A village pub dating back to the 18th century can be converted into a supported living unit despite efforts to save it as an asset of community value.
Objectors to Highstone Housing Association’s plans to convert the Yew Tree Inn at Northowram, near Halifax, into two supported living units were almost successful.
Mustered by ward councillor Coun Peter Caffrey (Con, Northowram and Shelf), they argued that under policy CF5 of the council’s own planning rules sufficient effort to retain premises they believed viable had not been made and therefore it should be rejected.
They were close to success – when Calderdale Council’s Planning Committee met to decide the issue last night (Tuesday, March 19) councillors were split 3-3 and the project was ultimately given the go-ahead on the casting vote of committee chair Coun Steve Sweeney (Lab, Todmorden).
Arguments were not so much about the new future for the building at Northowram Green but about how its previous use had come to an end.
The council itself had registered the pub as an asset of community value (ACV) but the ACV status was outweighed by evidence the premises did not have a viable future as a public house, said planning officers.
But Coun Caffrey said information supplied by residents, including from e-mails marked “restricted”, contradicted that provided by the applicant.
“The planning officers’ report which you have does not dispute the contents of these exchanges but indicates that it is not admissible as permission to disclose it has not been provided.
“The fact that the information is not admissible does not mean it does not exist or is not factually correct but simply that it cannot be published.
“Given the content of the exchanges it is fully understood why the marketing agent would not want it in the public domain,” he said.
Coun Caffrey said objectors strongly disputed there were no buyers for the premises as a pub or equivalent.
“We accept the offers may not have been as high as the price paid by the investment company but do not believe developers should simply be able to challenge the council’s own guidelines as clearly laid out in CF5 of the revised unitary development plan because they have demonstrated the financial clout to do so,” he said.
Objectors argued it was viable as a business, had been improving further right up until the moment of closure and had events organised beyond that date.
It was often used as a community base, including major events like the Northowram Scarecrow Festival, they had claimed.
Officers, in the briefing papers prepared for councillors, say that there was a clear dispute between objectors and applicants’ evidence about the pub’s viability with previous owners Enterprise Inns wanting to sell it.
But on balance the criteria for allowing the application had been met as the business did not have a viable future as a pub or similar.
A spokesman for the objectors and Coun Caffrey both said they strongly disputed this.
Of four tests under policy CF5 – that planning applications involving the loss of an amenity like a pub have to meet – include that there is no need for the facility in the area, that it is no longer a viable business, that all reasonable efforts have been made to retain it (including the possibility of setting up a community owned management enterprise) and that there is no reasonable prospect of the business becoming viable in the future – the report claimed to have ticked only one of those boxes, and that assertion was heavily challenged, said Coun Caffrey.
People, including some among the objectors, were willing to pay cash for the building, invest in it and run it as a pub.
Coun Caffrey also said the pub’s historical significance as an asset should not be ignored, with Northowram Historical Society research showing it had been a hostelry since 1770 with even names of landlords and landladies given.
There were plenty of other closed or derelict pubs in Calderdale that could be bought and converted if more accommodation of this variety was needed, he concluded.
An agent for the applicant declined the opportunity to address the meeting.
Another council directorate, Adults’ and Children’s Services, supported the application because there was a very high demand for this type of specialist accommodation: “We want to continue to develop good quality accommodation within accessible locations in Calderdale to ensure that there is an adequate supply of suitable housing for people with a learning disability.”