Revelation puts halt to controversial plan for 240-year-old Calderdale pub

The Yew Tree Inn at Northowram Green, Northowram (Google Street View)
The Yew Tree Inn at Northowram Green, Northowram (Google Street View)

What’s in a name? Lots, as it turned out, when a councillor revealed a signature on a controversial planning application appeared to render it invalid.

Calderdale Council’s Planning Committee deferred controversial plans from a housing association to convert a 240-year-old pub into two supported living apartments following Coun Peter Caffrey’s revelation at Halifax Town Hall – prompting loud cheers from opponents of the proposal.

Highstone Housing Association wants to convert the Yew Tree Inn at Northowram Green, Northowram, into the accommodation but the application is fiercely opposed by those who claim when it shut as a pub it was as a thriving and viable business also used for many community events, including the Northowram Scarecrow Festival.

Opposition to the housing association plans include those who signed a 1,300 petition.

The decision to defer it came after officers conferred when Northowram and Shelf ward councillor Coun Caffrey, who had spoken against the application, brandished a copy of the planning application form’s ownership declaration.

He said the declaration requires the applicant to certify that it or they have owned the property for at least 21 days prior to the application being submitted.

Coun Caffrey (Con) said it had been signed by a person assumed to be a manager on behalf of Highstone Housing Association which was stated to be the applicant.

But, he said, the applicant does not actually own the property nor does the manager in a personal capacity with Highstone Housing Association having very little in terms of tangible assets.

He said the property was actually owned by a completely separate company, Highstone Homes Ltd, which was a property investment company.

The housing association claims that after advertising the pub’s tenancy for many months without finding an applicant with suitable confidence in its future, it was decided to put it up for sale.

This was disputed at the meeting by Coun Caffrey who argued on planning grounds there was no need for the assisted living facility in the area and the council had registered the pub as an asset of community value (ACV).

It did not meet change of use criteria, he said.

The Yew Tree Inn was a very busy pub when it closed and had a full programme of events lined up beyond the closing date and showed an email from agent Fleurets to a potential buyer saying then owner Enterprise Inns would rather see it go for alternate use than as a pub but as the then tenant was improving trade Fleurets operations people “may not agree and want it retained.”

Coun Caffrey claimed Enterprise wanted to sell to the property investor company and did so at a price £45,000 less than an offer to buy it as a pub by another party – itself evidence of viability – and showed the committee a letter containing the information about the offer.

The general public was largely unaware of any sale of the building until advised by the landlord on July 25 last year. Within a week the ACV application had far more signatures than needed, said Coun Cafferty.

“But the opportunity to set up a community based enterprise was denied by default as contracts were conveniently exchanged on August 3 as the vendors got wind of the pending application,” he said.

Coun Caffrey said the purchasers had submitted the marketing report and other information with the planning application in good faith – “but this does not alter the fact that the conditions required for change of use have not been met,” he said.

Information in the briefing paper prepared for councillors read: “Fleurets, on behalf of the applicant, has said two parties were interested but felt it wasn’t viable on the returns it would be likely to generate: ‘Due to the high number of pubs in the area and shrinking customer base the area arguably has too many sites for the amount of trade to go round…

“’Many would argue this is because of onerous rents but ultimately the pub companies are not charities and there has to be a viable income generated for both landlord and tenant.'”

Coun Caffrey said the council had mixed messages on the application, having agreed The Yew Tree should be subject to ACH status but the Adults, Health and Social Care directorate backing the conversion to assisted living apartments, support which concerned residents.

After Coun Caffrey made his point about the signature, officers looked at the application online and recommended the committee defer a decision for checks to be made.

Following the meeting Coun Caffrey said issues with the signature might mean the applicant having to re-apply but that did not detract from his argument that the application did not meet the conditions for changing the use of the building.