Boatman's dream 24
By Parson Thru
Monday morning. That happy period between school run and lunchtime, when washing machines quietly churn, and coffee cups are set down on worktops.
Bellingham-Smythe and his lawyer, Charlie Baxter, walked through the car park towards Lower Park Chambers.
“I haven’t had to deal with many Lords or Earls, Charlie. Do you think there’ll be some sort of form?”
“Not sure, James. It’s a new one on me, too. Quick curtsy maybe.”
The two men laughed and started up the steps to the door of the Chambers. James pressed the intercom.
A voice answered.
“Good morning to you! James Bellingham-Smythe and Charlie Baxter. We have an appointment with Donald Mason.”
“Thank you. Please come up to the first floor reception.”
The lock buzzed.
They walked up the carpeted staircase to a landing with three oak panelled doors. One of them was wedged open. They walked in.
A trim woman in late middle-age was sitting behind a heavy desk. Files were piled on its edge.
The secretary picked up the phone.
“Mr Bellingham-Smythe and Mr Baxter to see you, Donald.”
She looked up at the visitors.
“Yes, I will.”
“Do you prefer tea or a coffee?”
“Tea would be lovely, please. Milk and half a spoonful.”
Charlie smiled. “Coffee, please. Black, no sugar.”
The secretary ushered them into Donald Mason’s office.
A wooden model of the Cutty Sark stood on a table.
“Oh, I say! That’s pretty.”
Bellingham-Smythe gathered himself.
“Sorry. How rude. Good morning.”
He advanced towards Mason with his arm outstretched and introduced himself and Charlie Baxter.
Mason showed them to a table in the middle of the room.
Bellingham-Smythe noted there were only three cups when the secretary brought the tray in.
“Are we expecting Lord Bowall?”
“My client has instructed me to represent him.”
“Really?” “I thought we had all this arranged, Charlie.”
“Well, that’s what I understood, James.” “Wasn’t that the arrangement, Donald?”
“I’m afraid not. My client rarely attends meetings such as these. I usually act on his behalf. I can assure you that I have his ear and his confidence.”
Bellingham-Smythe stared for a moment at both men.
“Well let’s make a start and see how far we get. Charlie has written to you with our proposal?”
“Yes. And Lord Bowall has been apprised of the content. Freehold on the site isn’t for sale.”
“But he is willing to look at leasehold options.”
“Yes. There would need to be some conditions of use, obviously.”
“Let’s review the draft Heads of Terms.”
Bellingham-Smythe was still smarting from what he perceived to be a snub by Lord Bowall.
Mason passed sheets to the visitors. The three men sipped their drinks.
“No permanent dwellings.” Bellingham-Smythe looked across the table.
“That’s correct, my client doesn’t want the site to become residential.”
“Ground-rent at two thousand a year? That’s a bit steep.”
“We think it’s reasonable for a commercial site in that location.”
“Continued access to launch craft into the Pill? Are you kidding? That’s just what we’re trying to get away from. It isn’t in keeping with the proposed use of the land.”
“It’s an ancient local tradition and, to be fair to my client, he isn’t looking to sell the land, it’s you who is looking to buy.”
“Come on, Charlie. Earn your money.”
Bellingham-Smythe swivelled in his seat to fix his gaze.
“Well, James, he has a point about the seller’s market. I’ll need to check the local search for any further planning constraints but, within those, the landowner can place conditions on the lease provided they are generally reasonable. The reasonableness test.”
“Am I paying you your hourly rate to tell me the opposition has a point?”
Charlie Baxter presented his client-smile.
“I’m merely giving you my opinion on first sight. We need to take the Heads of Terms away and examine them more closely within the proposed context. Look for opportunities. The art of the possible.”
“And when we’ve done that, we re-convene with Donald?”
“I’d prefer to speak directly with Lord Bowall. Eye to eye, and see what we can work out between us.”
“My client won’t agree to that.”
“But you’ll ask? Put the request to him?”
“Of course. In my feedback.”
“And you'll tell him I really don’t want boatmen hanging around the edge of the site? It impacts the appeal of the whole proposition. Bloody hell, it’s ridiculous.”
“These are the terms that my client specifically requested.”
Bellingham-Smythe drank his tea off.
“Well, if we’re done for the time being, I’d like to close the meeting. I have a train to catch in an hour. You will feed my concern back about access to the Pill?”
“Naturally. I’ll circulate a summary of our discussion.”
“And a copy of your feedback to Lord Bowall?”
“I’m sorry, Mr Bellingham-Smythe, but that will be confidential.”
“Don’t you have anything more to say, Charlie? I’m not sure I’m getting value for money here.”
“I don’t think there’s any more to add, James. We’ll look at the opportunities provided by the draft terms and set up a further meeting.”
He looked at Mason. “Could we have a response to my client’s request about access before we re-convene and, if possible, can your client attend the next meeting?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The three men stood up and shook hands.
“Going anywhere nice? On the train, I mean?”
“London. Meeting with the bankers.”
The visitors inserted the draft Heads of Terms into their files.
Charlie Baxter offered his hand again.
“Thank you, Donald. We can see our way out. Thanks for the coffee.”