Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Finally, owner leaves pub after unlawful occupation

Finally, owner leaves pub after unlawful occupation

CAMPAIGNERS are to discuss their next steps after the owner of the former White Lion in Crays Pond stopped using the property as his family home.

Satwinder Sandhu, who bought the former Greene King pub soon after it closed in 2013, has complied with a High Court order to move out as he does not have planning permission to use it as a private residence.

The businessman had opened a “whisky bar” in a downstairs room in a bid to persuade the court that he was obeying South Oxfordshire District Council’s earlier demands to cease the unauthorised use.

He argued the living areas were secondary to the bar usage but a judge didn’t accept this and upheld the council’s ruling so he faced prosecution for contempt of court if he remained.

Mr Sandhu, who moved from Huddersfield and previously worked in the pharmacy trade, was prosecuted twice for disregarding the council’s enforcement notice and ordered to pay a total of more than £6,000 in fines and legal costs.

Now the building stands empty and faces an uncertain future as he has no legal obligation to re-open it as a pub and has previously argued that this would be unviable.

Members of the Save the White Lion action group say they could launch a fund-raising campaign to put together a bid to buy the pub and re-open it as a community-run business.

They will discuss the idea at a private meeting later this month at the Crown in South Moreton, near Didcot, which is run on a non-profit basis with more than 100 regulars acting as shareholders.

The pub had been shut and earmarked for redevelopment but residents led a successful four-year campaign to save it.

Fiona O’Brien, from the White Lion campaign group, said: “They re-opened the Crown not long ago so we thought it would be nice to see what they’re doing and how it’s working.

“We want to see if we can raise some funds in case the opportunity comes up to buy the White Lion, although Mr Sandhu isn’t selling at the moment and it’s up to him if he wants to put it on the market.

“Once the High Court judgement was issued, we stepped down our activities because we wanted to give him time to move out and not look like we were putting masses of pressure on him and his family.

“Now we don’t have to take such a ‘softly softly’ approach so we’re trying to engage with the community, to let them know we’re still around and get them interested in what we’re doing. Sadly, we do think he’s going to try to sit on it for as long as possible. It has been left in a sorry state and looks as though it’s slowly going to rack and ruin.”

The district council has approved the group’s application to renew the White Lion’s listing as an asset of community value until 2024.

This means that if Mr Sandhu does decide to sell it, he must allow a six-month moratorium for the community to raise a bid. Additionally, the council may compulsorily purchase the pub if it can prove it is at risk of being lost forever.

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “Mr Sandhu moved out before the High Court’s deadline but he still owns the pub and for the time being we don’t know what his intentions are. However, it’s good that the community group plans to have a meeting to discuss the way forward.”

Mr Sandhu sought retrospective planning permission to live at the pub in 2014 but was refused and lost an appeal the following year. Then the enforcement notice was issued, giving him a year to leave.

A year later, he was prosecuted for non-compliance and again in 2017 but he continued to live there so the council escalated the case.

Mr Sandhu said he bought the building to open an Indian restaurant but had to rethink his plans when research showed this would be unviable and so would a pub.

He obtained a new premises licence and submitted a planning application for housing on the site, saying this was necessary to subsidise the pub but the council refused to make a decision.

His most recent venture, Whisky Haveli, consisted of a single “bar” in a front room. High Court judge Timothy Straker said this “could no more be called a pub than a fig leaf on a naked statue could be called clothing”. He ordered Mr Sandhu to pay further costs of £20,000.

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