Update from BFCBS & Parish Council Working Together

For a period during the pandemic, we decided to pause efforts to re-establish The White Hart as a pub at the heart of our community (although we were kept busy defending our Pub!).  Over recent months, however, as a degree of normality has returned, we have resumed our active campaign, and are now in a position to provide you with a progress update.

The BFCBS has been working closely with the Parish Council, and we recently submitted an ‘expression of interest’ (EoI) to the government’s new Community Ownership Fund.  This EoI is the first stage of a two-stage application process, which could provide us with up to £250k to help purchase and refurbish the pub.  Any funds secured would have to be ‘matched’ ie for every £1 from the fund, we would have to raise £1 from other sources, but the government would effectively double our resources.  We are very pleased to say our EoI was successful, and we have been invited to submit a full application.  This does not guarantee we will be allocated any funding, and putting everything in place for the full application will take some time, but we see this as an extremely positive development.

In order to make use of any funds secured, however, we obviously have to be able to acquire ownership of the pub!

A short while ago, we secured an update to a professional valuation we had previously obtained, and based on this information, we wrote to the current owner, Philip Milton, with an offer to purchase the entire site for its estimated market value of £200k+VAT, subject to internal inspection, survey etc.  This offer was backed by a short-term, temporary funding solution, which would have allowed the purchase to proceed, but with a longer-term sustainable financing plan to follow.

The owner has robustly rejected this offer.  We expected him to do so, but needed confirmation of his current position before moving forwards with other plans.  As many of you will know, we have twice previously put formal offers to the owner, firstly for £275k in 2017 and secondly for £150-175k (subject to internal inspection etc) in 2018, both of which were similarly rejected.

Back in 2019, North Devon Council agreed to explore the option of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the pub.  We had deliberately not pushed this forwards during the most trying phases of the pandemic, but following recent discussions, we understand they are still willing to consider this option, subject to reassurances from the BFCBS and Parish Council on various matters.  We are currently working to put all the pieces of this jigsaw in place, BUT…

The current owner submitted a planning application towards the end of 2021 to convert the entire site into housing.  This application was refused by NDC in April 2022.  The owner has now submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against this refusal.  Until this appeal has been resolved, NDC is unlikely to progress the CPO.

The details of the grounds for his appeal have been published, and whilst we feel NDC’s decision was robust, it will be absolutely critical that we fight this latest case with everything we have – were the appeal to succeed, it would effectively be game over for The White Hart, and the site would likely be lost as a community facility forever.

It gives us great hope that over the last 6 years or so, we believe the owner has submitted 10 appeals to the Planning Inspectorate regarding a variety of sites and planning matters, but not a single one has been successful.  We cannot be complacent, though!  As soon as the details of the appeal have been published, we will let you all know.  Members of the community will have the opportunity to submit their views to the Planning Inspectorate, and we strongly encourage you to do so.

We hope you have found this update useful and we look forward to seeing you all at our Pop Up Pubs.