Monday, 27 September 2021

Residents demand action over unlawful use of pub

RESIDENTS are demanding that a man who has lived at a former village pub without permission for almost five years is evicted.

They have criticised South Oxfordshire District Council for not forcing Satwinder Sandhu and his family out of the White Lion at Crays Pond, which they moved into after buying it in 2013.

Mr Sandu failed to get permission for a change of use from a business to a house and has been prosecuted twice for failing to obey an enforcement notice, which resulted in him being ordered to pay more than £6,100 in fines and costs.

Despite this, he has not left the premises nor re-opened the pub.

David Keeley, from Whitchurch Hill, has written to the council to complain that the problem has still not been resolved.

“It appears Mr Sandhu is treating the council with contempt,” he said. “If I am correct, he has paid fines and costs amounting to a sum far less than he would have had to pay in rent for another property if he had moved out.

“This is totally unsatisfactory and must be resolved, upholding the law of the land.

“Why has the council apparently wasted time and money bringing two court cases against Mr Sandhu and failed to enforce the decision of the court on both occasions?

“I am aware of other planning infringements that have been vigorously enforced so why has Mr Sandhu been treated specially?

“If you were a council taxpayer living in our area, would you continue to willingly pay your council tax to an organisation that does not appear to be doing its job?”

Bill Pechey, of Crays Pond, also wrote to the council threatening to make a formal complaint.

He accused it of a “perceived lack of action” and “lack of progress”.

The council says it hasn’t dropped the matter and is seeking specialist advice on what to do next.

Senior lawyer Ian Price said: “I understand the frustration of residents that there is an enforcement notice requiring the owner to cease a particular use, that twice he has been convicted for not complying, and yet — it would seem to all who are concerned about this — the breach continues unabated.

“In these circumstances it is incumbent upon the council to consider very carefully our next steps. As a public authority, if we decide further action is necessary, we must consider what would likely be most appropriate in terms of proportionality and effectiveness.”

He said the council could not order Mr Sandhu to re-open the pub but that gathering evidence of unauthorised use to a standard that would sustain a prosecution was “not necessarily straightforward”.

The council’s powers were “fairly limited” and while it did have a default power to enter the premises this should only be a last resort and would not be appropriate in this case.

Mr Price added: “We are mindful of the keen interest that residents have in seeing ‘something being done’ but I must stress we are dealing with matters of due process, possibly involving legal proceedings, where evidence must be gathered according to certain rules and within certain parameters.

“In these circumstances, I’m afraid it may not be possible to provide the sort of updates that residents feel we should but I can confirm this case is very much a live one and the next steps are subject to active consideration between our planning and legal teams.”

Mr Sandhu, a businessman originally from Huddersfield, said he bought the premises with a view to opening an Indian restaurant but was then advised this would not be viable.

As part of his retrospective planning application, which he lost on appeal following a public inquiry, he commissioned a report which claimed a pub wouldn’t survive on the site.

The district council commissioned a second report which it hoped would contradict this but in fact reached the same conclusion.

Villagers say the business had thrived under the management of Stuart and Caroline Pierrepont and more recent struggles were down to poor management.

Two years ago, Mr Sandhu sought permission to re-open the business with housing on the site, which he said was necessary to turn a profit as pub income alone wouldn’t sustain it. This was refused.

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “We understand that the district council may need to keep its cards close to its chest to avoid prejudicing a future legal action.

“There’s a risk that they could use this to conceal inaction but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.

“However, we understand residents’ concerns and are supportive of their desire to get some answers.”

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