A Wiltshire businessman has been left homeless after his launderette was reclaimed by the council.

Sean Ali O’Brien ran Laundramagic from a Wiltshire Council-owned premises on The Strand in Calne since August 2019.

Despite claims the venue becoming a staple of the local business community, Mr O’Brien says he was forced to close the shop in May after the council increased his lease by £4,000 in January.

After battling against rising rent and running costs and suffering a heart attack four months after the council's decision, he quite the business on the advice of his doctors.

However Mr O’Brien has also been living in the back of the dry cleaners following a divorce, something the council says was not permitted under the lease, and found he was unable to pay his rent.

In October the council issued a Section 41 Notice, reclaiming the building and changing the locks, leaving him with nowhere to go.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Sean Ali O'Brien outside the former Laundramagic storeSean Ali O'Brien outside the former Laundramagic store (Image: Newsquest)

The 57-year-old said: “That notice left me homeless, I’m sofa surfing and sleeping in my car, living in and out of a suitcase.

“They were on my case because I hadn’t paid the lease but we’re dealing with the cost of living crisis, my energy bills had been extortionate, and my health wasn’t great.

“They just changed the locks and shut me out… they have ruined me and ruined Calne.

“It wasn’t just a launderette, people used to go there for a social chat and a lot of people were mortified when we shut.”

Mr O’Brien hoped to transfer his lease to Calne Town Council, to run the building as a community hub, but this did not come to fruition and the building is now being marketed to let by Huw Thomas Commercial.

An application to list the launderette as an asset of community value was rejected by the council, a decision challenged by town councillors.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: The former Laundramagic storeThe former Laundramagic store (Image: Newsquest)

During the nomination process, residents labelled the service a “vital community asset” and urged the council to support its “survival.”

Mr O’Brien is now searching for a new home through the council but has been unable to secure one, due to his outstanding debts.

Anyone with a housing debt of which less than 50 per cent has been repaid must make regular weekly, fortnightly, or monthly repayments against the debt for six months before they can join the housing register.

The businessman had hoped to wipe out his arrears by having his firm struck off by Companies House, but claims council representatives objected to this application.

He added: “I’ve lost out on £55,000 because the town council was going to buy the lease off me, and I could’ve paid the council.

“But now I’m stuck, they’ve stuffed me because they objected to me striking the company off.”

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Sean Ali O'Brien outside the former Laundramagic storeSean Ali O'Brien outside the former Laundramagic store (Image: Newsquest)

Wiltshire Council insists the large rent arrears left them with no other choice but to take control of the property.

Cllr Phil Alford, the cabinet member for strategic assets, said: “We sympathise with the situation our former tenant finds himself in, but we worked hard over a long period to provide support and try and make things easier. 

“We never decide to reclaim a premises and bring a lease to an end lightly but, in these circumstances, we were faced with no alternative.

“The tenant had worked up substantial arrears almost equivalent to annual rent and, despite our best efforts to work with them to find a solution by putting in place various repayment plans and offering to assist with the marketing of the lease, we felt this was the most appropriate option, particularly given they had closed the business and ceased trading in May.

“We have been providing housing advice and will continue to do so.”