UPPER Lambourn’s ancient Malt Shovel pub is doomed.
Its death knell was sounded at a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s western area planning committee on Wednesday last week, when permission was granted to convert the Grade II-listed building into flats.
The applicant, owner Roger McCabe, had claimed the business was no longer viable and instead wants to convert the property into six flats with a combined total of nine bedrooms.
Around 500 years ago The Malt Shovel was a bakery and it has been a public house for the past 300 years.
The pub was traditionally popular with the local horseracing community but documentation was provided to support the contention that the business is now unviable.
Meanwhile, a heritage statement was submitted alongside the new plans which stated: “Great care has been taken so that all the historical features in the building are retained.”
Local resident Vivian Griffith maintained: “This Malt Shovel is central and vital to Upper Lambourn.
“It really is the heart of the racing community and was run successfully until the present owner bought it.
“I lived opposite for three years and know only too well how very busy and vibrant it was.
“When the present owner bought it, it was excellent at first, but quickly declined through almost wilfully bad management – at times no beer, no food, no chef, no wine; consistently poor service, and then the first application was made to convert it into flats... the Malt Shovel is very much missed.”
Another objector, Robert Balin, told the meeting: “It’s the only focal hub that Upper Lambourn has. Clearly the business was viable before its sale [to the current owner].
“Bad commercial practice shouldn’t be rewarded in this way.”
Mr McCabe’s agent, Chris Parker, told councillors his client was “a man of the people”, and added: “He understands how the community feels.”
But the racing community had moved on and no longer supported the pub, he maintained.
Garth Simpson (Con, Cold Ash) asked him: “Local people were interested in buying the pub – are you categorically saying they weren’t serious?”
Mr Parker replied: “I’m categoric about that.
“I saw no evidence and have not been approached by anyone.”
Adrian Edwards (Con, Falkland) said: “The application says the listed building will be preserved. I move we accept [the officer’s recommendation to grant permission].”
This was seconded by Paul Bryant (Con, Speen), who pointed out that no one had bothered to have the building listed as a community asset.
Clive Hooker (Con, Downlands) was unconvinced by the proposals and warned: “The way the pub trade is going, we’re just going to have a flood of Wetherspoons.”
Dennis Benneyworth (Con, Victoria), who used the pub in his former days as a jockey, said it would be sad to lose a pub that had survived in Upper Lambourn for centuries.
Nevertheless, the committee voted five to three in favour of granting planning permission.