Sun, 22 Dec 2019
West Berkshire Council has hosted an appeal hearing over plans to convert the Winterbourne Arms pub into housing.
Owner Nicholas Roffe acquired the pub in 2018, but his proposals to convert it into a dwelling have been rejected by planners.
The Save The Winterbourne Arms campaign – which seeks to reopen the pub – have long been at loggerheads with Mr Roffe, who insists that the business is unviable.
As a consequence of the dispute, the pub has lain derelict for two years.
On Tuesday, Mr Roffe and his associates joined Winterbourne residents at the council’s offices in Market Street, Newbury, for a planning appeal hearing over the pub’s future.
Among other issues, planners had to consider the viability of the pub, as well as its status as a heritage asset.
Mr Roffe stressed that he did not believe the Arms was an essential feature of community life, contrary to the expressed objections of some residents.
His representative, Adam Beamish, said: “We’re here today to bring things to a conclusion, so that my client can make the most effective use of this building.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen as part of this appeal that shows it is a vital pub for the community.”
Mr Roffe’s assessment was by no means uncontroversial.
Local Peter Palthe said: “The appellant, in all his statements, seems to disregard completely the fact that the pub, to our opinion – and to the opinion of many experts – is viable.
“To say that the only option is to let it rot or develop it into housing, this is a one-sided argument.”
Questions around the pub’s profitability are just one of the villagers’ grievances.
Many attach sentimental value to the pub and resent proposals to redevelop it.
They are concerned that Mr Roffe’s plans would limit opportunities for socialising locally.
John Handy – a pub campaigner who does not live in Winterbourne – spoke of the issues arising from rural pub closures.
Mr Handy said: “I know the Winterbourne Arms, I’ve been there a number of times over the years.
“I think the damage that occurs as a result of the pub closing in a village, we’ve had a similar situation in Hamstead Marshall, another local village.
“You can have diaries and you can have various meetings – things that can be recorded.
“But it’s the informal meetings.
“The lady here’s talked about chance meetings of people who’d only meet if you had a job and you were walking up the village street.
“These things wouldn’t happen unless you had a pub in the middle of the village.”
A decision on the appeal will be made over the coming months.