A couple who bought the Lazy Otter pub with no intention of doing anything with it other than living there, have been refused permission to turn it into a house.

East Cambridgeshire District Council concluded closing the Stretham pub “would result in the loss of a community facility”.

Planners told Stephen and Rita Walsh they had “has failed to demonstrate that the facility is neither viable nor likely to become viable for its current community use or an alternative community use”.

For good measure the council added that the couple had failed to provide sufficient evidence that the premises have been adequately marketed for community purposes.

The council told them the “unjustified loss of a community facility” was contrary to established planning policies.

Mrs Walsh claimed that the reason The Lazy Otter closed down was because “not enough people used it.

“If a fraction of the people who signed the petition came regularly it probably wouldn’t have closed.”

The petition attracted over 800 signatures.

Mrs Walsh claimed the Lazy Otter had been marketed for years before they viewed it.

Mrs Walsh said it had been advertised as pub for £600,00 before the asking price dropped to £475,000 for the freehold only.

"Still without a sale, a final viewing day was arranged with a deadline for offers.

“Only two others turned up and we believe we were the only ones to put in an offer,” she said.

Wisbech Standard: Couple refused permission to turn Lazy Otter into a houseCouple refused permission to turn Lazy Otter into a house (Image: Archant)

Mrs Walsh insisted that “we definitely had no intention of re-opening it as a pub.

“It was a topic of conversation we had on more than one occasion with both the owners and the agent. We purposely asked that if it was going to be a problem, we would not enter an offer.

“They told us making an offer wouldn’t be a problem and the agent reminded us that we just needed to obtain the correct planning approval.”

But the district council has vetoed that application and cast both their future – and what becomes of the pub – into doubt.

The council is adamant that to justify the loss of a public house, the application must demonstrate, among other things, it is not viable.

It also requires evidence of a pub being marketed and that “reasonable efforts” have been to sell or let the property for community purposes at a realistic price for at least ta year

Planners' say this has not happened.

The council accepts an attempt was made to re-open the pub in March 2020 but that it closed in line with government Covid restrictions.

In March 2021 it was put up for sale.

When no offers were received the price was reduced.

"When this was unsuccessful the pub was made available for closed bids following a final viewing day in October 2021.

“No documentary evidence has been provided in respect of the above account of the marketing of the property.

“In any case, based on the narrative account, the property was put on the market in March 2021 and sold shortly after October 2021.”

The report adds: “This does not meet the requirements for a 12-month marketing period.

“Furthermore, no information of evidence has been provided in respect of the valuation of the property nor whether this price was agreed with the council following a professional valuation.”

Bad news for the buyers continued.

The report adds: “No evidence has been provided that there was no interest from any party in purchasing and running the premises as a pub.

“No evidence has been provided that all reasonable efforts have been made to preserve the facility including all diversification options.”

And the council says there was no financial information, such as trading accounts for the pub, provided to evidence that it is not financially viable.

Wisbech Standard: Couple refused permission to turn Lazy Otter into a houseCouple refused permission to turn Lazy Otter into a house (Image: Archant)

East Cambs Council says the Covid restrictions “may well have had a particular suppressive effect on the level of interest in a pubic house which are unlikely to persist.

“It is therefore considered that the application has failed to demonstrate that, in the terms of the Local Plan the pub is ‘neither viable nor likely to become viable’”.