Sunday, 26 September 2021

Man ordered to pay £4,670 for living at former pub unlawfully

A MAN has been ordered to pay £4,670 for continuing to live at a former village pub unlawfully.

Satwinder Sandhu, who moved into the White Lion at Crays Pond with his family in October 2013, has been fined £2,500 for ignoring South Oxfordshire District Council’s demand that he moves out as he doesn’t have planning permission for a change of use.

He was also ordered to pay the council’s costs of £2,000 and a victim surcharge of £170 following a hearing at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Thursday last week.

Sandhu, 45, denied disobeying the council’s enforcement notice, saying he had ceased “unauthorised” use of the former Greene King pub by only using the living quarters used by the previous landlords.

He said he was working towards re-opening the pub and had obtained a premises licence from the council as well as undergoing training at a pub in Reading.

But the council said its officer had visited earlier this year and saw evidence of trading areas being used for family living. One area was being used as a kitchen and others were serving as utility rooms.

The council issued the notice in July 2014 after denying Sandhu retrospective permission to use the White Lion as a house.

It originally gave him a year to leave but he appealed only for a planning inspector to uphold the council’s decision, giving Sandhu until July last year to move out.

In December he was fined £1,000 and ordered to pay £500 costs for disobeying the notice. Sandhu, who previously lived in Huddersfield, where he owned a pharmacy, told the court  he bought the old pub with the intention of converting it into an Indian restaurant but then realised this would not be viable.

He said: “As a pharmacist, I was working seven days a week and doing really well.

“I sold that business as I wanted a career break as well as a better life for our children. I thought I understood what we could do here but unfortunately it became clear that it wouldn’t work out.

“I then didn’t see our children for two months while my wife and I made alternative arrangements.

“We didn’t know what to do as we’d spent £600,000, all our life savings, on the premises. We had costed the conversion but hadn’t fully investigated the viability.”

Sandhu said he tried to sell or rent the premises but no one expressed an interest.

He said he still had doubts about its viability as a pub as two independent assessments, including one commissioned by the council, had said it couldn’t survive.

Sandhu said: “We’re left with a property that can’t be sold or rented and isn’t viable as a public house as we have the evidence. I have no experience in that sector as I prefer to be on the other side of the bar, not behind it.

“However, I’ve spent the last four months working in a bar because if I’m going to make a go of it, I need to learn the basic skills or I’ve lost before I’ve even started.”

Poonam Pattni, prosecuting, said this was irrelevant as the court’s job was not to assess the fairness of the enforcement notice but only to decide if he was complying with it.

She said: “Would it be fair to say you just don’t like what the planning inspector had to say, that you don’t agree and so you don’t want to comply?”

Sandhu said the inspector had refused his earlier bid to convert the premises into a house, not his current plan to live there while running a pub.

Ms Pattni said he couldn’t prove there was no interest in the premises as he didn’t give details of the terms he had offered.

She said: “It is very clear. Mr Sandhu has had the notice for two-and-a-half years. He has sought to comply with the previous planning use but this is simply a matter of enforcement. The notice is valid and has not been quashed by a senior court.”

Lead magistrate Anne Pappenheim said: “I accept the law as presented by the district council, which prevents questioning the validity of the notice.

“The residential use was unauthorised as the premises was not open as a public house, which constituted a material change of use without planning permission.”

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “We’re pleased that he has been found guilty but given how long he has lived there, his fine is effectively a very cheap rent. He is making a mockery of the planning system and I’m sure the district council will continue pursuing him.

“We just want the pub to
re-open and, given the success of once-threatened pubs like the Sun at Whitchurch Hill, we don’t think that’s unrealistic.”

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