The landlord and landlady at the White Horse in Hitcham have applied to convert the 450-year old inn to a private dwelling for them to retire in. Their agent’s argument is that the pub is no longer commercially viable.
Below is my speech to this morning’s planning committee that considered the application.
“This is not in my ward but I live in Bildeston, two miles from this pub and I don’t want to see it lost to the community.
Do not take the apparent lack of response at face value. The village is still waking up to this application.
There was apparently no site notice, and there was no letter to near neighbours. The parish council had not enough time to respond and had to ask for an extension.
Most residents first found out about it when the parish council survey dropped through their letterbox.
Due to planning software problems the details of the application could not be read on the website. It also stated the application was closed to new comments, effectively putting people off.
87 people from the village have responded to this application. All but three objected. They were not aware that they had to write directly to the planning dept for their views to count.
This is the only pub in the village and could be an asset to the community. Once gone it’s gone forever.
What we have to look at is whether this can be a commercially viable business, not whether it is currently. Nine years ago under previous management it was very successful and was full most nights. There is no reason this could not happen again with good management practices.
The fact that the pub has been on the market for a long time is evidence that the price being demanded for the business is higher than potential purchasers are willing to pay, given its current turnover. All sides accept that there is little trade now and the question is, does the asking price reflect recent trading? That is the test recommended by Camra’s well-respected Commercial Viability Test that has been used by planning inspectors and that we ought to make use of.
The pub is a beautiful, historic listed building, and is believed to have been a pub for at least 450 years. It is well positioned for passing and tourist trade, being on an important junction, close to Lavenham and on the main route from Hadleigh to Stowmarket and it’s an ancient staging post on the route from London to Bury St Edmunds. It is set in some of Suffolk’s most attractive countryside, with beautiful walks and cycle rides close by.
By refusing this application you will give the village a chance to explore making a community bid, to run it as a community asset, as neighbouring Battisford did very successfully. Let’s assert and use the planning policies we have that can protect our village pubs and services. Section 28 of the NPPF calls on local authorities to “promote the retention and development of local services and community facilities in villages such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship.” I’ll say again: promote the retention and development of local services. Promote the development of local services.
This is a chance for the council to do something to promote the retention and development of this village pub as a community asset.”
Other planning polices that apply
CS11, Appendix 2: “The Core and Hinterland Villages identified in the Spatial Strategy provide for the day-to-day needs of local communities, and facilities and services such as shops, post offices, pubs, petrol stations, community halls, etc that provide for the needs of local communities will be safeguarded.”
The NPPF also gives some protection to village pubs. Section 70 states that Local Planning Authorities should “guard against unnecessary loss of valued facilities where they would reduce the community’s ability to meet its day to day needs” and should “ensure that established shops, facilities and services are retained for the benefit of the community”.