Villagers fight to stop change of use for pub

Five Bells, Upwell

Five Bells at Upwell near Wisbech already closed as a pub - and owners want retrospective planning consent from West Norfolk Council to keep it as an upmarket holiday let. But a decision is yet to be made. And many oppose the idea. - Credit: Sykes Cottages

Villagers rallying to save a pub from being turned into an upmarket holiday let are considering whether to get it listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) and halt the planning application.  

West Norfolk Council has been informed by an Upwell villager – who is also a local planning consultant – that a formal application for the Five Bells to be given ACV status is on its way.  

Graeme Seaton says the village is considering “applying for the Five Bells public house and restaurant to be designated an Asset of Community Value”. 

He said a zoom meeting had taken place between “interested parties” and a formal application is on its way.  

An ACV is in the first stage in identifying and nominating buildings or other assets that have a main use or purpose of furthering the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, and could do so into the future. 

Once listed as Assets of Community Value with the local authority, the local community will be informed if they are listed for sale within the five-year listing period.  

Crucially the community can enact the Community Right to Bid, which gives them a moratorium period of six months to determine if they can raise the finance to purchase the asset. 

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West Norfolk Council has now extended the deadline for deciding the change of use application to May 31.  

Agents for the owners told the council that the ACV application will be challenged.  

The council accepts the view thee pub may not have been profitable under the current ownership/ management. 

However they also the agents that “it may be able to be so under other proprietors or there may be alternative community uses for that building, and this has not been investigated”.  

The council view is that they have not been provided with “sufficient evidence / justification that it is not viable or feasible to retain this as a community facility use”.  They have asked the agents to provided additional information.  

The council says it is not certain yet whether the application for change of use will be dealt with under delegated powers or go to the planning committee.  

The parish council says they have made clear to West Norfolk Council “the strong opposition from a significant number of local residents to the application to change the use of the Five Bells Public House.  

“The pub is situated at the heart of the village, has been on the same site for more than 250 years and attracts and promotes significant traffic from the waterway running through the village.  

“Our new Neighbourhood Plan stresses the importance of maintaining access to community facilities and preserving our attractive village centre.” 

The parish council says that while it does not want to see a closed up and unused building in the centre of the village it is keen to support the idea of retaining the Five Bells as a working public house. 

But the council says it also “recognises the apparent financial challenges the pub has suffered in its recent history, both with the existing and previous owners.  

“However, the contravention of the Neighbourhood Plan may be a material matter affecting the decision to approve or reject; our planning group were divided on this point”.  

The parish council says they “very much hope that, should the application be approved, the opportunity remains for a local group or entity to work with the existing owners in developing a business plan to allow the Five Bells to reopen as a Public House once again in the future. 

“We would urge the provision of planning conditions which would protect the building infrastructure to safeguard it’s future use should the opportunity for reopening arise”. 

More than 100 letters have been received by West Norfolk Borough Council commenting on the application, the majority opposing the change of use.  

Business partners Christopher Robinson and James Brighty bought the Five Bells at Upwell in 2014.  

But they have told the council that “after several years of declining profitability” it is no longer viable as a country pub.  

Instead, they opted to turn it into a holiday let for groups – it is being advertised on websites at prices ranging from £5,000 to £9,000 a week.  

They have told planners there is a “pressing financial and operational need (Covid 19 aside) to regularise the new use and start generating income to cover the investment. 

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