Wed, 02 May 2018
CONVERTING the only pub in Hamstead Marshall into four dwellings would result in the ‘dilution’ of the community’s identity.
That was the view of Hamstead Marshall parish councillor Anne Budd as the saga to save The White Hart Inn continued this week.
Councillors, planning officers and chartered surveyors gathered at West Berkshire Council’s offices to hear fresh evidence on whether the 18th-century inn should be turned into housing with associated parking.
They were joined by a 30-strong campaign group, Save The White Hart, who have actively opposed the change of use since the first application was submitted in early 2016.
White Hart owner Stella Coulthurst appealed to the planning inspectorate earlier this year after the district council twice rejected her applications to convert the pub into four dwellings.
The pub reopened in July 2011, under the ownership of Ms Coulthurst, after the business had been on the market for 18 months and closed for a year.
During that time, it was subject to only one offer from a residential property developer.
After citing a lack of interest in the pub, which Ms Coulthurst closed on September 11, 2015, she told the Newbury Weekly News that she was keen to explore the “next phase in the life of the inn”.
But a second planning application submitted by Ms Coulthurst in as many years was turned down in April 2017, after an independent report found The White Hart Inn could still prove viable.
On Tuesday morning, planning inspector Rory Cridland heard arguments for and against whether the existing building is redundant as a public house, analysing both its viability and community value.
Mrs Budd, who was among several parish councillors to speak on the matter, urged the inspectorate to address the want for profit against a genuine community need.
Speaking in her capacity as a “diner and not a winer”, she said: “Not being a pub regular has given me the opportunity to see this matter through a different lens.
“A rural pub is one of those crucial links that binds a rural community together and, in doing so, defines a community’s identity.
“If The White Hart is turned into dwellings, it will result in the dilution of that identity.”
John Handy, a member of Save The White Hart, echoed Mrs Budd’s comments, adding that the pub was of significant community value to the local economy.
He said: “The loss of The White Hart would disrupt the local dynamic and completely change the entire character of the village, making Hamstead Marshall less sustainable and a much less attractive place to live and visit.”
Councillor James Cole (Con, Kintbury) expressed his regret at supporting the initial application and said that, however spread out, Hamstead Marshall is a village, not a hamlet.
Mr Cole also recalled how the pub was regarded as one of the best in the county during the 1950s and 1960s.
But this was labelled as ‘hearsay’ by appellant Aaron Smith from chartered surveyor Sturt and Company, who stressed the importance of dealing with up-to-date figures in order to accurately determine the pub’s viability.
The chamber also heard an impassioned speech from Susanna Aromando, whose parents ran The White Hart for 22 years, until their retirement in 2004.
Miss Aromando expressed her surprise at the modern redevelopment of the business, which allegedly saw the removal of several key commercial features.
These are said to have included the sound system being replaced by an iPad dock to leave the place “feeling cold with no atmosphere”.
But Miss Aromando also claimed the pub was “more viable than ever”.
She said: “Some people who take on pubs are going to fail because they do not have the skills.
“There is no shame in it.
“But there is shame in depriving a community of its much-loved and attended pub because their business model is unviable.”
Malcolm Barber, also representing Sturt and Company, said that the submission made by Save The White Hart and others focused too much on commercial links with the village hall or the Organic Research Centre, which Miss Aromando had praised in her speech.
He said: “The only community activities that I see repeated in the submissions are the annual carol meeting and the quiz night, which was run by the pub to bring a wider range of audience in, not just to serve the local community.”
Mr Barber also highlighted the three other pubs which lie on Hamstead Marshall’s parish boundary – The Craven Arms, The Red House and the Furze Bush Inn.
“Some of these are closer to the community than The White Hart,” said Mr Barbour.
“Despite being closed for the past two-and-a-half years, the community is still very active and does not depend on The White Hart to retain its cohesiveness or vitality.
“It is clear that there are alternative public houses in the immediate proximity.”
Mr Cridland heard other considerations before conducting a visit to the site.