Sunday, 24 March 2019

Pub owner told by court to stop living there illegally

Pub owner told by court to stop living there illegally

THE owner of the White Lion pub in Crays Pond has been ordered by the High Court to stop living there illegally.

Timothy Straker QC upheld an enforcement notice issued by South Oxfordshire District Council which requires Satwinder Sandhu and his family to vacate the premises.

Mr Sandhu, who represented himself in court, was warned he could be jailed if he does not move out by April 23. He was also ordered to pay the council’s legal costs of £20,000.

Mr Sandhu, 45, who moved into the former Greene King pub after buying it in 2013,  has already been prosecuted twice for failing to leave the premises and ordered to pay a total of more than £6,000 in fines and legal costs.

The council  escalated the issue amid complaints from villagers that not enough was being done.

The High Court hearing was due to take place in November but was postponed at the last minute after Mr Sandhu complained that the council hadn’t spelled out what he needed to do to comply.

He claimed that his use of the premises was lawful as he had
“re-opened” the business as Whisky Haveli, a bar selling a small selection of whiskies and mixers from a converted front room. He claimed to have a second room available for private hire.

Members of the Crays Pond Action Group, who want the pub to return, visited the bar and said it resembled a “pop-up” business more than a permanent one.

They said they could only see the second room by looking through the blinds from outside and it appeared to be the family’s living area.

The council’s planning enforcement officers carried out an inspection and concluded that Mr Sandhu was still in breach of the notice as the residential use was not “ancillary” to its intended main function as a pub.

Mr Straker, a planning barrister who sat as a judge at the High Court in London, agreed with the council, saying the whisky bar “could no more be called a pub than a fig leaf on a naked statue could be called clothing”. 

He advised Mr Sandhu to sell the property and buy a new family home with the proceeds.

If Mr Sandhu doesn’t leave he could be prosecuted for contempt of court, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years or an unlimited fine.

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, which opposed Mr Sandhu’s use of the pub, said: “We are very pleased with this outcome.

“It has taken five-and-a-half years to reach this stage but we, along with the action group, feel vindicated that the judge agreed with us and the district council that Mr Sandhu was acting unlawfully.

“Mr Straker had clearly seen the written statements from members of the action group, which the district council put forward as part of its evidence.

“The so-called ‘whisky bar’ was very sparsely furnished and looked more like a living room, the only similarity to a bar being the small number of whiskies available.

“I think the judge’s comments about the ‘fig leaf’ summed it up perfectly. The next steps will be down to Mr Sandhu but ideally he will sell to an individual or group within the community who wishes to run it as a pub.”

Bill Pechey, a member of the action group who lives in the village, said: “We’re very pleased that the law has finally been upheld and the right thing is being done.

“I hope we can continue to get the pub back. We had a remarkable response when we looked into whether anyone locally was interested in buying it.

“Ultimately, it’s up to Mr Sandhu and those other parties as to what happens next but we can only hope.

“I believe a pub would still be viable in that location as the success of a pub is dependent on the quality of the landlord and the better ones are almost always successful.

“It would be highly likely to succeed under some form of community ownership. If you’ve got, for example, 100 shareholders, they’re more likely to visit ‘their’ pub when they want a drink as they’re personally invested in it.”

The White Lion was successful under the ownership of Stuart and Caroline Pierrepont but after they left in 2008 it struggled under a rapid succession of managers.

Shortly after moving in, Mr Sandhu was ordered to submit a retrospective planning application which was rejected so he appealed but was again unsuccessful.

He told a planning inspector that he bought the pub intending to open an Indian restaurant but discovered that this wouldn’t be viable as staff would struggle to get there.

He considered re-opening the pub but declined after hiring a consultant who concluded the location wasn’t viable due to changing tastes and the presence of competing pubs in Woodcote, Whitchurch and Goring. The district council commissioned a report which reached the same conclusion but the council disowned this, saying its consultant hadn’t properly researched the issue.

Mr Sandhu proposed several schemes to re-open the pub with additional businesses on the site such as bed and breakfast units, which he said were necessary as the pub would make a loss and needed to be subsidised. These were refused.

The district council said it was delighted by the High Court ruling.

Mr Sandhu, who used to run a pharmaceutical business in Huddersfield, declined to comment.

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