Award-winning pub hits out at 'petty' council demands to undo renovations

By Oli Gross

- Last updated on GMT

The Spoken Bar after the renovations
The Spoken Bar after the renovations

Related tags: Great british pub, Devon

An award-winning pub will ‘almost definitely’ be forced to close if a council pushes through its ‘petty’ demands, costing the licensee £10,000.

The Spoken pub in Ex-mouth, Devon, which won Best Spirits Bar/Pub in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser​’s 2015 Great British Pub Awards, was renovated earlier this year to create a craft beer bar with a stronger food focus, but licensee George Nightingale has been ordered to reverse some of the work.

Nightingale stripped back plaster on the pub walls to expose the listed building’s brickwork, and put up metal signage on the exterior. But he’s since been told to re-plaster the walls and add hand-painted wooden signage.

“The cost is something that we cannot afford,” said Nightingale. The pub needed to take a new direction due to a recent tripling of its business rates, after its rateable value rose. The renovation aimed to make the venue more food and craft beer focused to cover the extra costs.

“It would be a massive hit financially. It will change the whole business and its image that I have created. It will certainly affect trade, putting 14 jobs at risk,” Nightingale said.

Spoken interior

“The business cannot afford to make these alterations and will almost certainly close if forced to.”


Nightingale said he was visited by enforcement officers on four occasions and was never advised of any problems. “We feel targeted. I feel like we’ve been set up so we can be fined later down the line,” he added.

A spokesman for East Devon District Council said the works were made to the 19th-century building without consent, including re-moval of historic floor beams and sandblasting of walls.

“The works which have been carried out are not satisfactory given the historic nature of the building,” the spokesman explained.

The new sign is not considered by Exmouth Town Council to be sympathetic to the Conservation Area.  A petition urging the council to reverse its decision​ has had over 1,000 signatures.

Related topics: Property law

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