Property developer offers Brighton pub for refugee housing

Posted On 15 Mar 2022 at 5:38 pm

The Montreal Arms last September, before the pub was sold

A property developer says he will donate the pub he has just bought to house refugees free of charge for three years.

Charlie Southall says he put in a cash offer for the The Montreal Arms on a whim early this year, without any plans for what he would do with it.

But in the weeks after his offer was accepted, he saw the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfold and decided the best use for it would be to house refugees.

Today, he launched a crowdfunder asking for donations to help renovate the Albion Hill pub, which has been closed since the March 2020 lockdown.

Mr Southall, 43, said: “I bought the property in a romantic head in the cloud moment.

“I do develop properties – I have four properties in the city. I came from a really poor background, and I was the first child in my family to go to university.

“I didn’t really come into money until 2011 and it came quite quickly for me. I have to keep eyes on where I came from, and that it was a charity – the Prince’s Trust – that opened doors for me.

“I spent time in a woman’s refuge when I was 10 and I have very positive memories of that environment.

“Like everybody I have been watching the news. If anything, I have got too much empathy, I really suffer when I see news, images and stories.

“I have got more than a million pounds of cash in the bank but I’m not a very good millionaire – I don’t own a car or go on fancy holidays.

“With inflation, it’s very dangerous to have money in the bank so I was looking for opportunities to invest and here I have got an opportunity to invest in something that surprised me.

“It’s a unique investment where I could be charitable.”

Mr Southall, who also runs a video production company called Dragonfly, says he briefly considered running it as a pub, and he and his daughter came up with the name the Earey Donkey.

But then the idea to house refugees “came out of nowhere”.

He’s now talking to the local authority, and possible charity partners who could help run the building, which has six good sized rooms upstairs and
a large open plan bar downstairs, as a refuge.

Although he already has pledges of support from residents and local councillors, changing the planning use from a pub to residential could prove more tricky.

Mr Southall said he would be applying for planning permission and hoped this could be fast-tracked – but said no refugees would be housed there until a change of use was approved.

Brighton and Hove City Council recently told the new owners of the Montpelier Inn that they needed to market it for two years to demonstrate a lack of commercial demand for a pub before giving permission for conversion for flats.

That pub was closed in November 2020 to neighbours’ relief following serious violence and drug dealing on the premises.

Before the Montreal was sold, Brighton and Hove News understands that at least one local publican applied to take it on last year as a tenant of its previous owner, Stonegate.

Last year, Stonegate applied to rip off the distinctive green tiles, which are locally listed.

But after a local outcry, this application was withdrawn. Mr Southall says he wants to keep the tiles.

He also said that there are no long term plans for the pub and once the three years is up, it could continue as a women’s refuge, or be hired out as a pop-up space.

However, he said that it was not viable as a pub, and the fact it had not reached its £450,000 asking price was proof of a lack of interest in this use.

  1. Heavsie80 Reply

    So a millionaire property developer has bought a pub with no intention of running it as a pub, and wants to get planning permission to turn it into flats so he can house refugees for 3 years. but he’s not going to pay for the refurbishment, he wants others to fundraise for that despite being a millionaire. and then he’ll be able to sell the flats and the community loses a pub! Is this a joke?!

    • Mayberry Reply

      I hope so. I’d hate to be so cynical that I immediately thought someone might leverage this situation for personal gain in such a crass and obvious way, but here we are.

  2. Robbie Cullen Reply

    Sounds like a way of circumventing planning regulations as it has been made a complusory requirement rather than a gesture from the heart.

  3. Nigel Brighton Reply

    Yes doesn’t appear to be the full shilling, put his name in google and his company dragonfly and this came up

  4. David Reply
    • LMW Reply

      Really poor from the journalist this. Feels more like a bit of PR than a news story. Do some actual journalism. A cursory internet search reveals a load of information about this guy which doesn’t reflect well on his business practices.

      The guy has a building sitting doing nothing but in three years he’ll have a done up set of flats all paid for (by charitable donations!) and a change of use on the now pub all sorted, which will no doubt leave him with a great return on his initial investment. See what happened with the village to see how difficult it is for developers to be granted for a change of use on a Hanover pub.

      This stinks.

  5. Toni Reply

    This guy is a really nasty piece of work. Many freelancers have had traumatic run-ins with him, unfortunately. So sad that a self proclaimed millionaire is asking for £85,000 in donations to do up a pub – would the Red Cross not make better use of that money?

  6. Jon Reply

    As above – this appears to be a transparent attempt to profit off the war situation by attempting to bypass any planning objections for residential change of use, which is so clearly his aim. No one buys a property with restricted planning on a whim with no idea of future use.

    • Pub company Reply

      We offered close to the asking price to run this as a pub, same as another stonegate pub in Brighton. Always seems to sell cheap to a developer. Something tells me this is more like a developer giving stonegate back handers for cheap pubs.

  7. Carlos Reply

    All The Above.
    This is just showing in time off crisis and sadness, someone with more money and good life wants to make more money from suffering people. 🤦🏽

  8. Amon Reply

    All the above are correct. I’ve done business with Mr Southall in the past and he really is an unsavoury, dishonest, disloyal, lying, cheating, two-faced, backstabbing scumbag.

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