May 21, 2024 3 min read

Leadmill eviction battle in court

The Electric Group was in court yesterday seeking to enforce its eviction order against the current management team at Sheffield’s The Leadmill. It owns the building and wants to directly run the venue. The current team raised logistical and human rights objections to the forced change in management

Leadmill eviction battle in court

The legal battle over who gets to run Sheffield venue The Leadmill got going in court yesterday, with the venue’s current operator alleging human rights violations and that, if his team departs the building, it will likely need a new roof. Both of those arguments received polite  - if slightly baffled - rebuttals from lawyers working for the building’s owner, The Electric Group.

Among other things, the court heard that the current operator, if forced to leave, will take all his fixtures and fittings with him, leaving “a brittle shell”, and that removing an air ventilation system could result in a new roof being required. A revelation that prompted The Electric Group’s lawyer to state, “I have never encountered, ever, a wall and a roof being part of a tenant’s fixtures”.

The building that houses The Leadmill was acquired by The Electric Group - which operates a small network of venues around the UK - back in 2016. Initially the venue continued to be run by its existing management team led by Phil Mills but, in March 2022, the landlord decided it wanted to directly manage the space and gave Mills one year to vacate the premises.

That prompted a big Save The Leadmill campaign, supported by lots of artists and fans, which called on The Electric Group to allow Mills to keep running the building. Meanwhile, Mills and his team refused to vacate the premises - despite their notice period lapsing in March 2023 - and continued to book new shows. As a result The Electric Group began formal eviction proceedings, which reached court yesterday.

At times the Save The Leadmill campaign has implied that, if Mills and his team are forced out, Sheffield will lose a key grassroots music venue. However, The Electric Group and its CEO Dominic Madden have insisted throughout that they intend to continue running the building as a venue presenting more or less the same kind of programme as the current Leadmill team.

That commitment was used against Madden in court yesterday, with lawyers repping Mills arguing that The Electric Group’s plan to continue running a venue in the Leadmill building somehow breaches human rights law. 

According to the BBC, lawyer Tom Hickman told the court that Madden running a venue in the Leadmill building “exploiting goodwill” that has been built up by Mills would violate article one of the UK Human Rights Act, which protects a person’s right to property. 

Responding, Madden’s lawyer Wayne Clark told the court, “With respect to my learned friend, he's reading far too much into it”. Which is probably barrister code for “that’s bullshit”.

Nicholas Trompeter, also repping Mills, then talked through all the improvements his client has made to the Leadmill building over the years, adding that lease terms mean all the fixtures and fittings that have been added along the way can be removed as the current tenant departs. It will then - the lawyer claimed - cost £4.7 million and take at least six months for The Electric Group to get the building back in position where it can operate as a venue.

“In the event that those fixtures and fittings are removed it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the premises would be left as a brittle shell, a bit like the old flour mill it once was”, Trompeter explained, before adding that revelation that the removal of an air ventilation system could result in a new roof being required.

Madden’s rep Clark was somewhat disparaging of that argument too. After insisting that his client has access to any cash required to fund a refit, which was planned anyway, it was then that he noted, “I have never encountered, ever, a wall and a roof being part of a tenant’s fixtures”.

The hearing on the Leadmill eviction order was expected to run for two to three days, although lawyers working for Mills have asked for the case to be adjourned because they need more time to respond to evidence submitted by Madden’s legal team.

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