The pub was demolished without permission in April last year to the shock of the licensee, local community and the local authority.
A planning inspector has ruled in favour of the council, ordering developers CLTX to rebuild the pub ‘brick by brick’. It’s been hailed as a landmark victory, but developers may still appeal the decision.
Two days before the pub’s demolition, Government introduced legislation instructing developers to inform the local council if they plan to demolish a pub, allowing eight weeks to allocate the building an asset of community value.
John Walker, Westminster City Council’s director of planning, told The Morning Advertiser that the first time the council heard about the demolition was “when they were literally knocking it down”.
“By the time we got there the damage had been done. But we had the community there with their iPhones out, it was all recorded. There was uproar by the community straight away,” he said.
“Ironically if they had knocked it down three days earlier there was nothing we could do about it.
The council then granted the building ACV status, despite it being rubble. Historic England had also informed developers the Tavern was set to be given listed status, which it also now holds.
Walker continued: “It’s happened to other buildings in the past. If it’s about to be listed and you get wind of it, just knock it down, and they think you can’t list something that’s not there anymore.
“Someone made the decision, whether that’s the owners or not, I wouldn’t like to point the finger, but somebody made the decision because they knew 100% it would be listed in the next couple of days.”
Developers were planning to replace the building with another pub featuring flats above, but the community argued it would not have the same ‘charm’ as the original building.
Goal posts moved
And when Historic England got involved, the goal posts moved, and the dream of rebuilding the same pub became a reality.
Developers maintained as the pub is not in a conservation area, the demolition was simply a technical breach, and it would be impossible to replicate the original.
But the community and council researched every detail of the building, and compiled evidence of how each part of the building could be reproduced, while Historic England had photographic evidence.
'This should be a lesson'
“It’s going to cost some money but they shouldn’t have knocked it down in the first place. This should be a lesson to them. People who abuse the system shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it,” Walker continued.
“Up until this point people think you knock these things down the problem goes away and we get away with it. Now they realise they can’t anymore. It can have a knock-on effect.”
Normal protocol is for developers to contact planning departments, and a local authority will allow a change if the new design is an appropriate piece of architecture, while bearing in mind the merits of the existing building.
“They tried to remove a consideration. That consideration is back because of the legislation.”
The legislation which allows an eight-week window to allocate ACVs is one year into a three year trial, at the end of which there will be a consultation period.
“In two years if that protective umbrella ceases to exist then we are going to have the same problem again, so the Government needs to extend that legislation. Our view is it should be a permanent provision.
“Here’s a very good example where the legislation had teeth, and without it we wouldn’t have been able to bring back the loss off that pub.”
Walker argues it’s not about blocking the redevelopment of pubs, but checking their value with community as an extra layer of protection.
The pub was a community hub - neighbouring a recreational ground and used by sports teams and locals.
“I’ve done that myself, I’ve known the pub for 32 years. You go to the rec ground and have a beer with people after sport,” Walker said.
Pubs are often targeted by redevelopers, particularly large buildings based in spacious areas.
“We know the pressure there is to lose pubs. Developers eye it up and think – ‘if I get rid of that pub I can build a lot of flats, and that’s worth a lot more than a public house’. The economic pressures make quite a lot of public houses close down today.”
'Matter of principle'
And in this case that extra layer of protection was ignored.
“It’s a matter of principle, people shouldn’t be able to ignore legislation and get away with it,” Walker said.
The director of planning explained the licensee at the time was unaware of the development, and was on a short-term contract.
“Landlords come and go and it’s quite easy to get them out when their back was turned,” he said.
Battle not over
While the recent inspector’s decision was a victory for the Council and campaigners, it’s not over yet. Developers still have six weeks to analyse the decision, at the end of which they may have an alternate proposal.
“I have no doubt they will be taking legal advice and picking over the inspector’s decision with their lawyers. We will have to wait and see.”
If the decision stands developers have two years to rebuild the pub.
“Come autumn we will be writing to them and asking them to rebuild it. We are still only part way down this journey and there still may be reluctance for them to rebuild the pub,” Walker added.