The Villagers (Volunteer)
A pub has stood in our village for over 150 years - almost since the village was founded. Our older residents will remember we once had two shops and a further pub, which have all been closed for years.
Following ruinous ownership and management, the pub closed its doors 10 years ago. During this time, the BVS Pub Committee has worked hard to retain its status as an asset that has community value against developers determined to convert it to residential use, with the sole aim of financial gain. The BVS has supported that aim by nominating the Villagers as an Asset of Community Value, and those efforts have been successful in achieving that end result.
To provide a unique local community pub/cafe serving the needs of villagers throughout the day and early evening, with a mixture of beverages and good food, possibly meeting rooms and fast WIFI. So many of us are now working from home and studies suggest that many are planning to continue working from home for at least part of the week. It would be such a benefit to have this type of community facility on our doorstep to be enjoyed by the villagers and local visitors to Blackheath Common. The Pub Committee believe that this vision is shared both by villagers and by residents of the nearby villages.
The Planning application WA/2017/1853 made to Waverley Borough Council by Lux Homes was based on the premise that it would develop the site as a smaller pub and Condition 2 provided protection in maintaining this facility as a licensed commercial establishment: “Prior to the commencement of the development, details of the internal refurbishment to the public house have been submitted to and approved by the Local Planning Authority. This also requires the public house to be completed and refurbished in line with the approved specification and plans within six months of the date of the first occupation of one of the cottages”.
The public house should have completed in line with Condition 2 of the planning consent by May 2021. This alleged breach may now be subject to investigation by the Planning Enforcement Team. The most recent planning application WA/2020/1995 was refused under delegated powers. “The applicant has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate the facility is no longer required or that suitable alternative uses have been considered. The proposal therefore fails to comply with Policy ICS1 of the Local Plan (Part1) 2018 and paragraph 93 of the NPPF 2021.”
The Relevance of the Asset of Community Value
Following a substantial indication of support from villagers, the Blackheath Village Society provided a written submission to nominate the Villagers Public House as an Asset of Community Value on 13 August 2020, and on 5 November 2020 Waverley agreed to include the Villagers Public House on the list of ACV.
Since the Villagers has now been listed as an Asset of Community Value, the owners are obliged to inform Waverley of any intended sale (a Relevant Disposal) in which case the village will have an opportunity for a period of six months to negotiate a price to purchase the property under Section 95 of the Localism Act 2011.
UPDATE 31 January 2024:
The BVS has continued to monitor developments in relation to the property and Waverley Borough Council has continued to recognise the importance of retaining the property as a focal hub for the benefit of the local community. Consequently, despite the protracted planning history, the property has continued to retain its status as an Asset of Community Value.
A new application for change of use of the property and to combine the property with the adjoining property in which the owner currently resides has now finally been lodged on the 23rd January and can be accessed on the Waverley Borough Council portal (under the heading Volunteer Arms) under the reference WA/2024/00149. The Council currently requires any comments or objections to be lodged by the 18thFebruary. However, the BVS is applying for this very short period to be extended given the importance of the matter to the local community and the protracted time that has been taken to reach this position.
The BVS believe that the current application is to all intents and purposes the same as that which has already been rejected by the Waverley planning authorities and see no reason why this new application should be treated any differently. Indeed, it could be said on that basis that the owner should not have been allowed to make this application.
The BVS are strongly of the view that despite the protracted planning history of this matter, the original view endorsed by over 80% of the local community remains the same i.e. it is important to retain the property as a local hub for the benefit of the local community. It can even be argued that this is now even more important in view of the Covid generated realisation that home and/or local working arrangements are becoming more prevalent. The BVS consider that a local licensed hub that also provides a range of facilities such as coffee, snacks etc during the day and early evening will be beneficial to the local community and restore a valued community asset that is in danger of being lost. Such facilities can already be seen to have benefitted other communities in the locality even when based on a more limited floor space (e.g. the Hill Top Kitchen in Bramley, The Forge in Shamley Green and Hilly's in Shere). Furthermore, the BVS understands that such a facility would attract the necessary investment interest from various quarters were the property to be valued, as it should be, as a commercial rather than as a residential asset.
Any comments must be lodged by 18 February 2024 on their website at www.waverley.gov.uk/planning
The property still retains Asset of Community Value status, and we remain committed to re-open the building as a community hub with a licensed pub/cafe.
UPDATE 7th November 2022:
Waverley Borough Council served the Breach of Condition Notice.
Carry out works on the Land so to comply with the details discharged under condition 2 of WA/2017/1853 which are plan ‘Pub Layout - Dec 18 - 16-C1367-101 and document entitled ‘The Villagers Inn- General Specification’ (Ascot Design, Dec 2018).
To ensure that the public house is provided in accordance with the submitted details, in accordance with the objectives of Policy CF1 of the Local Plan and guidance contained in the National Planning Policy Framework. The property still retains the Asset of Community Value status as a public house and the owners have 6 months to comply with the Notice.
The BVS and Pub Committee remain committed to seeking the re-opening of the property as a pub/cafe.
The popularity of the Cricket Club (in particular for junior players’ parents) and social media (nextdoor.co.uk) has increased the awareness of Blackheath Common, as a place to come to walk and enjoy throughout the year. Furthermore, the recent surge in the volume of traffic as a result of Covid-19 restrictions has highlighted this issue even further. This is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed and, as a village, the BVS recognizes that we need to mobilise and promote the argument that parking really needs to be directed away from built up areas in Blackheath village, while still encouraging people to enjoy the Heath.
The Pub committee will be negotiating with the Hon Peter Herbert to ensure that the proposed pub/café will have rights to use the car park, but on the basis that this will still be available for use by the general public for walking, etc. as has been the case in the past. However, it is intended that there will be signage in the car park encouraging the use of other locations away from the built-up area, including the Littleford Lane car park.
Far from being a destination pub or gastro pub, our intention is to operate a local pub/café, serving the locals and loved by the locals. Importantly, it will not be a venue that attracts people from a substantial distance outside the locality.
We believe that the commercial viability of the pub relies upon the buy-in of the local community, hence the local focus is paramount. In addition to creating the right atmosphere, our intention is to get the local community “invested” in the success of the venture through a number of initiatives including:
Discounted food and drinks for local residents;
A share of business profits distributed to the village society;
Employment for local residents;
A meaningful voice in the pub’s service offering; and
The hosting of local activities/events.
We hope to create the opportunity for either the community or another operator to re-open the public house as a café/pub. We will never know if we do not try and refer to a local residents’ point in the planning submission to Waverley Borough Council: “Providing the pub/cafe building is presented in the best possible configuration, despite its small size, it should be given at least a chance to work. Given the massive social changes we are experiencing I believe it will thrive and be a vital community asset to many. If the small pub/cafe/shop ultimately fails then that is the time to consider a change of use “