Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Village pub back on market but owner fears it will fail

THE owner of the former White Lion at Crays Pond has put it back on the market.

THE owner of the former White Lion at Crays Pond has put it back on the market.

Satwinder Sandhu is offering a lease of between 15 and 20 years on the premises, where he is currently living without planning permission.

He is asking for an annual rent of about £35,000, which he would review every five years.

The businessman is advertising through Fleurets, a leisure property specialist, as he says there has been no interest from local operators.

But he says he isn’t convinced that the location is viable so he isn’t prepared to run the business himself.

The former Greene King pub shut in 2013 and Mr Sandhu bought it with plans to re-open it as an Indian restaurant.

He was advised that the business was likely to fail so he stripped out the interior and converted the premises into his family home.

He then applied for retrospective permission, which was refused by South Oxfordshire District Council in 2014 and again on appeal last summer. Mr Sandhu has until August to move out and says he is looking for other places to live.

The property is a designated asset of community value, meaning he must give the community six months to put a bid together if it goes on the market.

Mr Sandhu said he had been advertising the lease through the village’s newsletter but without success.

He said: “I’ve been asking people locally for many months to get in touch if they think they could make a go of it.

“At the appeal hearing, several opponents claimed it could achieve a £1million turnover but nobody has come forward since then. I’d even consider selling the site but no one seems interested. There was a lot of negative talk but no one is putting their money where their mouth is.”

In the years leading up to its closure, the White Lion repeatedly shut and re-opened under a succession of landlords who failed to turn a profit.

Mr Sandhu’s opponents say it thrived in the early 2000s and there were exceptional reasons for its later troubles.

But he said the business would struggle because of growing pressure on pubs to provide food and competition from supermarkets selling cheaper alcohol.

He said there were better pubs in neighbouring villages which would take passing trade and the White Lion was unlikely to survive on local custom alone.

He said his lease meant the pub would be a free house and he would not demand a share of the turnover.

Mr Sandu said: “I’m a businessman and wouldn’t run the premises myself. I don’t want to impose failure on anyone else but if that’s the only way to prove my case, it shouldn’t be on my conscience but the district council’s.

“The rateable value for the property is excessive but the council hasn’t thought to reduce it, even though there’s a clear will locally to re-open the pub.

“If there is any interest, I absolutely intend to rent it out and would want the community to support it. If anybody can prove me wrong, that would be fantastic.”

Fiona O’Brien, who led the Save the White Lion campaign, said she had not seen any advertisements for the lease.

She said: “There isn’t even a sign outside the premises, which would be an obvious way to generate interest.

“The premises are no good as a leasehold. Who would pay all that money to a landlord when they would have to rebuild the interior?”

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