Customers of The Crown have won the first round in their fight to save the public house in Ollands Road, Reepham, from closure.
A planning application for a change of use of the property from commercial to residential was refused by Broadland District Council planning committee at a meeting on 27 February.
The applicants, Mr and Mrs Garron and Helen Monk of Land of Green Ginger, Dereham Road, Reepham, had proposed to convert the pub into a five-bedroom residential dwelling.
The Crown has been up for sale for the past two years on the basis of existing use. The owner, Punch Taverns, is trying to sell around 400 pubs across the country this year in an effort to reduce debts of more than £2 billion.
The planning meeting was reminded that, under a key planning policy, proposals for change of use or re-development of a public house in a rural area will not be permitted unless “it can be demonstrated that the public house has been marketed for a reasonable period and no reasonable offers have been received” and “that the business is not economically viable”.
Broadland head of planning Phil Courtier said allowing a change of use of The Crown would result in the loss of a community facility and a local business, and would reduce customer choice for both eating and drinking facilities within Reepham.
He added: “Although there are two other public house/drinking establishments within the town, this particular premises provides the base for social functions, activities and facilities that are not currently provided elsewhere.”
It was also noted that a change of use would result in the loss of several jobs, which would have a direct impact on the local economy. Further, the loss of a food, drink and leisure facility for the community and for tourists visiting the town and using the nearby Marriott’s Way would have an indirect negative impact on the wider economy of Reepham.
Broadland District Councillor and vice chairman of Reepham Town Council Chris Wheeler was delighted with the outcome of the planning application. “I believe the pub’s survival is an essential part of Reepham life and for the community in general,” he said.
At its meeting on 13 March, the Town Council stressed that it could not become involved in the purchase or management of a commercial business, such as The Crown. (This can only occur under very specific conditions, which the Council currently does not fulfil, such as having two-thirds of its councillors elected.)
Cllr Edwin Rose warned that the Council must be careful in offering any help to The Crown in view of the other drinking establishments within Reepham – the King’s Arms and the Old Brewery House Hotel.
Meanwhile, Cllr David Patience noted that moves are under way to redraft planning policy at a national level in an effort to resist the change of use for pubs.
However, unless a community group emerges within the next few months, it is unlikely that a future proposal for a change of use of The Crown would be refused, according to Town Council chairman Les Paterson.
If it can be demonstrated to be a commercially viable business without the support of a major pub chain, the hope is that customers can somehow generate the funds required to buy the pub. “The choice is theirs,” he said. “We have won that opportunity for them.”
A spokesperson for property agents Everard Cole confirmed that no one has come forward to buy The Crown on an existing use basis. Several offers have been received, but these have all been for residential use, he said, adding that Punch Taverns is currently reviewing the planning notice and that no decision has been made regarding the future of the business.
It is also not yet known if the applicants for the change of use will appeal against the planning committee’s decision.
See our earlier stories:
Plans for The Crown to be turned into housing
Fight starts to save The Crown