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Terrible toll of pub closures goes on

Added: Thursday, February 5th 2015

White Swan

The terrible toll of pub closures goes on, with supermarkets closing former licensed premises and developers ripping the hearts out of local communities.

Two former pubs are on the list of 43 stores to be closed by crisis-hit Tesco. Both the Tesco Express outlets in South Tottenham, London, and Heaton Chapel in Greater Manchester were pubs until the owners sold them to Tesco. The Dark Star brewery offered to “get the beer flowing again” in both outlets but Tesco has turned them into “dark” sites that will almost certainly be sold on for housing.

In County Durham, the village of Startforth in Teesdale has lost its last pub with the closure of the historic White Swan (pictured above). Durham County Council has given permission for Karl Everitt of the building company AKV to convert the White Swan and an attached cottage into three two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom cottages.

The county council said: “The local plan seeks to ensure the retention of the last remaining public house in designated settlements unless it can be demonstrated that it is not viable to achieve this aim. Whilst Startforth is such a designated settlement, it has no other community facilities and is closely associated with Barnard Castle, which has a broad range of facilities.”

But the area has suffered from a blight of closures. The Beaconsfield Arms in Barnard Castle, the Bridge Inn in Middleton-in-Teesdale, the Ancient Unicorn in Bowes, the Lord Nelson in Gainford, the Dog and Gun in Etherley, the Royal Oak and the Black Swan Arms in Staindrop, the Travellers Rest in Dalton, the Malt Shovel in Low Wham, the Bridge Inn in Ramshaw and the White Swan in Evenwood have all closed in recent years.

The mayor of Barnard Castle, Cllr John Blissett, says: “There isn’t much left in Startforth now – just a church and a school. They want to build hundreds of homes but the infrastructure isn’t there. It doesn’t make sense. It’s the same in Barnard Castle.”

The local branch of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, complained that the county council had not carried out a check to see whether the White Swan could still be profitable.

The branch’s pub protection officer, John Magson, said: “In my years as a pub protection officer I have never seen one of the reasons for passing an application as ‘there’s another pub 400 metres away’. The pub was the only one in the village and I was disappointed that only one other objection was made and this was concerned with car parking and not the closure. The old saying ‘use it or lose it’ seemed to apply.

“This is demonstrated by how pubs can be changed into houses by first closing the establishment then changing its use to a restaurant or shop, which does not require planning permission, then at a later date applying for a change of use to residential.”

John Magson described planning laws as “abysmal”.

London, with the high demand for residential property, is also suffering at the hands of property developers.  The Black Lion in Bayswater made a profit of £700,000 in 2014 and has been sold for £27 million. The sum has been paid by a property company to the pub’s owner, the Spirit Group. Spirit is based in Burton-on-Trent, the constituency of Andrew Griffiths MP, named “parliamentarian of the year” on 3 February by CAMRA.

The Black Lion dates from 1704 when it was first registered as an ale house. Overlooking Kensington Gardens, it will be replaced by luxury apartments that could reach a price of £5 million each.

In Marylebone, North London, the Swan & Edgar pub closed in 2013 and was sold by Enterprise Inns to a developer who applied for planning permission to turn it into a residential home. The application was turned down by Westminster Council but there was an appeal and a second application made. Now the pub has changed hands again and a further application is likely to be made.

In Camberwell, South London, Southwark Council agreed to turn the Prince of Wales into housing. Four flats have been sold, including a two-bedroom apartment marketed for £550,000. 

The value of a pub doubles when it closes and can be turned into housing. In Leyton, East London, the former Oliver Twist pub is now nine flats, with three one-bedroom homes on sale from £250,000 and six two-bedroom apartments valued at £350,000 each.

CAMRA spokesman Tom Stainer says: “With property prices as high as ever, there’s a huge temptation for the large pub companies to sell off their pubs for development, even when the pub is successful and popular. CAMRA is urging the government to close the planning loopholes that allow pubs to be demolished or converted to other retail uses without planning permission.”

Brighton pub

Two pubs in Brighton, East Sussex, face closure – because property develops claim there are too many pubs in the city centre. Decisions are expected soon to convert the Albion Inn on Albion Hill and the Rose Hill Tavern in Rose Hill Terrace into private housing. A campaign has also been launched to save another pub, the Horse & Groom in the Hanover area.

Five Brighton and Hove pubs have been the subject of change-of-use applications in the past five months, including the Cuthbert, the King’s Arms and the Toby Inn.

The biggest pub under threat is the currently-closed Albion Inn after developers put in new plans to convert it into a four-bedroom house. The current property owners said Enterprise Inn put the freehold of the pub on the market between June and December last year without success. The owners propose internal changes and removing the pub sign in the conversion. Their application claims there are 22 other pubs within a 10-minute walk, but they have included the empty Blind Tiger on Grand Parade.

Similar arguments have been used to justify turning the Rose Hill Tavern into a three-bedroom flat, despite campaigners successfully applying for Asset of Community Vale (ACV) status. Hove-based Evenden Estates says the pubs is not a community asset as beer sales have fallen by 80% since 2004.

Residents behind the Save the Groom campaign hope to save the pub in Islingword Road, Brighton, which is thought to date from the 19th century.

Spokesman Ronnie Day said: “We’re looking at setting up a fighting fund to get the pub back on the map. We’re interested in taking it over. We’re still not sure what Enterprise’s intentions are. A sign went up for interest in the site but was taken down. We’re not trying to save the world – just trying to save a pub”.