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'The Vic' Public Inquiry

The Vic Public InquiryThis is the public Inquiry into McCarthy and Stone's planning appeal to demolish the Victoria Hotel building in St Annes,  and turn it into an apartment block.

Details of the events leading up to this report can be found in 'Vic Inquiry Due Soon' article.

Day1:  Tuesday 24 April 2012   (Click here for a shortcut to Day 2)
Half an hour before the start, the room was already filling up. There were going to be a lot of folk here. Some that we knew from the campaign to save the Vic had appeared in dark suits. We weren't sure whether that indicated a funeral demeanour or a desire to impress. A group at the back were standing about in expectation, not sure exactly what to do and what was going to happen.

The young ladies from FBC were scurrying round with last minute arrangements, and the Inspector - Elizabeth Ord - (not someone we've seen at a Fylde inquiry before) was setting up at the head of a square arrangement of tables set out (as we looked at it) with FBC on the left, McCarthy & Stone's team on the right and the Save the Vic team sitting with their backs to the public (for whom 63 chairs had been set out) and, as usual, at the back of the room was a copy of all the documents relating to the evidence to be given.

At five to ten it went quiet as most of the campaigners went outside for a group photograph to be taken.

At ten sharp, the inquiry opened with about 46 people in the public gallery. The Inspector went through the housekeeping items. Ruth Thow was from FBC was introduced. She was not taking part in the inquiry, but was there to assist the Inspector with administrative arrangements.

For McCarthy & Stone was Mr Paul Tucker who would call three witnesses (dealing with heritage; pub/community use; and planning)

Cllr Nash appeared as a Rule 6 Party on behalf of the Victoria Hotel Community Association. He said he would give his own evidence and call two witnesses and wanted to show a short film which the Inspector and McCarthy & Stone agreed to.

There was then a section that dealt with what documents everyone should have. Cllr Nash said he had received a rebuttal on Friday and didn't think that was sufficient time for them to study it. He asked that if that document was going to be allowed in the inquiry, he wanted a four week adjournment to give the campaign group time to study and respond to it.

We did a little inward gasp at this stage. If he had been up against ace barrister Roger Lancaster, we've no doubt there would have been an immediate call for costs against him, but Mr Tucker was going to be more forgiving - as we shall see. He can probably afford to be forgiving.

The inspector said she would return to that matter shortly

Cllr Nash asked for parts of the Localism Act (section 87-108) and the National Planning Policy Framework to be added as Core Documents. This was agreed by all parties.

For the Council, barrister Anthony Gill had been instructed by Mark Evans. He said FBC was not going to offer any evidence and would not cross examine. He said his function was to assist the inquiry in any way he could.

There was then a check on who wanted to speak from the public gallery. Five would speak for other organisations and a further 15 asked to speak as individuals.

It was agreed the batting order would be: Opening statements by McCarthy & Stone, then Cllr Nash, then FBC. After that the Inspector would take public speakers, before the evidence from the main and the  Rule 6 parties.

She said she had not clearly identified the issues for the inquiry yet but provisionally she thought the inquiry should address:

  1. Community - whether the loss of the Vic would represent the loss of a valued facility to allow the community to meet its day to day needs
  2. The significance of the Vic as a heritage asset and the effect of the proposal on the adjacent conservation area.
  3. The housing need for the proposal

There followed more discussion on the housekeeping issues. One matter caused a bit of a stir. Mr Tucker for McCarthy & Stone said that the content of the Section 106 agreement had been agreed, but four parties needed to sign it. Three had done so, but Deutchebank (the Pub's Mortgage holder) couldn't be sure to have it signed for 14 days. The Inspector said that wasn't on, and she would allow not more than 7 days for the completed certified copy to be with the Planning Inspectorate. (It really should be produced by the end of the Inquiry itself)

In terms of organisation it was agreed that they inquiry would start at 10am each day (See end of day 1 for a change in the time) and break for lunch around 1pm according to convenience of the speakers. It would close at about 5pm.

Costs were then discussed. The Inspector said there had been no indication of an application for costs. Mr Tucker said he did not expect there to be any application for costs. We were again surprised, but a major revelation was to follow later.

On the adjournment request from Cllr Nash, the Inspector said documents were often presented late and she and other inspectors were generally minded to agree to receive them. She said she was not minded to agree an adjournment because she had no time available until September, so it would have to be a four month adjournment if any were to be granted. Also people had already taken time off work for these days. Reluctantly, Cllr Nash agreed on the basis that he could come back on her offer to consider matters contained in the rebuttal after the evidence from McCarthy & Stone.

We then began with the opening statements.

PAUL TUCKER for McCarthy & Stone
He said the Council had never taken issue with the national need for housing, and that need was reflected in this region. He said it was "previously developed land" (Brownfield), and in a highly convenient location. The Government was trying to bring redundant and under-used Brownfield land into productive use. There were strong planning reasons to support the development. He said the determining factor for this inquiry would be community need, but there needed to be a balance struck between the failing pub and the great housing need. He said FBC officers had considered the application impartially and recommended approval, but the Development Management Committee has taken the view of the community and refused the application.

He said there was no such thing as localism in the context that was being claimed, and the appeal should be determined only on planning issues.

Then came the bombshell.

He said the Council knew it had been  "staring into an evidential abyss" and they had asked McCarthy and Stone whether, if Fylde offered no evidence at the appeal, they (McCarthy & Stone) would not make an application for costs against Fylde.

He said McCarthy & Stone had agreed to that.

We were amazed, and not altogether sure that was a lawful situation.

Given that it was Fylde who decided to refuse the planning application, to then suggest that they should not offer evidence in exchange for a guarantee not to be faced with costs, is utterly disgraceful and may not be lawful.

It's close to 'selling' a planning permission.

Mr Tucker went on to say the Council's Planning Committee should have bitten the bullet and made a decision on planning grounds, and not been swayed by public opinion.

He said the capital costs of the building repairs were enormous; that third-party participants were strong on rhetoric but weak on action. They had only formed as a group in the last few weeks. No approach had been made to the Spirit Group. There was no business plan and no realism. He said "this was a hotel that failed commercially and had it's ground floor converted to a pub and that is also failing commercially. There is no viable alternative use. There were other community use buildings nearby, and this needed to be decided by objective and dispassionate assessment of evidence."

So he has a sharper, harder edge than we had seen up to now.
 

CLLR EDWARD NASH
Next up was Cllr Nash who said a lot of people opposed the development and that the Development Management Committee had been "alert to the wishes of local people and the aims of the new Localism Act when they refused planning permission". He said the community group had come together under the auspices of the Town Council and he read out a letter from the Department of Communities and Local Government which, to be honest, we wouldn't have entered as evidence at all.

Whilst offering encouragement for the principle of local communities being able to bid for assets of community value such as pubs, the Rt Hon Greg Clark had said "The Community Right To Bid provisions in the Localism Act have not yet come into force and would not be a relevant matter for the planning inquiry" and "There are no other powers in the Localism Act or the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 relevant to the inquiry"

And in those two sentences (as we have pointed out in our previous articles), any prospect of success for the Brigadier and his Lions was buried in the sands of time.

There are no planning reasons, and no localism legislation that is relevant to the Inquiry. Ergo, there is no hope of success.

Cllr Nash, who we have dubbed 'The Brigadier' in recognition of his forthright military manner, spoke well, but it was all feelings. There was little actual evidence. He used quotes from the Sprit Group website and McCarthy & Stone's own publicity about the heritage value of St Annes. He said of all the pubs in St Annes, in heritage terms, this should be the last to be demolished, and added that local businesses would rather have a pub than retirement apartments. He asked the Inspector to take into account Ministerial intentions and not to allow the loss of the building because the legislation that might protect it from demolition had not yet been enacted. He concluded by saying "We have precious little of our heritage left"

We couldn't fail to agree about the importance, but as we've said before, the root cause of this loss lies with Fylde BC who failed to include the Vic in the adjoining conservation area and thus provide it with some protection in planning terms.
 

ANTHONY GILL
Then it was FBC's turn. After describing the application Mr Gill said there were no planning reasons to refuse except community importance. He said that currently, with regard to the Community Right to Bid, the Localism Act only gave the Secretary of State power to make Regulations and Orders. None had yet been made. There is no legislation that allows it to be listed, and Fylde would not call any witnesses and offer no evidence.

The Inspector picked him up on the agreement Mr Tucker had referred to where he said McCarthy & Stone had agreed not to seek costs if FBC offered no evidence to the Inquiry.

Mr Gill said he was not in a position to answer that. Mr Tucker said the term "agreement" should be used in invisible quotations because there was no formal written agreement with details set out in it. It was what his clients did in response to an approach from FBC.

Mr Gill for FBC undertook to provide more details to the Inspector on this matter.

Then began the public speaking session. First off was

THOMAS LAWSON
He said he had been a resident since 1968 and he organised the 'open mic nights' at the Vic. He had previously done them at the Hole in One in Lytham but he moved to the Vic when the Hole in One was showing less enthusiasm. He started in May last year, and right from the start the enthusiasm and support at the Vic was amazing. He said people were coming from as far as Burnley, and young people has come and had subsequently formed themselves into bands.

CLLR SUSAN FAZACKERLEY
Spoke not as a Cabinet member or Deputy Council Leader, but as a local resident and ward councillor. She said Cllr Nash has asked her to explain how the "Shaping the Place" scheme had come about and what its aims were. She did so with considerable detail, painting a grim picture which had justified the scheme being introduced, and noted it had brought significant change, but there were still problems, especially with traffic issues and the late night economy.

JOHN DICKINSON
Brought 'Rocky' his three-legged dog with him to the witness stand. He said he came to St Annes 20 years ago and went to the Vic to find information about the locality. He said the Vic was the only pub in St Annes that allowed him to take his dog into the pub.

Raising laughter from the public gallery, he said "Although Rocky got injured at the pub and lost his leg as a result of the injury, he still pulls me in as we go past !" Adding that more people know Rocky than knew him. He said his wife called the Vic a community centre with alcohol. He said the Group had big plans for it.

He showed something of a sharper edge when he said it was about time that large companies with lots of money learned that when a Council said "No" they should accept the decision. Turning to McCarthy & Stone he concluded "If you force yourself on a woman that would be rape, and you are raping our community".

CLLR CAROL LANYON
Made an excellent and succinct presentation on behalf of the St Anne's on Sea Town Council. They had urged refusal, citing: the loss of the historic building; the impact on the streetscene and the adjoining Conservation Area; the loss of a valued community asset; the lack of demand for proposed retirement units locally, and they had concluded that it was an asset of community value that should be retained.

SUE CORNAH
Spoke for the Lytham St Annes Civic Society to say they regarded it as a local heritage asset. She said it was an important townscape element that created a strong visual identity because it was in the Domestic Gothic style which the St Annes on the Sea Land and Building Company had required in the early days of St Annes. She said it was a very obvious community asset and shouldn't be lost simply because the legislation to protect it had not yet been completed. She said "the community doesn't want to lose the building and its needs should come first."

CLLR PAUL HAYHURST
Said he was not involved with the Community Association and not on the Council's Development Management Committee. He said he wanted to speak up for the community who were there to support the refusal of the appeal. He said "If there is such a thing as localism, then this is it. It is the one pub in Lytham St Annes which is a community pub and it is vital that it is retained. Removal would rip the heart out of the community" He urged the Inspector to find in favour of the Community.

At this point it was 1:15 and we broke for lunch, resuming at 2:15.

The first few minutes were taken up with Mr Gill for FBC clarifying an earlier statement from Mrs Cornah who had said that the Civic Society had prepared a listing application for the Vic and the Council had submitted it. He said it was the Civic Society who had submitted the application for listing, not FBC.

He was then asked by the Inspector to explain further the 'agreement' that Mr Tucker had said was the reason that McCarthy & Stone had said they would not pursue an application for costs (i.e. if FBC offered no evidence to the Inquiry).

Mr Gill for FBC made a very carefully worded reply.

He said he had taken advice from FBC on this matter over lunchtime and said the position was that the Borough Council took advice from Counsel (A barrister) after which they determined it would not be appropriate to offer evidence at the inquiry. They had asked the appellant how that would affect costs, and were told that if that happened, no request for costs would be made. He said "there was no agreement"

We thought this was very significant. Clearly there were 50 people in the room who heard McCarthy & Stone's Counsel say with complete clarity that they had agreed that if Fylde offered no evidence they would not seek costs, but here was Fylde's Counsel saying that was not how it happened.

At this stage, readers will have to make up their own minds as to which version is the more accurate.

The public speaking section resumed with:

EDWARD DURALSKI
Who said the Vic was his local and a recent new landlord had turned it's former bad fortune around. He had got rid of unsavoury individuals and introduced Real Ale. But the Spirit Group had bought the pub as part of a 'job lot' and did not know the individual circumstances of various pubs and they had embarked on a disposal programme.

He explained how the community within the pub had helped him to overcome depression and personal difficulty in his private life, and then embarked on an oral crusade in great detail to highlight all the deficiencies and errors in the application and appeal documents.

An hour later, the Inspector gave warning that she might have to limit the time she was allowing him, and at 3:45 she again asked him to conclude. He did so, having spent an hour and a half thus far, and looking as though he was able to continue for another session which was as long.

He said he would welcome cross examination, to which Mr Tucker for McCarthy & Stone responded that he might well have that view, but he (Mr Tucker) had no questions for him, at which time, we had a short break.

RAY JACKSON (CAMRA)
Said CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) regarded then Vic as a prime example of a community pub. They were concerned about the loss of community pubs (20 a week), and 1046 pubs had closed permanently in 2011 with only 197 being re-opened. He noted it had been said that the pub was a non-viable business, adding "This we dispute, it is often cited as the reason for redevelopment." CAMRA believe that it is, and should remain, a community pub, and he urged the Inspector to dismiss the appeal.

ARNOLD SUMNER
Spoke on behalf of the Chamber of Trade. He said he was born in St Annes, his grandfather had an ironmongers shop in St Annes and he claimed a good knowledge of St Annes retailers. He said he was the co-ordinator for the St Annes Chamber of Trade and had been deputed to ask the local traders whether they supported the Victoria Hotel being demolished to provide apartments. He called on fourteen retailers on St Albans Road and all said they would prefer the pub because of the increased footfall that a pub presents.

He also spoke on a personal basis and said he thought Section 8 of the new National Planning Policy Framework supported the need for social, recreation, cultural, and community facilities, and specifically mentions pubs.

He concluded the speakers for the first day.

The Inspector - prompted by Mr Tucker for McCarthy & Stone - suggested they convene at 9:30am on day 2. That was agreed.

She also put Cllr Nash on notice to say that his evidence included the importance of heritage, but she had received no factual evidence of the Vic's heritage value, and suggested that he might usefully obtain some to submit to the inquiry, perhaps from the Civic Society who had prepared the listing request.

And with that, the short film of the Vic in the 1980s was shown as the conclusion of the first day, as were some slides of various 'Open Mike' events

So, what were the lasting impressions from Day 1?

Well there is undoubtedly widespread public support to retain the Vic as a pub. Even at finishing time there were still about 40 people in the room. (At a typical enquiry that usually goes down to one or two by closing time).

The Inspector (struggling valiantly with a cold) has been (probably far too) generous and flexible in her approach to the proceedings, far more than we have ever seen at a planning inquiry (and we've been to a few).

The Brigadier made a passable showing and was learning the ropes quickly as he went along, and it was good to see both him and Cllrs Fazackerley and Hayhurst demonstrating cross-party support for the community.

For McCarthy & Stone, Mr Tucker gave occasional glimpses of the wolf that lay inside his pink and fluffy exterior.

But for all of that, we saw nothing that would provide enough legitimacy for the inspector to dismiss the appeal without subsequent risk of a judicial review of such a decision being 'perverse'.

If anything, our view has probably hardened further that there are no grounds the Inspector could use to dismiss the appeal.


SECOND DAY: 25 APRIL 2012
This morning had a more business-like feel about it. People knew where they were going and what they were doing. There were last-minute checks on documentation being made, and hurried conflabs were taking place in the main room in small clusters, and in ante-rooms. A low buzz of anticipation hung in the air throughout the room. This was to be the day that the battle would be won or lost as the evidence from both sides was pitted against the other. With two minutes to go, everyone was in their place and giving a last-minute read through of their evidence.

At 9:30 sharp the Inspector (Elizabeth Ord) called the meeting to order. She said she would hear closing speeches tomorrow and would do the site visit later this afternoon after making as much progress as possible on the evidence.

First were the public speakers...

DENIS JONES
Said he was conceived and born in Lytham St Anne’s. He believed he was the oldest person to use the Vic today. His mother used to work at the Vic when the position of landlord was a person of substance. Today there are managers. He set out a history of his experience at The Vic. He had his first drink there in 1956. It had separate areas: the Vaults and, the 'Stock Exchange' where businessmen used to gather. Sometimes you would see three generations of the same family in the pub and this kept younger people in check. But in recent years, since the 1980's, it had deteriorated and allowed to become run-down.  He blamed the management and lack of re-investment in the pub for this change. He argued that the cost of repairs today was as a result of that run-down, and the cost should not be used as an argument to dispose of it because it only reflects lack of proper maintenance - the allegation was that successive owners had allowed the pub to run down in order to make disposal more palatable.

ROY PARKINSON
Not a resident of St Anne’s, lives in South London. Mother died fairly recently in a first floor flat close to the Vic. Whenever he visited, he called in the Vic because it was a very accommodating place. On his most recent visit he saw lots of sites with railings round - Conservative club and several other locations. As a potential visitor, he wondered why he would want to come here if it was another bland town and the Vic was not there.

SIMON OSBORNE
Lived in St Anne’s since he was two. Serves in the Merchant Navy. Uses the Vic whenever he was home, he had his first (legal) drink there, and misses it whenever he is abroad. He regards the Vic as his home, and his best friends parents worked and met at the Vic and he wouldn't be alive today if the Vic hadn't brought them together.

RICHARD MARSHALL
Not able to be present today, but statement read out by his son Oscar. Vic has been a community pub for many years. Acts as a community centre. There is enough space upstairs to act as community and business space. Want to create a dedicated music recording studio and arts centre. Also plan a micro-brewery serving real ale. Identified several potential funding bodies that would be able to fund such a project. Richard has 10 years of experience of pub management and currently works in the arts. Wants to renovate and restore the Vic and re-create its lost staircase, whilst bringing modern amenities inside that will ensure its commercial future. Would also open up car parking to improve parking in the area.

Speaking for 'himself' Oscar read out a letter from a band now based in Canada who spoke in glowing terms of their time at the Vic as a traditional English community pub.

GUY OPENSHAW
Lives in St Anne’s since 1964. Said the fact that it is an unconventional Inquiry "does not detract from the fact that: public opinion; the Town Council and the Borough Council did us proud when they all refused permission."

But the developers won't take no for an answer.

The Government has said that the powers of decision making are being handed back to the local community. If that's right, where are they?

He said they had shown there is an over provision in retirement apartments in St Anne’s, and little local demand. The Vic is an asset of community value and must be retained.

He spoke of creating a community interest company to take ownership of, and to run the Vic. Also spoke about 'Vickstock', a charity fund-raising event with 24 bands, (and modelled on Woodstock festival) which had packed the pub.

He spoke about constructive neglect of the buildings and argued it was disrespectful of McCarthy & Stone to say they (the community group) only had rhetoric. What they did have was a very different set of values to those of the developer, and that was at the heart of the argument. We thought he spoke very well and made points strongly.

Under cross examination (which was firm) he was asked about the extent of the preparation they had completed and did his best to answer, but it was evident that the group were still very much in the early stages.

JEANETTE DRAPER
Said she was from a forces family. Has never found anywhere like the Vic. She said that yesterday, people asked about the history of the Vic. She had tried to research the history but had only found limited information. It was a working class pub in a working class area. It was built in the middle of the working community, the builders and tradesmen of the town. Then she had realised that, like most working class history, its history is in the people, it's not written down. *People* are where working class history resides. With emotion in her voice she asked that the history of the working class people of St Anne’s - the same people who were and are the people of the Vic - should not be demolished. She was powerful, emotional - and probably accurate.

JOHN DEMPSEY
Lives in the Vaults of the Vic (more or less). He said St Albans Road has two nicknames, one is Beirut and one is New York Alley. He has concerns about older people being placed in this environment. He said the pub regulated itself in a difficult area. He said the community wanted to take ownership and bring and keep the pub as a community working man's pub. He said working folk in working clothes could go in and that no other pubs in St Anne’s would allow that. You didn't need yellow pages to find a plumber or bricklayer or joiner. All you needed to do was go into the Vic.

MICK ALLEN
Used crutches to reach the stand. Said he was sixty-four years old and disabled. He goes to the Vic frequently. Can reach it in his buggy, but can't get to the Square and asked that they don't take it away from him.

DAVID WOOD
Welcomed McCarthy and Stone and asked them to consider other sites and please please not to use the Vic for their apartments. As an occasional 'Father Christmas' he pleaded with them not to destroy the heart of the community, and that included the youngsters.

CHRIS LORD
Spoke with passion and said that as a local he thought he had a right to have a say. The Vic isn't just a mock gothic building it’s a proper pub. It's a place where you meet, and learn to get on with, a wide range of people from widely disparate backgrounds. The Vic is a family, and that counts more than any developer's profits. He concluded "If there is any justice in this Inquiry, it will find for people who value camaraderie over profit."

PAUL ALONZE
Regular user of the Vic and former BAE employee. Spoke of the analysis and modelling that he had used to evaluate military situations and forecasts at BAE and, several years ago he had done personal modelling which predicted the present financial crisis. The future was not good. There will be a real further decline in the next few years. That might well lead to increased unemployment, crime and drugs. He worried that the development would not be built and would stay as another bombsite.

MARTIN DIGGLE
Had as much right to talk about this as anyone in the town. Three generations ago his grandfather helped to build the town. He has done work on lots of flats hereabouts that are occupied by lovely people but they are from Manchester and east Lancashire, they're not local people. This is not for local people like the Vic is. It's just greed and a land grab.

RUTH PETTIGREW
Family moved here in the 1920s. Lived here herself for the past 12 years and worked here on and off for 40 years. Never done anything like this before, but she decided she wanted to help to save the Vic. It's local to where she lives and convenient. She had made many friends through the Vic and had seen people being born and dying. As a woman on her own, she feels safe when she goes in the Vic. Several buildings of importance in the NW have been saved by community groups.

At this point we had a 15 minute break, resuming at 11:40 with evidence from

CLLR NASH
Who called his witness

BRUCE GOODRIDGE
Mr Goodridge read a witness statement on behalf of the Community Association who had the object of improving the conditions of life for residents. It has its roots in the original application from McCarthy & Stone. An Action Group was formed, and that has grown into the Community Association who are supporting the community's fight to retain the building and keep it open.

They plan to have a Community Interest Company to buy and restore the building. They want to open up the disused upper floors and to make it a community building, and have members with a range of different skills and experience that can be employed. The public of St Anne’s are behind the cause of the group. He said community spirit has been eroded generally over the years, but this application has brought people together in opposition. Massive under-investment has made the Vic currently careworn, but they want to restore it and make it a community facility.

He said they had conducted their own little market research survey with one single question "do you want to see the Vic demolished and replaced with forty retirement apartments" They had 493 respondees. None were in favour of demolition. All said they were opposed.

In January, the action group decided they wanted to become a Community Association and have recently formed that with over 160 members. They recognise they are newly formed but they now have a constitution and formal meetings. They have decided to contact Spirit Group as soon as possible. They have applied to the St Anne’s Town Council for grants to set up a Community Interest Company and to provide pavement planters to improve traffic management, and to ask the Town Council to register the Vic as a building of community importance. The next step is a business plan and they are working toward that but, he said, they are working people, and these things take time. They were also looking for funding from various sources and wanted to look into possibilities of public subscription. He thought the costs for repairs quoted in McCarthy & Stone’s evidence were excessive, based on prices he had received from local tradesmen.

The Inspector asked about the pledges of support they had received, and whether there was any written evidence of them. Mr Goodridge said yes, they had a template which people had completed to promise their time and expertise, and he would provide copies.

In response to another question he admitted there were other pubs available locally but they did not have the ambience and community spirit of the Vic. He gave a personal and detailed critique of each which in essence drew out the distinction between the commercialised plasticity of modern drinking establishments as compared with a real ale public house for a working class community.

Under cross examination, Mr Tucker explored what would happen if the appeal was dismissed. He said the Localism Act’s ‘Assets of Community Value’ provisions and the ‘Land of Community Value’ provisions said that Councils had to consider the current use value, and whether that would continue. That process would be based on evidence, not opinion.

Quoting from a prelude to the Community Right to Bid he noted that the Act was intended to provide a moratorium to allow the Community to Bid for the asset that was of community value. Government intended there would be a six month period for the Community to raise the funds and make a bid to buy the building.

He also drew attention to the exemptions the Act gave to listing, one of which was that where an option to buy has been established, it is likely that the regulations would exempt the facility from listing, and said that was the situation at the Vic (where there is an option to purchase in place).

But even without that constraint, he said it was likely that they would only have six months to achieve the funding and purchase. The site was worth £550k. The business and the site together were valued at £550k, so the open market value is in that region. If Mr Goodridge was talking about selling shares, then even if the 169 members bought £200 worth of shares each, they would still be nowhere near the sum needed. He wanted to know how that funding gap would be filled. There was no benefactor, no funding in place and no current prospect of such funding being found. He argued that Mr Goodridge’s figures were unduly optimistic and didn’t, for example, take account of financing and other costs that had not been considered at all. He said the group was asking the Inspector to take a chance on the group, when they had offered no hard evidence to back up their intent.

Mr Goodridge said they expected to work in partnership with others to achieve their aims.


What we saw from Mr Goodridge was the pure essence of localism.

The process to save the Vic has opened his eyes to civic responsibility, and he was willing to embrace it - and to help others - to organise community action. It is exactly what Mr Cameron’s ’Big Society’ is all about.

In a wider context, we think this sort of thing is now happening up and down the country, as individuals and groups (who believe that St Eric Pickles and the Conservative /LibDem coalition promised them control over their local environment) come to realise that it’s not going to happen as they expected and as they believe they were promised.

The political rhetoric from Government is mismatched to the legislation they have produced. We think that’s going to lead to a lot of dissatisfied people.

And we suspect this situation is going to have electoral implications that do not currently figure on the political balance sheet.

As we were quietly musing on the implications of this, we reached the end of Mr Goodridge's cross-examination.

CLLR EDWARD NASH
Said that giving evidence like this was not something he had done before, both the Town and the Borough Council, and all the people in his ward opposed the plan. He produced quotes from Ministers and said that localism was colouring all of our lives. He quoted from the Localism Act and showed what it was going to do. He said “This whole case is between wishes and rules”

He spoke of the lost buildings of St Anne’s, like the Majestic Hotel and that was demolished for apartments as, he said, was the Fairhaven Hotel. Pointing out through the window to the boarded up Jobcentre (where Aldi had promised to find a partner to build apartments above their proposed store), and asked McCarthy & Stone “Where the hell were you when we needed you”

He said he couldn’t understand why the Council had not included the Vic when it created the adjacent Conservation Area (whose boundary, he said, comes right up to the wall of the Vic). This section was the nearest he had come to planning policy, when he said that the Vic made a positive contribution to the adjacent conservation area.

He tried to argue that the new National Planning Policy Framework provided 12 months to allow Councils to prepare local plans should also allow time for the Community Group to have the building listed as an asset of community value as well.

In terms of funding, he said there were several potential sources of funding available and they were looking into that at present.

To be honest, in what was really a rambling tale, we didn’t think he helped the cause very much. We heard almost no evidence at all. Sure, he told a good story, and expanded on bits of it as he went along as the fancy took him, but there were no hard facts or figures or policy.

As he himself had said “This whole case is between wishes and rules.” We believe the Inspector will have to act according to the rules.

Under cross examination, Mr Tucker said he had half a dozen points to raise. First he said the current amount pledged was £1,650 toward the £550k needed was that correct. “Yes”   Secondly he asked had Cllr Nash seen figures on paper any means by which such sums of money could be achieved. “No, I’ve only discussed them”

Mr Tucker referred to Para 70 of the NPPF (which the inspector advised was to be known as “The Framework”) and asked whether the Inspector’s first test should be as described in this para. “Yes”

Mr Tucker continued to say that the mere fact the facility is valued was not sufficient to justify value, it had to be balanced against planning arguments didn’t it “Yes”

He then asked Cllr Nash “You don’t disagree that the council cannot demonstrate a five year land supply do you” The answer was “No”

Turning to the CAMRA ”Public House Viability” test, Mr Tucker asked why Cllr Nash had omitted two of its sections from Appendix 4 of his Proof of Evidence. Mr Tucker said Cllr Nash had not addressed the form’s aspects concerning 'the business at present' and 'what was happening in terms of the sale'. Cllr Nash agreed he had not applied the full CAMRA test in his proof of evidence.

Mr Tucker then asked him to assume the appeal was dismissed, and McCarthy & Stone walked away, He asked “What happens then?” He wanted to know how long would it take to assemble the money for example? Cllr Nash said “Faster than six months”. Mr Tucker then asked about how long it would take to repair the buildings. Cllr Nash said he didn’t know, but they had spoken about 12 months to do the ground floor and the micro-brewery in the cellar, together with making the roof secure.

Mr Tucker continued in as gentle a vein as possible, but he had to show that evidence presented by Cllr Nash was either absent, insufficient or defective - and he did just that in several respects.

That brought us to another public session for those who had not been able to attend earlier.

ESTELLE DRUMMOND
Spoke as a resident and said she had moved here at age 18 with her family and hated it until she found the riding stables behind the Vic which were really good. She was disappointed when they were demolished, but she now goes to the Vic because it is convenient and local and she feels safe in there. Her message was that it’s a real pub not a modern plastic one. She said her family had a retirement flat on Oxford Road that thy can’t sell. Her estate agent had told her they were basically saturated with retirement flats that they couldn’t sell.

STEPHEN HOUGHTON
Said he was a sandgrown resident who started frequenting the Vic 42 years ago and has been a regular ever since. He was very passionate that, even disregarding the pub function, the Vic is a very important heritage building and we have lost so many already. He was outraged by the appellant’s evidence telling him where else he could go for a drink. His local is the Vic, and if he wanted to drink elsewhere he would do so already. The Vic is central to his existence in St Anne’s.


We were now at 4:15pm on Day2 and Mr Tucker was asked to begin his case for the appellants. He called:

DAVID BEARDMORE

Who seemed to us to have more qualifications than it was reasonable for one person to hold. He had prepared a "Historic Development" of the Victoria Hotel. He also produced a letter from English Heritage as to their reasons for refusal of listing.

His evidence was that the listing application was rejected. He said there was a small road between the building and the Conservation Area .

He said the Vic cannot be designated as a Heritage Asset using the test in Annex 2 of the NPPF. Therefore the planning system offers no protection to it. He said the objectors case had no planning support. The Council had raised no objection to the new design.

He made observation on the objector’s evidence. He said he had found no evidence that the Vic was conceived or built as a “working class hotel” Clearly he did not know of the history of St Anne’s where the Vic is just outside the boundary of the St Anne’s on the Sea Land and Building Company lease which had prevented downmarket premises being built in the developing town. It was intended to cater for the artisan builders who actually created the town. He went on to demolish other aspects of the evidence submitted by the objectors.

Under cross examination by Cllr Nash he said he disagreed with the Victorian Society’s description of its heritage importance, and he accepted the evidence of English Heritage on its heritage value. Pressed on other aspects of heritage it became clear that Mr Beardmore had little time for the views of the Victorian Society.

The Inspector asked Mr Beardmore about the NPPF and whether in the circumstances set out there, he considered it to be a local heritage asset. He thought not, but admitted there was no guidance from case history yet. She also wanted to know whether it had ‘no significance’

Conscious of the prospect of being lynched before he got out of the room, Mr Beardmore gave a carefully crafted answer that was essentially that it had, in his opinion ‘No significance’

The next witness was then called by Mr Tucker

ANDREW LEIGH
Mr Leigh said he was a property specialist. He said the demographics of the area showed that the over 55s (which predominate in that area) are not big spenders in pubs. The 18 to 34 age group are. He was asked about distances to other pubs and facilities. He concluded that there were many and varied other facilities that could provide the facilities available at the Vic. He spoke about the ways pubs are managed and the costs of running them.

Cllr Nash asked about the difference between a club and a pub. Mr Leigh said the club usually had members. He asked if a micro-brewery would have different overheads to those of a pub. Mr Leigh said yes but in his experience they were difficult to make pay. He agreed that the Vic was a busy pub and had a good level of turnover, but with rising costs it was not easy to make it profitable. Cllr Nash wanted to know if a different business model - say a community run pub – was used, would that make a difference. Mr Leigh said that in his view he didn’t think it would make enough difference to make it profitable.

Then Mr Duralski (from day 1) asked some questions, and scored a minor hit or two, but overall, our impression was that the witness’ evidence was not significantly changed by the cross examination.

There was a bit of a hiatus at the end when some of the public who had thought they had another day to prepare and submit questions to the appellant's experts were disconcerted to find they could only do so as far as the 'planning' was concerned and they should have had them in before lunchtime today for the other two experts. One chap said to us that they thought they were getting a three day Inquiry but it was becoming a  two and a half day inquiry as the inspector wanted to leave at lunchtime on Thursday.

Sadly we’re in a similar vein, we're not going to be able to report the proceedings on Thursday, but we think our readers will gather the flavour from what we’ve been able to report so far.

We’re really saddened to see the culture clash that this Inquiry represented.

On the one hand we have the money-driven chaps who say the existing Vic users can go elsewhere, and that anyway, folk want gyms and other facilities these days.

That comment had the people who inhabit the real world (that the Vic currently represents) shaking their heads in disbelief.

These folk go to the Vic PRECISELY BECAUSE IT IS NOT A MODERN PLASTIC PUB, and they have no understanding of why there is a need to change it. They don’t inhabit the artificial world portrayed by the businesses that want to milk them as consumers. They live in a common sense world that has no relationship to modern consumerism.

We have a great affinity with the view of local residents, and are really saddened to see the values they and we hold dear being sacrificed on the altar of consumerism and profit.

That said, we don’t think there can be any decision but to approve the application. It will be a travesty of what local people want, but local people are not the final determinants of planning decisions. If they were, there would never be a nuclear power station, or a waste disposal facility, built anywhere in the country.

It’s Government that sets the rules about how planning works, and those rules- as they exist at present - provide almost nothing to support dismissal of the appeal.

And as we have seen, there is nothing in the Localism Act *at present* (and arguably at all, so far as this case is concerned) that prevents the appeal being granted.

So sadly we think the appeal will be allowed.

It could yet stall. If the profit growth at the Vic is as the objectors have suggested, the Spirit Group might want to change their mind about selling it, and might stall on signing the Section 106 Agreement that has to be with the Planning Inspectorate within seven days.

But apart from that as a faint possibility, the folk around the Vic are a determined lot, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a rearguard action to persuade McCarthy and Stone to back off.

We’ve already seen an open letter signed by 13 local councillors expressing “dismay” at the actions of McCarthy and Stone and urging them to “drop this ill-founded action. To "listen to the voice of the local community and to be known here as a caring company that builds to serve the needs of the town and borough not one that rips the heart out of the community”

We wonder if that could become the opening salvo in a new battle.

Dated:   25 April 2012


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