A BID to transform a community pub into a Tesco was thrown out by councillors sparking jubilant celebrations from villagers.
Planners said the company had acted “without any sense” by failing to talk to local people before submitting controversial proposals to extend the Victoria and Albert pub. in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, ahead of buying and converting the popular tavern into one of its Express stores.
The firm told planners on Northumberland County Council’s southeast planning committee that they had no powers to stop them turning the popular pub into a shop as it was “permitted development”.
But speaking in front of the residents, who packed out the meeting at Choppington’s Social Welfare Centre, Coun Barrie Crowther said when presented with a petition signed by more than 2,100 people, the decision “was no longer just a question of planning”.
Yet that did not stop his colleagues from rejecting the application – on the grounds that it would create a noise nuisance for residents and lead to even more traffic around an already heavily congested blind corner of the A192.
Pub manager Marshall Dunn said he was very happy that the community should be able to keep its heart and the outlook for the local was also looking promising.
“Since the campaign to save the pub a lot of local groups have come forward,” he said. “There’s now some talk of SureStart anti-natal clinics, pensioners groups and people celebrating their birthdays all coming to use the Victoria and Albert, which is not something that has previously happened.”
Stephen Keir, leader of the campaign to save the Vic, said he hoped common sense would now prevail and that Tesco would look more suitable sites.
“Tesco seemed to think they could just come in here, shut the pub down and set up with a minimum of fuss,” he said.
“But if they had asked us at the start they would have been aware of the levels of feeling about this.”
“Thankfully the planning committee did gauge the mood and realise that the community aspect does mean a lot.”
Mr Keir said it was hoped that the current tenant, who has throughout maintained he wants to buy the pub, could now be allowed to purchase the historic tavern.
But Doug Wilson, head of corporate affairs for Tesco in the North East, said that despite local people putting forward suggestions of other sites for a new store, the Victoria and Albert remained the company’s preferred option.
“We are disappointed at the decision and we will be reviewing our options,” said Mr Wilson, who is believed to be preparing an appeal against the committee’s decision.
Current owner Punch Taverns said that as the pub is thriving again, they might yet consider keeping it for themselves.
A spokesperson said: “As a pub company, it is always our preference that our pubs continue to trade as pubs.
“We review our estate regularly to ensure our sites are maximising their potential and we are currently exploring a number of avenues for the Victoria and Albert.”
Friends on high
SITUATIONS like the one in Seaton Delaval could soon become a thing of the past with pubs minister Bob Neill telling North East councillors that the Government recognises the nation’s inns are “an important asset for the country”.
“Pubs are significant contributors to the economy and are also important sources of social value, providing real local hubs that strengthen community relationships and encourage wider social action,” he said.
“A ‘community right to bid’ will come into force later this spring which could help to save a pub if a community were thinking of mounting a bid.
“Under the provision local, voluntary and community groups, neighbourhood forums and parish councils can nominate assets to be listed as assets of community value, if they further the social wellbeing of the local community.
“If listed, when and if a pub is put up for sale, a community interest group will be able to trigger a ‘window of opportunity’ of six months before the pub can be sold – a delay to allow more time for community groups to bid to buy the asset.”
IT’S DAVID 1, GOLIATH 0
CAMPAIGN for Real Ale (Camra) Tyneside and Northumberland branch chairman Richard Dollimore said the decision to reject Tesco’s plans was “brilliant”.
“It’s one up for David against a Goliath like Tesco,” he said.
“Thankfully the council realised the application for what it was ... trying to sneak a Tesco Express in through the back door.”
Sixteen pubs a week close in the UK. In April Camra is launching a new Community Pubs Month to champion the importance of taverns and help increase the number of people using their local.
For more information visit www.communitypubsmonth.org.uk