Sunday, 25 August 2019

Brewery future still uncertain

Brewery future still uncertain

THE future of a Henley microbrewery is uncertain after plans to turn part of it into flats were approved on appeal.

The brewery shed and retail storage building at Lovibonds Brewery, off Market Place, were saved last summer after David Fitz-John’s application for seven one-bedroom flats was rejected.

South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, said the development would result in the loss of an “essential” community facility.

But Mr Fitz-John, of Goring Heath, has won his appeal after a planning inspector ruled in his favour.

In his decision Stephen Papworth said: “The appeal premises are not the last, or even nearly the last, community facility in Henley that serves drinks, provides a place for like-minded people to meet and which provides live-music, although submissions have been made as to the nature of other places and the size of bands accommodated.

“On the evidence available, the loss of the community facility would not be likely to cause harm to the viability and vitality of Henley town centre, nor jeopardise the operation of the rural economy.

“The use of this part of the site as a drinking establishment with live music, together with the other activities referred to, is not fundamental to the quality and convenience of everyday life in the settlement, and the number of establishments of this nature in the vicinity is not so limited as to be able to conclude that the Lovibonds operation at the premises reaches the standard required to be classed as an ‘essential community facility’.

“Whilst not strictly needing to be addressed, there is suitable alternative provision providing similar facilities of equivalent community value elsewhere in the locality.”

Former mayor and current town councillor Glen Lambert, who campaigned to save the brewery, said: “I think it’s very unfortunate – it’s a unique venue and there isn’t another one like it in town.

“This isn’t entirely surprising. The developer can simply reapply and reapply and appeal and they only have to win one.

“If the landlord was determined enough he was going to get his own way eventually but it’s come sooner than we thought.

“The town centre has lost a unique venue there and it’s disappointing the planning inspector hasn’t realised that.”

Councillor Lambert said meetings were being held to discuss a way forward.

He added: “If the business fails to stop its eviction from the site it would either have to find another location in the town, which would inevitably be smaller, or move out meaning the town centre would lose its only brewery.

“I can’t actually think of a venue in town that is as large as the Lovibonds site at the moment.

“Its unique selling point was it was right in the town centre. It attracts people to the town and you see new faces all the same time.

“There’s obviously a lot of disappointed people and we’re waiting to see what happens next.”

Meanwhile, other town councillors expressed dismay at the decision at a planning committee meeting on Tuesday night.

Councillor Laurence Plant called it “ludicrous”.

“It couldn’t have been more supported and through the appeal process as well,” he said.

Councillor Michelle Thomas added: “This is really the end of the road now. There’s nothing else we can do about this – it’s the last stop.”

Mayor and planning committee chairman Ken Arlett said: “It just depends if the applicant wishes to build them or wishes to sell the site on with planning permission.”

Residents and town councillors were opposed to the proposals, which could have led to the demise of the brewery after more than 100 years in the town.

It sparked a wave of objections, including 165 from residents, as well as two petitions with 185 and 279 signatures.

Mr Fitz-John already has consent to convert the first floor offices and the existing residential accommodation at the front of the site into four flats.

He wants to create seven more by demolishing the lean-to brewery shed and retail storage building and removing the internal walls and stairs in the shop.

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