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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Council lack of support ‘unforgivable’

A Portstewart business woman has hit out at what she feels is a lack of support received from Causeway Coast & Glens Council after Storms Eunice and Franklin caused considerable damage to her seafood cafe, leading a local councillor to describe the council’s unwillingness to assist as ‘unforgivable.’

Rebekah McCarry and her husband Stevie, proprietors of the extremely popular Native Seafood and Scran at the Crescent in the seaside town, have lost thousands following extensive damage.

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The couple say, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, despite a number of calls to the council, they received no response which added to an already stressful situation.

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Rebekah explained: “I contacted the council as did Stevie and we heard nothing until they finally came down over a week later to take a look at a lot of the issues with the building.”

The damage to the items in the interior of Native Seafood and Scran will cost in the region of £15,000 to fix and replace which we will have to find as it’s not possible to get insurance for the property.

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Rebekah said: “We received a phone call for the first storm telling us to remove the seats within the building and put them outside in case they were to rise up and bash into the shutters so that’s what we did and then we did the same for the second storm.

“Then the third storm hit and we had put everything back in by this stage because it wasn’t meant to be so bad and yet it caught us and so many people out.”

“The third storm just wiped us out”, Rebekah continued. “We lost all of our stock, we lost all of our electrical equipment and the shutters, which they made sure they put into the lease as our responsibility, were damaged.

“We can remove the tables which would take us a couple of hours as much of a nightmare as that is, but we have a fresh fish counter at the front of our business, it’s totally destroyed, we won’t be able to use it ever again. It was a tonne weight and just couldn’t be removed every time there was a storm.

“Then our kitchen with all the electrical equipment, we have another giant fish fridge out the back and two other big fridges, cookers, friers, hot plates, coffee machines. What were we supposed to do with that?

“We run a restaurant, we have staff and we have overheads, we work with fresh fish so we can’t just close up everytime there is a storm.”

The McCarry’s signed a five-year lease for the premises and feel they weren’t given the full facts by council beforehand.

“We weren’t told at any stage that we weren’t going to be able to get insurance on the place so we weren’t able to claim any of it back,’ said a demoralised Rebekah.

“What is so ridiculous about the whole thing is when we took out the lease we were told ‘Oh yes there was a storm a couple of years ago but it didn’t do any damage, there’s been storm defences put in.’ There has been nothing done!

“I don’t think you should lease out a building if it isn’t totally fit for purpose. When we were signing the lease I don’t think there was enough done to emphasise how serious the issue could be and the extent of the damage the storms could cause to the building.”

It’s not just the recent storms that have caused issues, this Portstewart business had been struggling with Mother Nature for a few months now.

“We have had days when we were serving fresh fish as the water was flowing through the building,” continued Rebekah. “People were coming down in their wellie boots because they were trying to support us.

“Before we signed the lease they should have made it quite clear that you will have to close between October and March because we have been flooding since October. If we had known the reality of things we would never have gone near it.”

“We run as a fishmongers, we don’t want to be a fishmongers that closes six months of the year. People are loving the access to fresh fish and people have welcomed the availability we provide.”

Native Seafood and Scran is situated beside where the old Portstewart outdoor pool used to be and Rebekah believes if that were still in operation, the damage to their business would not have been so extensive.

“There used to be a large swimming pool and during storms it took the brunt of the water coming over the sea wall. If it was still there I don’t believe we would have the same issue as it would have absorbed some of the impact.

“Council filled it up with concrete to use the area for water fountains which haven’t been switched on in a couple of years. Now it means the water comes straight across and through our building anytime there is a storm.”

Thanks to neighbouring business, friends, family and the local community, Rebekah and Stevie are battling back to restore Native Seafood to its former glory.

“People are so kind and generous offering up their time and services to help us. We had help getting the shutters back in place even though they still aren’t working. One business gave us some of their old kitchen recruitment and another boxes of coffee and people have been buying items online and gift vouchers to help us.”

While the local community rallies around the McGarry’s, there is frustration directed towards Causeway Coast & Glens Council.

“Why is it ok to give us this building and all we have had is one fiasco after another since we began this business? Why are there so many hurdles up to stop us from operating out of here, why are they not working with us?

“It’s hard to remain upbeat and positive. The fishmongers brings something new to the area but it’s really hard work. We go over to Donegal to collect the fish, bring it back and fillet it.

“We don’t sell frozen fish, that was the whole point, to be sustainable, but the amount of times we’ve had to close our business because of issues and then it’s a mad dash to get people to come and take the fish because we can’t sell it out of our building, is so frustrating.

“At times we feel like we are going mad. It’s been the most stressful year of my life.”

Local Councillor Angela Mullholland said she felt ‘saddened’ by the situation and after contacting staff she received a response from Land and Property outlining council’s contractual obligations which stated: ‘Council is responsible under the commercial lease for the exterior repair of the building and services/plant but not the interior or the tenants’ fixtures or fittings.’

In regards to inclement weather it added: ‘The Tenant shall take appropriate precautions to safeguard the Demised Premises during periods of adverse or inclement weather.’

The Portstewart councillor commented: “I understand there is the legal document but council could have offered help in many other ways. The fact they didn’t reach out is unforgivable.

“I feel saddened and a little angry that no one offered some practical help. It is unforgivable.”

When contacted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service a spokesperson for Causeway Coast & Glens Council said: “The Crescent in Portstewart has historically been susceptible to storm damage and unfortunately it was impacted during the recent prolonged period of extreme weather.

“Council acted quickly to remove debris from the areas it has responsibility for as soon as it was safe to do so.”

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