Development plan for pub 'only way it can be saved'
- Credit: Al Partington/Geograph
The applicant behind plans for changes at a pub in an East Devon village has said it is the only way the building can be saved.
The New Fountain Inn in Whimple, described as being ‘integral to the fabric of the community and village life’, dates back more than a century, but years of declining revenue has led to its closure.
In December 2020 though, plans were submitted to East Devon District Council with an aim of building three houses on the pub’s car park and turning the New Fountain Inn into a ‘micro-pub’.
Those plans have proven controversial, with 220 objections – about a fifth of the population of Whimple – with a ‘Save Whimple’s New Fountain Inn Group’ having been set up in a bid to raise money and see if a community pub was a viable option.
In a statement with the planning application to explain why the scheme has been submitted, the applicant outlined that this was the only way in which the pub would reopen and the housing on brownfield land would help retention of young people in the village who would otherwise be priced out – claims though that the objectors have questioned.
It says: “The underlying issue with the comments raised appears to focus on a fear that the public house would be lost. This is fundamentally not the case, nor is it the basis of the application which is being considered by East Devon District Council.
“In effect, the site comprises brownfield development and the density of the scheme and its proximity to other buildings is most characteristic of the development pattern in Whimple.
“Regrettably, the New Fountain Inn has become a victim of its circumstances and proximity to other outlets that can better cater for modern public requirements. These include The Thirsty Farmer, Jack In The Green, The Cranberry Farm, and a variety of other nearby food outlets and farm shop related businesses. The New Fountain Inn can never compete with those operators and this is primarily why it has failed.
“Its ability to provide a local drinking and social facility with controllable overheads is evident and the investment capital to deliver it would be in part provided by revenue from a housing consent on the adjacent land. The scheme has all the hallmarks of a worthwhile, brownfield and community-driven project, if only the complainants could see it.”
The statement added: “The cultural and community space comprising the New Fountain Inn is already lost and it is not coming back in its current form because of the local competition and the migration of customers towards those outlets. The new facility must therefore evolve and offer something different because it can never compete with large establishments whose offering is heavily focused around food. The current employment level out of this site is nil. A rejuvenation of the pub would create some employment and flexible employment for locals, not just the manager.
“Small communities often react quickly and strongly to change and that is apparent from the local narrative. The summary of the concerns seems to comprise the reduction in size of a pub, not its entire loss because that is not proposed, the creation of a small number of appropriate houses in a sustainable location, and the very simple fact that some change in Whimple would become evident.
“It is not felt that any of these three factors would harm Whimple or be to the detriment of those around the scheme. If the site were left unused, there are greater risks for building and site decay together with unlawful abuse. Nobody in Whimple, nor the applicant, wants that and regeneration and brownfield use seeks to prevent that.
“The New Fountain Inn has been a non-viable business for a number of years, but it does present an excellent development opportunity for the village of Whimple. Therefore, much needed village housing can be created together with a revised pub that stands a chance of working for the local community. This formula is becoming tried and tested and East Devon have shown support in nearby villages with a less sustainable community profile than Whimple.”
But Whimple parish council has objected to the scheme, as did the former ward member for the Whimple and Rockbeare ward, saying that the plans represent ‘over development’, the pub wasn’t failing until the new owner bought it, and that allowing the removal of a traditional village pub with character and community at its heart, would indeed be losing culture and character, contrary to the Local Plan.
Karen Scott, on behalf of ‘Save Whimple’s New Fountain Inn Group’, added that the number of objections demonstrates the wealth of local objection to this proposal and the wealth of feeling of the local community, adding: “Residents have watched this pub purposefully fail over the last three years and no one was surprised when this application was submitted, which speaks a thousand words.”
She added: “The residents wish to retain the format of the New Fountain Inn due to the viability of this format. There is clear evidence that prior to the current tenant the business was flourishing, and there is no reason why the pub cannot be a successful business again with a change of ownership/tenant and fundamental to this is the ability to offer food (not just crisps).
“A micro-pub is simply not a viable option for Whimple, undoubtedly these types of establishments have been successful in cities, but we have clearly established that this type of establishment would not prosper in a village.
“The proposed development of four two-bedroom houses, three garages, gardens, sheds and parking spaces on the car park area of the New Fountain Inn is over development of this site. The site sits inside a conservation area and therefore requires a standard that has not been attained in the proposed plan. The proposal constitutes an over development of a small site.
“The residents do not believe this scheme will enhance the village, in fact will be very detrimental. Whilst we recognise some pubs do need to change to suit their changing market, the New Fountain Inn is not one of these. If the pub was managed correctly then it would be full and thriving.”
East Devon District Council’s planning committee will determine the fate of the application at a later date, with the decision having been called-in for discussion by councillors rather than an officer decision.