Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Pub ‘re-opens’ days before court hearing

Pub ‘re-opens’ days before court hearing

THE White Lion at Crays Pond “re-opened” just days before the owner faced being evicted for living at the former pub without permission.

The former Greene King pub is now trading as Whisky Haveli, a bar which exclusively sells whisky for consumption on the premises or to take away.

Satwinder Sandhu opened the business on Tuesday last week, just three days before a hearing at the High Court where South Oxfordshire District Council was seeking an injunction ordering the him and his family to leave.

The hearing was postponed after Mr Sandhu, who represented himself, argued the council hadn’t clearly explained what he needed to do to comply with an enforcement notice it issued in 2014.

The council was given until today (Friday) to provide the information and the case will be reconvened early in the new year. If the injunction is granted, it will be a criminal offence to disobey it.

Mr Sandhu bought the White Lion soon after it closed in 2013 and began converting it into a family home without planning permission for a change of use. He appealed unsuccessfully against the enforcement notice and was later prosecuted for failing to comply.

The council says he must re-open the pub as a “drinking establishment.”

Mr Sandhu is believed to have opened Whisky Haveli — an Indian word for an ornate townhouse or mansion — in a bid to meet the requirement.

But opponents says it is not an acceptable substitute for the pub and claim the family is still living there.

The bar is advertised by two small hoardings at the site. Signs say the bar is open from 6pm to 10pm from Tuesday to Saturday.

The front room has been turned back into a bar with tables and seating where about six brands of whisky are offered along with mixers and drinking water.

A notice says there is also a function room but customers who visited the bar say they weren’t allowed in.

Later they peered through window from outside and the room appeared to be an ordinary living room.

Fiona O’Brien, of the Save The White Lion campaign group, said: “He has made a token effort to convert the front room into a bar but it looks more like a ‘pop-up’ business than anything permanent.

“We stayed for about 45 minutes and didn’t feel very comfortable because it still felt like someone’s front room. There was one ladies’ toilet and he said the gents’ urinal was out of order.

“The other ‘bar’ clearly had a sofa, red cushions and family pictures on display so was obviously just a residential area. He keeps the blinds in that room down all the time but we could see through them.

“He has done nothing with the frontage itself and there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s open. Very few people in the area know about it because we haven’t seen any advertising.

“Mr Sandhu told us he could offer a wider range of drinks in future but was waiting to see how this went.

“However, I think he knows he’s running it in a way that it’s unlikely to succeed and will use that as ‘evidence’ to try to get permission for housing. This is a very important case as we’re fighting for our heritage. Pubs are important and if Mr Sandhu gets away with this it could open the floodgates for others to try the same thing.”

Goring Heath Parish Council chairman Peter Dragonetti, who attended the High Court, said: “We are glad to see that the district council is taking action on this and look forward to the White Lion re-opening as a village pub.

“It seems Mr Sandhu is attempting to comply with the strictest possible interpretation of the law but a whisky bar is not an acceptable substitute and does not meet the needs of the
community.”

Mr Sandhu bought the pub with plans to open an Indian restaurant but was later advised this would be unviable. He proposed several alternative schemes, including building housing and bed and breakfast units.

The district council says it will continue to pursue the injunction as its believes Mr Sandhu remains in breach of the enforcement notice.

Mr Sandhu did not respond to a request for comment.

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