What a Relief!
Well it is fair to say that all the School House Inn supporters are breathing a huge sigh of relief today. Over the past couple of months we have been busy resisting the latest application to change the use of the pub to a dwelling. Following what appeared to be a compromise for all involved in the last application – the conversion of half the pub with the other half to remain as the reduced size School House Inn – the applicants swiftly changed their minds and submitted an application for the conversion of the rest of the pub to a four-bed house.
In the face of a tide of both national and local policy that supports, and even presses for, the retention of community facilities such as the School House Inn, council officers continued to baffle both the community and planning experts alike by recommending approval. We would like to thank CAMRA and The Pub is The Hub for their letters to the council and committee which addressed key points of planning that, sadly, had been glossed over by the council.
We would also like to thank the committee for refusing the application. We as a community saw the planning system working correctly on this occasion. The committee’s clear-sighted and unbiased approach to this application highlighted very important reasons why an elected body gives strength to a system which can sometimes unjustifiably operate above the very people it affects most.
The day before the application was decided, we were told by the Head of Planning, Gary Housden that our application to register the pub as an Asset of Community Value had been accepted. We are now very much looking forward to building on this good news and hopefully, in the not too distant future, The School House Inn will be back in operation with good beer, happy patrons and a story to tell!
Once again, many thanks to all the hard work, sound advice and all kinds of support that everyone involved has given us – hip hip hooray!
It is with regret we announce that the latest of a number of applications to Ryedale District Council has been approved.
The much loved pub that residents have known and cherished for generations is set to disappear.
Our next stop, judicial review.
More to follow….
We extend our warmest thanks to the local councillors who sit on the Planning Committee. Had they not turned down the three applications so far we would have lost our pub already. Their reasons for turning down the application rest largely on the fact that the owners cannot satisfy the requirements of the policies they are using to support their application. In reviewing the case after the failure of the first application, the Planning Inspector concluded that the failure of the owners’ business did not mean that the premises could not support another person’s business. Most importantly, he stated:
…it seems to me that the least that is needed to demonstrate that this facility is no longer financially viable is a genuine and thorough marketing exercise…
So far, this has not happened.
At the time the third application was submitted the official national planning guidance document was National Policy Guidance. This set out the general agenda that the planning officers should follow when considering applications. However, it appears that they did not take into account a substantial and influential number of key policies as we detail below:
National Policy Guidance
The repeated applications contravene three key aspects of National Planning Policy:
Quality of Life
To help achieve sustainable economic growth, the Government’s objectives for planning are to:
raise the quality of life and the environment in rural areas by promoting thriving, inclusive and locally distinctive rural communities whilst continuing to protect the open countryside for the benefit of all
By supporting every application to take away the School House Inn, the council are not even close to fulfilling this section. The replacement of the pub with a housing development would take away our village identity – our village thrives because we have a fantastic public house and a meeting place.
Appropriate Housing Development
identify local service centres (which might be a country town, a single large village or a group of villages) and locate most new development in or on the edge of existing settlements where employment, housing (including affordable housing), services and other facilities can be provided close together
If the School House Inn was converted into housing, we would lose the only community facility we have. The Marishes could offer no services or facilities and even less employment opportunities for the existing community and any future occupiers. Our pub is our hub and we need it. THEREFORE:
When assessing planning applications affecting shops, leisure uses including public houses or services in local centres and villages, local planning authorities should:
- take into account the importance of the shop, leisure facility or service to the local community or the economic base of the area if the proposal would result in its loss or change of use
- refuse planning applications which fail to protect existing facilities which provide for people’s day-to-day needs
- respond positively to planning applications for the conversion or extension of shops which are designed to improve their viability
How is this interpreted in Ryedale District Council’s Local Plan?
Under Policy L11, the council state:
Outside of the Market Towns, proposals for the change of use of buildings which currently house a community facility (for these purposes “community facilities” are defined as schools, village stores and post offices, public houses, doctors’ surgeries/clinics, places of worship, village halls) will only be permitted where it can be demonstrated that:-
- The facility is no longer financially viable; or
- There is no demand for the facility within that locality; or
- Equivalent alternative facilities will be provided nearby.
Clearly, any application to convert the School House into residential accommodation or any application which reduces the scope of the pub is in conflict with both Local and National Planning Policy.
At the start of April, this National Policy Guidance was replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework which maintained much of the spirit of the superseeded National Policy Guidance. However, the council officers in charge chose to publish an Update Report bringing in what they claimed was a new consideration to the application. They referred to Section 3 (Supporting a Prosperous Rural Economy), Paragraph 55 (this paragraph is actually from an entirely different section – section 6):
To promote sustainable development in rural areas, housing should be located where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities
The conclusion drawn by council officers was:
In this case permission is not sought for a new build but a conversion. The additional dwelling could increase and support the existing community facilities [sic - there is only the one that they intend to shrink!] and provide necessary additional housing without harming the character of the area.
This is a misinterpretation of the policy and the fragment used to support this assertion is taken completely out of context of the National Planning Policy Framework. This sentence actually appears under Section 6 – Delivering A Wide Choice Of High Quality Homes which in fact does appear to be considering the location of new build properties.
In distorting the National Policy Framework in this way, the council are encouraging their committee members to forget that the public house already exists and should, in accordance with Section Three of the Framework, be ‘retain[ed] and develop[ed]‘.
The government thinks our council should:
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.
The council have persistently supported the applicant and have departed from elements of the National Planning Policy Framework that are specifically designed to protect our valuable community facility. Why? We don’t know.
We appeal to the council to listen, in a meaningful manner, to the voice of one of its communities. We feel passionately that our pub has the potential to become not just viable but to contribute significantly to the tourist economy of Ryedale. It can be done and has been done in other areas – follow this link to where this has been done successfully. In particular, look at Dykes End Pub, Reach and The George and Dragon, Hudswell.
If you have the time, don’t take our word for it – here are the links to the council’s Update Report and the National Planning Policy Framework. Just how far have the council stretched government guidance? You decide!
The owners have put considerable effort into making the last application appear to offer a lifeline to the School House Inn. However, the details do not appear to support the School House anymore than their previous applications.
The key point is that they continue to apply for change of use of the property into housing.
It has been stated, in both the application and the local media, that there is scope in this application to retain a ‘micro-pub’ for the locals. The owners have persuaded some that this is a compromise. We say it isn’t because:
- A micro-pub would not satisfy the needs of the local population. We are an outward looking and welcoming group of people who enjoy sharing a drink and good food with our friends in other villages, towns, counties and countries. We don’t want to be cut off from the rest of the world just for the sake of retaining a small room where we can get a pint.
- Families live on the Marishes. When the pub was open, it could support our family occasions, Sunday lunches, walks to the pub for a pint and a squash. Even some of our children have worked there for their first jobs.
There are wider issues to consider:
A micro-pub in a rural location could only ever have a limited patronage. Selling only drink, it would not attract families or large groups and there would always have to be a designated driver to get most people to the pub without even the comforting thought of a plate of chips to accompany their lemonade! This would drastically reduce the scope of the business. Could this type of business survive when already the owners claim that their business model didn’t attract enough custom?
The owners claim that, with reduced overheads, the business would be cheaper to run. However, energy bills, stock bills, taxes and rates would not disappear: they would simply reduce alongside the reductions of the takings as fewer customers crossed the threshold. The business would simply shrink.
The real danger of this application lies in the fact that, as the council officer in charge at the committee meeting said (and I paraphrase here), if the application was to succeed, there is no way of holding the owners to their ‘promise’. If the owners got their house, they could simply leave the designated area for the pub as an empty shell…
THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT WE WILL GET OUR PUB BACK IN THIS APPLICATION!
Join the fight on Twitter @SaveOurPub
What do we want? What are we campaigning for?
For generations, The School House Inn, Low Marishes has provided a community hub for the local residents as well as a place of sanctuary for the neighbouring residents and visiting tourists alike. We are extremely proud of our pub and up until its sudden closure in November 2009, it was a regular and frequent outing for all of the villagers and travelling patrons.
Shortly after closing, an application was made to turn the building in to residential accommodation. This meant that the pub and restaurant that we had known all of our lives disappeared along with nearly 120 years of treasured memories.
Whilst we don’t begrudge the failure of The School House Inn as a business, we do strongly oppose redevelopment of the building into houses.
Having had numerous planning applications rejected over the last 3 years, the current owners have apparently altered their application to retain a small area of the pub as a “micro pub”. The danger here is that their application still changes over half the existing pub into housing and there can be no guarantee through the planning process that the area reserved for a micro-pub would ever open. Even if it was to open, it is unlikely that a micro pub would succeed as, selling drink only, it would not attract enough trade. In fact, the owners cited the drink driving ban as a reason for their business’ failure.
Simple business acumen would mean that in order to sustain the business, a restaurant facility would be required and to also bolster the profit, the outbuildings that also belong to The School House Inn could be converted in to holiday lets, permission for doing this was granted in May 2000 (reference 00/00558/FUL , Ryedale District Council).
So in a nutshell, how should it work?
The business needs to remain as a whole. As a country pub in a thriving tourist area, it is large, attractive and welcoming. It is (and has always been) an appealing spot for old and young, families and individuals, locals and tourists and anyone who passes.
In order to succeed, the business needs:
- A well maintained restaurant, providing quality meals to the local and surrounding population, tourists and coach parties,
- A bar area for the local residents and visiting patrons who wish to utilise every aspect of a wonderful country pub,
- Conversion of the outbuildings in to holiday lettings, for the millions of tourists who visit our area each year.
What do we want?
We want to know a firm asking price for the property so we can open fair negotiations to buy the pub on behalf of the community and have it remain as a business. Or as a secondary option, help find a suitable buyer who can turn around the fortunes of the business.
We don’t expect anybody to run a business just because we want them to and we certainly don’t expect anyone to try to run a micro pub just for the community. What we would hope, though, is that The School House Inn is marketed thoroughly and genuinely in order to give it the best chance of surviving for the next 120 years. We are 100% behind anybody who truly wants to run a pub and make it a success for themselves. We then get to keep our community facility.
There is no need for our pub to disappear.
What’s the cost?
This is the problem, the estate agents will not tell us. The pub was purchased for approximately £349,000 in June 2007 which was sold as residential accommodation as well as a business. After the pub closed its doors, the property was completely gutted and the kitchen, bar area as well as other chattels were ripped out and sold by the current owners. Therefore, the property is now in need of full refurbishment.
The current value of the property with it currently trading as a business and in a similar state of repair as it was when it was sold is approximately £300,000. If you deduct the business element from the property as well as the cost of a refurbishment of everything that was ripped out, the realistic value of the property is going to be minimal.
So why can’t it be sold?
The company who are marketing it, Brownill Vickers in Sheffield, are unwilling to name a price to anybody showing an interest in purchasing the property to run it as a business. Having being offered extremely vague “expected offer” prices of around £375,000 (yes, £375,000!), the reason why it cannot be sold is obvious, the estate agents and current owners are not willing to name a firm price and additionally, are offering a price that is considerably higher than it’s worth.
Two seperate residents of the village have already made firm offers for the business which were rejected outright.
There is also a significant amount of confusion surrounding who is actually selling the property. With knowing Matthew & Sarah Richardson, we hoped we could maintain this relationship in order to acquire the details we needed for a potential offer. Upon speaking with the estate agents, we were told;
I do however point out that Mr Richardson is not involved in the decision making process and my client contact has always been with Mr Watkinson, who is Sarah Richardson [sic] father.
- Martin Nicholson, Brownill Vickers, November 2011
So unfortunately, despite Matthew & Sarah Richardson having being the owners of the business, it would appear the decision on the sale rests solely with Mr Watkinson whom has no legal title to the property.
Is the business actually for sale?
You could probably suggest that despite it being marketed, there is no intention to sell the property as a business.
Matthew & Sarah Richardson state that because the business is no longer viable, there is no other option but to convert the property in to residential accommodation. So what would happen if interest was shown or more importantly an offer made?
My client has listened to some of the comments from the councillors who opposed [to accept the planning application] and we believe with some slight alterations to the plans they will find favour with a revised planning application. Therefore you will appreciate the wish to sell the property is no where near as acute as it was when we commenced marketing in 2010 and there is now a real opportunity that the owners will get a cottage out of the property…
- Brownill Vickers, April 2012.
It would appear Matthew & Sarah Richardson are no longer interested in selling the business and allowing it an opportunity to flourish under new ownership anymore.
So to summarise…
Our campaign to save and preserve our pub is not a case of blind ignorance. We are fully aware of the business methods for it to remain open and enjoy success.
A micro pub would never work because the business would never be viable as a drinking establishment only. The pub needs to have a successful restaurant and holiday accommodation for it to remain viable.
We desperately don’t want to lose our pub for both the community and our beloved tourists, and we really appreciate your support.
You can follow us on Twitter @saveourpub or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theschoolhouseinn
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