Highland Council are threatening to close down a popular seafood outlet in Ullapool because of “confusing” guidelines attached to trading licence regulations.
Two local women, Fenella MacRae and Kirsty Scobie, opened their ‘Seafood Shack’ on West Argyle Street just over two weeks ago. However, the council now say that, because they are within 150 metres of another outlet, the Gallery Café, they will have to move their unit or face being closed down. As a result, well over 2,000 people have signed a petition to keep the Shack in business.
Miss MacRae told the Free Press that the council had said that if the Seafood Shack were to offer “the same or similar” to another premises “they would take it into consideration”.
She said: “When we were given our trading licence we were told that we cannot trade within 150 metres of anyone else unless we have their consent. We got that from our neighbours, but then we were told by the council that if there was a complaint, if the menu was the same, we would be closed down. The Gallery Café changed its menu after we started trading, but we are not rivals and we want to resolve this in a friendly way.”
“This is a horrible situation that has spiralled out of control,” she added. “We would never have come this far if we’d known this would happen. There is a flaw in the street trading licence process — the information is vague and confusing.”
Meetings were going on as we went to press in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Paul Eddington, who co-owns the Ullapool Catering Company which operates that Gallery Café, agreed with Miss MacRae. He also said that the cafe would be closing for good on Saturday, with the loss of two jobs, because of the “horrible and hateful” deluge of online comments directed at himself and his wife.
“Many of the people who have said these things are customers,” he added. “We cannot continue to trade in these circumstances. We have been portrayed as the villains of the piece but we hold the council, their licensing and planning staff, entirely responsible for this. We fully support Fenella and Kirsty in what they are doing, all we sought was some clarification from the council, particularly what ‘same or similar’ means — where do you draw the line on this?”
Mr Eddington said that, when he first became aware of the proposal to create the Seafood Shack at the beginning of the year he contacted the council to ask them if the 150-metre exclusion still applied. There had been a “general understanding” in the village that no takeaway outlet would be sited in the village as it was extremely difficult to comply with the distance requirement, given the size of Ullapool.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “The owner of the Seafood Shack has a street traders licence which allows them to operate a takeaway food business from their mobile catering unit anywhere in Highland, provided they meet the terms of the licence. Condition eight of this licence, which is a standard condition, prohibits trading within 150 metres of a shop, restaurant, cafe or takeaway if the street trader is trading in goods or services of the same or similar class or description as the goods or services provided in the shop, restaurant, cafe or takeaway, unless the street trader has the agreement of the business operating that shop, restaurant, cafe or takeaway.
“The Highland Council has received a complaint from a local business that condition eight is being breached, so the environmental health service will be carrying out an investigation. If a breach of condition eight is found to be occurring, the licence holder will be given the opportunity to remedy the breach of condition by relocating their mobile unit to a location more than 150 metres distant from the nearest cafe, restaurant or takeaway which is also selling the same or similar types of food. If, however, this is not done, the matter is likely to be taken before the Highland Licensing Committee for their consideration.”