Saturday, 15 May 2021

Hope for campaigners as pub owner wants to sell

Hope for campaigners as pub owner wants to sell

A VILLAGE pub which shut almost eight years ago could re-open under new ownership.

Satwinder Sandhu, who bought the White Lion at Crays Pond in 2013 and lived there unlawfully with his family, has told South Oxfordshire District Council that he wants to sell the premises.

The former Greene King pub has been declared an asset of community value by the council so he can’t market it until September under a statutory six-month moratorium to give residents time to make an offer.

The Save the White Lion action group, which has been fighting to restore its use as a pub, has formed a non-profit company which will prepare a bid.

It has informed the council of its plans and is to seek grants and donations, or offer shares in any future venture, to raise the necessary sum.

Mr Sandhu, who says the pub is no longer commercially viable, is not obliged to accept any offer and has not revealed his asking price.

Eight years ago, he paid £600,000 for the pub and then ripped out many of the fittings to allow the unauthorised residential use, which only ended when the council obtained a High Court order in 2019. Since then the grounds have become overgrown and have been occupied by travellers on several occasions.

The action group wants to run the White Lion as a community pub with other services such as a village store, coffee shop, cycle café, a film or book club or a venue to be hired for talks and events.

It conducted a survey which found most people in the village backed the idea and would visit several times a week or at least fortnightly.

The group has asked to be able to look around the site and is awaiting a response.

John Densum, one of several people leading the campaign, said: “The community has just six months to engage with the owner and make a bid and negotiate so this will be a period of intense activity for all who support the purchase and re-opening.

“We know from our recent community survey that we have the support, both physical and financial, from many [supporters] and we now need to engage with the wider area and other organisations to increase this support.”

He warned that Mr Sandhu might refuse to sell in which case the action group could ask the council to impose a compulsory purchase order forcing him to sell at a reasonable price.

Mr Densum added: “The owner is not obliged to engage with us and is entitled to reject any approach made.

“This does happen where owners want to circumvent the community because they have another agenda which potentially runs contrary to what the community wants.”

Peter Dragonetti, vice-chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council and the village’s district councillor, said: “At this stage, it’s difficult to know what to make of this because nothing is guaranteed when the six-month moratorium comes to an end.

“With brewing companies like Punch Taverns, which wants to sell the Greyhound at Whitchurch, at least they’re open about what they’re thinking. They’ve gone straight to the parish council and said they don’t think there’s a way of making it viable.

“However, we’ve heard nothing further from Mr Sandhu so nobody knows what he is intending or what might come of any negotiations.”

Mr Sandhu, a businessman who lives nearby, was prosecuted twice for ignoring an enforcement notice to leave the pub and has had to pay a total of more than £26,000 in fines and legal costs.

He says a pub would be viable if it was subsidised by housing or hotel rooms, which he proposed but the council refused to decide his planning application because he was living there without consent.

At one stage he opened a “whisky bar” with severely restricted capacity and opening hours, saying this was a return to the permitted use, but a High Court judge said that was unacceptable.

Mr Sandhu has said the pub would no longer make a profit because of competition from neighbouring villages but supporters claim it thrived until a rapid succession of managers ran it poorly.

This week, he said members of the action group had already viewed the pub several times but didn’t make an offer or share a plan for how they would run it sustainably.

He said he was serious about
re-establishing a viable business and anyone with a proposal should email him at lioncrayspond@gmail.com

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