Planners at Wycombe District Council in Buckinghamshire have given the go-ahead for a new pub to be built on the site of the derelict Walnut Tree in Fawley, near Henley-on-Thames, after a campaign lasting nearly 15 years.
Asked what lessons other local communities could learn from the Save the Walnut Tree Action Group victory, co-chairman Alfred Waller said, “You’ve just got to fight it hard.
“There never was a period when villagers thought it was the end. We are not those kind of people,” he said, before adding, “Once I found that we had a ‘Mr Moneybags’ in the village I knew we were in with a chance.”
A village ‘benefactor’ bought the site of the old pub for the village following its original sale to a building contractor.
A long battle to save the pub ensued, including enlisting the support of their local MP and winning a public enquiry that threatened the pub site with change of use. Nevertheless, for years it remained shut.
A veteran bus transported 25 villagers to the planning committee meeting, where full planning permission was granted for a new-build pub on the same site against opposition from just one councillor and doubts by the planning case officer.
Villagers are now planning a £2.5 million project to develop a new brick-and-flint-built pub in keeping with local building style, and a terrace of four houses to help with funding under an ‘enabling development’. An enabling development would normally be unacceptable in planning terms but in this case it brings sufficient public benefits, which could not otherwise be achieved, to be justified. The key public benefit to significant places is usually securing their long-term future.
Waller said, “I don’t know of any other campaign that’s gone on so long and been successful.”
The build is likely to take around two years to complete once the fine details are agreed. The new pub will be freehold and good tenants for it are already queuing up, Waller said.