Waste firm pleads with council to avoid eviction
A family-run waste transfer firm is locked in a dispute with Barnet Council over a decision to end its site lease early – a move it warns could lead to bankruptcy.
Jack Biel, who co-owns Biel Brothers in Oakleigh Road South, New Southgate, with his sons, said the family had recently invested around £900,000 in the site but now faced having to move in a matter of months after the council invoked a break clause in the lease agreement.
Accusing the council of acting immorally and undermining its commitment to boost recycling, Jack said there would be no chance of the firm finding an alternative site in the area before the lease ends in November.
A council spokesperson said it had acted lawfully and properly, adding that an investigation carried out after it invoked the break clause had confirmed “significant” health and safety risks at the Biel Brothers waste depot site. Jack claimed the firm had done its best to address the issues raised by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) “immediately”.
Jack said: “There is a real risk of going bankrupt. We have made a huge commitment here.
“All we want to do is stay here and carry on doing what we are doing, which is recycling and serving the local community.”
Biel Brothers, set up in 2016, is co-owned by Jack and his sons Luke and Simeon, with another son, Tom, serving as managing director. The family said the site had been home to a waste facility since 2005.
The firm, which currently employs around 50 people, takes waste from local developers, contractors and households, and breaks it down into its constituent parts so that it can be reused. It processes in the region of 75,000 tonnes of waste per year.
When the firm took on a lease for the site from Network Rail in 2019, the family expected it to run for the full six-year term and hoped to stay on the site well beyond that. They planned for the full term and took out loans to fund their investments.
But around six months ago, the council took over the administration of the lease from Network Rail and, shortly after that, it served the company notice.
“I don’t know why they have done that,” Jack said. “We provide recycling facilities in the immediate area. As a result of that, we reduce vehicle movements and pollution. We reduce input into landfill hugely, because we recycle probably in the region of 90% the material that comes in. It reduces fly-tipping.”
Jack said his sons had “put their lives” into the business and left other careers “to protect the environment”, but their jobs and futures were now at risk as a result of the council’s action.
Luke said: “We have just started paying everything back. As things started looking great, we got served notice.”
Tom added: “You have to take risks as a business, but we never thought it would be a six-month risk.”
On 25th June this year, HSE served four improvement notices on Biel Brothers over breaches of regulations. Among its findings were that the firm had “failed to make and give effect to appropriate health and safety arrangements for the effective planning, monitoring and review of preventative and protective measures to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of [its] employees exposed to risks including machinery, lifting equipment, vehicle movements, hazardous substances namely welding fume, dust, asbestos”.
HSE states the improvement notice was “not complied with” by 23rd July.
Responding to HSE’s findings, Biel Brothers set out a range of actions it claimed to have taken in order to comply with the health and safety regulations, including asbestos training, equipment tests and a traffic management plan.
A council spokesperson said: “The decision to serve the break notice on Biel Brothers was taken after careful consideration.
“The decision to invoke the break clause now was taken in the best interests of Barnet Council and its residents. The council has acted lawfully and properly at all times.
“Subsequent to the issue of the break notice, a recent Health and Safety Executive inspection confirmed significant health and safety risks on site, and the council is considering the appropriate course of action to address these concerns.
“Barnet Council is committed and remains committed to supporting local businesses and is involved in several initiatives to do so, including helping commercial tenants with rent relief during the pandemic lockdowns. This decision does not detract from that.”