A BUSINESSMAN was told to stop converting a village pub into a house within weeks of
A BUSINESSMAN was told to stop converting a village pub into a house within weeks of buying it, a planning inspector heard.
Satwinder Sandhu took over the White Lion at Crays Pond in October 2013 and was ordered to seek planning permission for a change of use a month later.
South Oxfordshire District Council rejected his application in March 2014 and gave him a year to vacate the property, where he is living with his family.
Mr Sandhu, a former pub landlord, appealed in August and a public hearing was held at Howbery Business Park in Crowmarsh Gifford on Tuesday. Several dozen objectors were present and more chairs had to be found as the attendance was higher than expected.
Mr Sandhu, who moved to the area from Huddersfield, said he had initially planned to turn the White Lion into an Indian restaurant but changed his mind after realising it would have been too difficult.
He told planning inspector Jeremy Sargent: “The biggest issue was getting Indian staff into Crays Pond, which I didn’t appreciate before I moved in.
“There is no bus service to the village and it would be very difficult for them to get accommodation locally.” Mr Sandhu said he considered re-opening the pub but a study he commissioned in November 2013 said this would not be viable. He then decided to convert the premises into a house.
However, South Oxfordshire District Council planning officer Kim Langford told the inquiry that Mr Sandhu had started ripping out the pub kitchen immediately after moving in.
Following complaints from neighbours, council officials visited the site in October and were satisfied that he was turning it into a residence.
Ms Langford said the pub was an “essential community facility” and urged the application to be rejected.
Mr Sandhu said the White Lion was no longer viable and five landlords had thrown in the towel between 2011 and its closure in August 2013.
He said: “I went there a couple of times before buying it and it was very quiet.
“There were only two or three people having a few pints. That’s why I made up my mind to try and run it as an Indian restaurant.”
Objectors said Stuart and Caroline Pierrepont, who ran the pub until 2008, had been successful and brought in about £750,000 a year before outgoings.
They said the Highwayman in Exlade Street had been thriving for many years despite briefly closing in 2007 and being in a more secluded location.
Mr Sandhu said: “We have no audited accounts from the Pierreponts and I’d like to see a profit and loss sheet so I can break it down. Why would you sell a business if you’re pulling in that kind of money? It wouldn’t make any sense.”
He said there were pubs close by in Woodcote, Whitchurch Hill and Goring.
“Walkers and cyclists often negotiate their way to those pubs,” he said. “If I want a drink I get in my car and pick up a friend before we go off somewhere.”
Ms Langford said these pubs were “quite a distance” from Crays Pond and there were no pavements so pedestrians would have to walk on verges or in the road.
She said the road to Woodcote included a steep slope and was unlit so would be especially dangerous on winter nights.
Resident Sid Allen said: “Without the White Lion, we’ve got nothing in the village apart from houses. If this appeal is allowed it will destroy the community.”
The inspector will make a decision later this year.
• The former Greene King pub is now registered as an asset of community value, meaning that if it is put back up for sale, the community will have six months to put together a bid to buy it.