Mon, 11 Jun 2018
HOPE remains for the future of The White Hart Inn, Hamstead Marshall after an appeal decision which blocked fresh plans for the 18th-century country pub to be converted into housing.
Planning inspector Rory Cridland ruled that the village pub was still a “valued community facility” – and believed it was still viable with the correct business model.
Councillors, planning officers and chartered surveyors gathered at West Berkshire Council’s offices in April to hear fresh evidence on whether the inn should be turned into housing with associated parking.
During the hearing, Mr Cridland heard arguments for and against whether the existing building – which closed on September 11, 2015 – is redundant as a public house, analysing its viability, community and marketing value.
The inn’s current owner, Stella Coulthurst, had appealed to the planning inspectorate earlier this year after the district council twice rejected her application to convert the pub into four dwellings with associated parking.
During the appeal, representatives from appellant Sturt and Company had suggested that three other pubs that lie on Hamstead Marshall’s parish boundary were feasible alternatives for residents to use.
These included The Craven Arms, The Red House and the Furze Bush Inn.
But, in weighing up the inn’s community value, Mr Cridland concluded that these other facilities provided “only partial mitigation” in accommodating the needs of local residents.
In his report, Mr Cridland wrote: “It would still result in the loss of a valued community facility which clearly has a considerable amount of local support.
“I therefore conclude that The White Hart Inn is a valued community facility, the unnecessary loss of which should be guarded against.”
Mr Cridland also refused to take into account the potential amount of money which a change in use application could generate under a New Homes Bonus scheme.
New Homes Bonuses are grants paid by central government to local councils to encourage housing growth in their areas and also include empty buildings brought back to good use.
But Mr Cridland ruled it inappropriate, under planning practice guidance, to make a decision based on the potential for the development to raise money for a local authority.
He also labelled the site’s wider economic and employment benefits during construction and its contribution to housing supply as “modest”.
Despite being marketed on a leasehold basis since August 2015, the hearing also heard how The White Hart Inn had previously been run on an owner-operator basis as far back as 2004.
In order to prove the public house is genuinely redundant, Mr Cridland deemed it necessary for the appellant to demonstrate that there is no market interest by running it on a similar basis.
He said: “While I accept that the public house market is, in general, a difficult one to operate in and that this is even more so for rural pubs, I do not consider that the failure of the past two operators, operating very different models, is sufficient to demonstrate that the use of the site as a public house is no longer viable.”
Mr Cridland’s view was echoed by Hamstead Marshall parish councillor Anne Budd, who claimed at April’s hearing the pub’s closure would result in the ‘dilution’ of the community’s identity.
Mrs Budd said: “In the hands of an experienced operator, The White Hart Inn is a viable pub business and the campaign team are standing by to assist and support any person who is interested in taking over the pub.
“The needs of the community prevailed and I, for one, am thankful for that.
“It is a tribute to all those people who submitted their objections to the appeal and the two-and-a-half years that the campaign team worked tirelessly to keep the pub as a much-needed community facility.”
The decision was also praised by chairman of the Save The White Hart campaign group John Handy, who said it was a victory for Hamstead Marshall.
Mr Handy said: “The consistent effort of two-and-a-half years of hard work was recognised by the inspector as an indication of the pub’s value within the community.
“Hamstead Marshall is largely defined by The White Hart and the pub is very important to our identity.
“We are really pleased with the inspector’s decision, but the real celebration will only come when it opens again as the village pub.
“I would like to thank all those who have supported the campaign, particularly the campaign group.”