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Fears over the future of Stoke Ferry's village pub

The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, December 6, 2019

When I joined CAMRA it was about preserving traditional cask conditioned ale which was in danger of being consigned to the dustbin of history by keg beer.

That battle has been largely won, and the main concern for many of us is to defend the pubs in which we drink our beer.

Blue Bell Public House
Blue Bell Public House

The figures on pub closures have been extensively quoted, but it only really comes home when your local, possibly the last pub in your village is the one under threat. Each CAMRA branch is required to have a person with the grand sounding title of ‘Pub Preservation Officer’ and despite not being a fan of pretentious monikers, for West Norfolk, it me.

This means that whenever a local pub is under threat, someone gives me a call. I cannot save a pub, but I can write objections to change of use applications, and give people information and advice on what they can do.

In some cases the informant is content with that, and doesn’t really want to get involved in any kind of campaign, as is the case in Thetford, where a historic pub has party been demolished without permission. I offered to go over and meet up with local members to discuss that and other local issues, but this was turned down, and that’s fine.

In the case of the Blue Bell in Stoke Ferry, there is a far more organised and committed local campaign to save their pub. In anticipation of the threat to the pub, an ‘Asset of Community Value’ listing was successfully applied for, which, given my experiences, is no mean feat.

Jeff Hoyle, The Bar Man
Jeff Hoyle, The Bar Man

This means that when there is a plan to change the use of the premises, the applicants are informed and are given six weeks to express an interest in buying the premises, and then a further six months to formulate their bid. However with the Blue Bell, a series of mysterious events seem to have taken place.

The pub has been delisted as an ACV and a planning application has been entered for a change of use. How can this happen? It could be that the council did not inform the applicant that the bid had been made, but a letter filed with the planning application from a legal firm suggests that they behaved correctly.

It could be that the person who was informed on behalf of the applicants did nothing about it. Perhaps they were unaware of the significance of the message, or were on holiday. Whatever the circumstances, it was apparently never raised and discussed at a Parish Council meeting, the six week time frame drifted by and it was delisted as an ACV.

What is clear is that there are some people in the village who are unhappy with the situation and want their pub back. I know that the planning department has been provided with a lot of information which makes a good case for granting the six months window for a rescue bid to be organised.

I don’t know the full story and you will discover even less as public access to the documents in question has been restricted on the planning website.

I have advised applying for an ACV listing for your local on several occasions in this column, but this is the beginning, not the end.

Eternal vigilance is necessary, and here is another warning. ACV’s last for five years, and those that were granted in the first wave in 2011 have now expired. Time to reapply?

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