the circle of fear of change, because that is not going to help Stoke-on-Trent develop.

"Part of this is we could get rid of these buildings and get better use out of the China Hall, which will help Spode.

"What is good for Spode is good for Stoke.

"It’s important to stress no decisions have been made at this stage and it’s not something that is going to happen suddenly overnight."

The council says if the plans go ahead the businesses would be supported and offered alternative accommodation in the town on nearby Church Street.

They are also working with property owners to help them access grants that will see them able to improve their shop fronts, as has already happened at the former Sutherland Chambers.

But Steve Sayer from Baby Russets says moving will mean additional costs for them, which they cannot afford.

He said: "Most of the premises in Stoke do not have gas, so straight away we would have to pay a lot of money.

"We had to pay around £6,000 to have a gas interlock system fitted here.

"Who is going to pay for that?

"I am averaging 3 or 4 emails a day from people questioning if their bookings are safe.

"We have Christmas bookings, and weddings booked for next year.

"It has just put us in a really difficult position."

David from Baby Russets says that getting rid of Gordon House is the wrong approach.

He said: "It is a nice restaurant area, what they could do is redevelop it to make it more of a restaurant plaza.

"They could make it more European, with the way the weather is going."

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