Action group 'on the verge' of regaining pub

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

New pub plans: if accepted, the disused pub will replaced (Image: Google Maps)
New pub plans: if accepted, the disused pub will replaced (Image: Google Maps)

Related tags: Buckinghamshire, Henley-on-thames

Villagers may be on the verge of getting their pub back after a 14-year battle involving a brewery, their local MP, a five-day public enquiry and council planning officers.

Residents from Fawley, Buckinghamshire, which is near Henley-on-Thames, intend to pack the public gallery of Wycombe District Council’s planning committee tomorrow evening in a bid to win an application to demolish the existing but now closed Walnut Tree pub and build a new pub along with a terrace of four new houses.

The pub and land was sold for development by Brakspear brewery in 2003 and the villagers formed ‘Save the Walnut Tree Action Group’.

It won a five-day public enquiry five years ago that threw out a change of use motion for the site in which the then developers were instructed to restore the pub, according to Action Group co-chairman Alfred Waller.

Letters of support 

Now a village ‘benefactor’ has bought the site for the village and there is a £2.5m project to develop a new pub and houses under a so-called 'enabling development'. An enabling development would be unacceptable in planning terms but for the fact that it brings public benefits is sufficient to justify it being carried out, and which could not otherwise be achieved. The key public benefit to significant places is usually securing their long-term future.

Mr Waller said “We’ve had 80 letters of support for the plans and no objections but the planning officer doesn’t like it at all.

“We’ve had a lot of support from our local MP, Steve Baker, who has seen the site and written to Wycombe District Council’s chairman. Within a week I had an email saying they were reviewing their policy on enabling development for village pubs.”

Common sense 

The application will be considered by the council's planning committee. A bus load of villagers plan to travel to the meeting while more will drive themselves. 

“By a strange quirk of local planning regulations, we can’t speak to the committee because no one has objected. If we’d had one objection we would have been able to speak.

“I’m hopeful that common sense will prevail. We know we have quite a lot of support from within the planning committee and our own local councillor is a member so he will speak on our behalf.”

If villagers win the right to build a new pub, it will be all hands to the pump. “It will be freehold, it will serve good food, and I think our benefactor will want to put a good tenant in,” said Waller. “We’ve had good tenants queuing up.”

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