A West Berkshire pub is on the brink of being resurrected but residents will have to wait for final approval until a pint can be served.
Ilexanna Ltd wants to restore Chaddleworth's Ibex Inn and provide bed and breakfast facilities and a village shop. In order to fund the refurbishment, however, the applicant John Castle has also asked for two cottage-style semi-detached properties, a detached three-bedroom property and a B&B unit.
The parish council and residents have supported the plans, seeing it as the only way to save their once-thriving village pub from extinction.
Chaddleworth is not defined as a village under West Berkshire Council’s planning policy owing to its lack of a settlement boundary; classing it as an unsustainable location in an area of outstanding natural beauty where the building of new housing would not be justified.
And it was this point that led planning officers to recommend the application for refusal; triggering a debate by members of the district council’s western area planning committee last Wednesday.
Parish council chairman Grahame Murphy said: “We as a village are desperate to get this pub back. It’s coming up for nearly two years since it was sold and it looks an absolute eyesore. We are quite happy with this development.”
Anthony Stansfeld (Con, Kintbury) asked Mr Murphy how confident he was that The Ibex would be reopened as a pub, adding that the parish council would look foolish if the pub failed and was converted into a house.
Mr Murphy said that there was nothing the parish council could do if The Ibex became an “all-singing all-dancing pub” that nobody attended.
Ward member for the downlands, George Chandler (Con) said that the proposal would make Chaddleworth more sustainable by providing a more viable pub, as the housing would enlarge the community that would use it.
Pleased with what he had heard Jeff Beck (Con, Clay Hill) proposed that councillors overturn the recommendation for refusal. But planning officer Derek Carnegie warned councillors to take a reality check before they “followed the yellow brick road beyond the rainbow”.
Advising councillors that approving the plans would be against their adopted policies, Mr Carnegie defended council policy by saying that the pub had failed and that there was no essential need for the open market housing, which was only proposed in order to support the pub.
“It’s a lovely dream and it’s a lovely idea but in the real world how can we ensure that that money is reinvested in the pub to make sure it’s viable? Or do we cross our fingers and say let’s hope it works …. Reality has got to strike home I’m afraid,” he said.
Responding, Mr Beck said he thought that Mr Carnegie’s language was unacceptable and that officers were trying to shoot the plans down in flames.
Calling the application an anomaly, Julian Swift-Hook (Lib Dem, Greenham) suggested that the council enter a unilateral agreement with Mr Castle to ensure that the pub was opened before the housing was completed.
And expressing his concern Mr Stansfeld said: “It would give me a nice warm feeling to support this but I feel it’s not practical. I can see no reason why the pub and shop can’t be built before the other houses. We have heard a lot about faith in the community but what we are really talking about is faith in the developer. I’m sure he is a perfectly nice chap but he’s a developer and he wants to make money. I will not support this until the pub is done up first.”
Although councillors approved the plans, the contravention of policy means that they must be approved at a meeting of the council’s influential district planning committee.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Castle said that he was very happy with the decision and was prepared to enter a legal agreement with the council. However, he added that it was a shame that the widely supported application had to wait for further approval, as it would delay the reopening of the pub.