Posted by: amanda baillieu18 January 2013
The fate of a posh pub in Chelsea is not something BD readers would normally care about. .
The Phene Arms is not listed, and in the words of the planning barrister Timothy Comyn – acting for its owner the property developer Robert Bourne and his wife Sally Greene - it’s ‘an establishment frequented by the Hooray Henrys of today’.
But Bourne’s appeal against Kensington and Chelsea’s refusal to allow the pub to be turned into a luxury house could have drawn a line in the sand for “pub-to-home” transformations particularly in London and the south-east.
When the council turned the application down last year it was able to cite the NPPF ( at that time in draft ) which clearly states that pubs are ‘ community facilities’, and that buildings like the Phene Arms, while not listed, are ‘non—designated heritage assets’ which should be kept if at all possible.
Of course, this has all come a bit late in the day. Since 2005 over 6500 pubs have closed, at a rate of roughly 12 a week. Those not converted into supermarkets or flats, are likely to be shuttered and dead.
The situation is grim and only active local petitions and campaigns seem to have had any success. But when the Localism Act and the NPPF came along it looked like pubs might at last have a lifeline.
In fact, on Wednesday the Inspector did dismiss Bourne’s appeal, but he waived aside the pub’s role as a community asset citing instead the local conservation area saying that the change from a pub to a house would harm it.
Had he reached a different conclusion, the Phene Arms would have been listed as an ‘asset of community value’ and the well-heeled clientele could then have clubbed together to buy it. Would the Inspector have come to a different view if the pub has been in the country, or in a small market town ?
It is hard to say. But so far at least, very few pubs have been viewed as a community asset and it is unclear what hoops they need to go through to achieve this status.
Is it down to how many meetings they hold in the back room, or the cross-section of clientele they attract ? Is a ’ community public house’ so different to the average boozer, and if it is could someone in the Planning Inspectorate spell it out.
The real point is that people are passionate about pubs in a completely different way than they are about shops and as long people want to go to them, they are worth keeping.
While the disappearance of yet another large chain store like Jessops or HMV is greeted with weary resignation, pubs are different. This is not just to do with alcohol, it’s that we have stood by and watched as they’ve been gradually wiped out and been powerless to do anything to stop it.
Now there is legislation that supports keeping pubs, will anything change? Based on what we’ve seen this week, it looks unlikely.
Image courtesy: www.phenecricket.com