Neighbours question motives of millionaire ‘donating’ pub for refugees

Posted On 18 Mar 2022 at 1:10 pm

Neighbours of a pub which is being “donated” to house Ukranian refugees by its new millionaire owner questioned his motives at a heated meeting last night.

Charlie Southall announced this week he has bought the Montreal Arms in Hanover, and would be allowing mothers and children fleeing Ukraine to use it free of charge for three years.

He also launched a crowdfunder, seeking £85,000 to refurbish the derelict building.

But soon after, suspicions were voiced locally that the offer could be a way of quickly getting planning approval which would usually face stiff opposition and take years – and which once granted, would substantially increase the value of the building.

To address these, he called a public meeting at the pub last night.

Speaking to about 30 residents, he said: “I didn’t see this coming. I thought what we were doing was a good thing and would be filled with positivity.

“I wanted to stage a community project with the aim of helping women and children fleeing the country.

“I can’t do that unless I have got the buy in from the local community.

“I don’t have to do this. If the community is going to turn against me, we will stop.”

One resident asked Mr Southall why he had given interviews to the national media before knocking on the doors of the pub’s neighbours.

She said the first she knew about the scheme was when she saw Sky News cameras at the top of her street.

She said: “I think you have got this back to front. You needed to consult with the community before the national press were on board. You need to have details.”

Mr Southall answered that he didn’t yet have “all his ducks in a row” and admitted he was a bit out of his depth.

Another resident asked why he had told Sky News that the scheme would be ready in a month if there were no funds in place for the refurb, and no planning permission was in place.

Mr Southall answered: “There’s something called retrospective planning permission . . . I was hoping to talk to the council about fast track permission but I now know that’s not possible.

“It could be temporary permission.”

When asked if he could guarantee he would not seek to turn it into an HMO or flats at a later date, he said he couldn’t rule that out.

A neighbour of the pub asked: “If you have got a million pounds in the bank, why don’t you fund the refurb yourself?”

Mr Southall replied: “I’m not sure why there’s a suspicion that I want to deceive the community and line my pocket . . . everything I own in the world, I have given half to this.

“Can anyone else in this room tell me that they have given half of their wealth to charity?”

Another resident replied: “You haven’t given it. You’ve bought a pub.”

Mr Southall then said that if he were to fund the refurb himself, he would be bankrupt.

Brighton and Hove News understands that Stonegate, which sold the pub to Mr Southall, estimated that it would cost more than £90,000 to renovate, including fixing significant damp problems and rewiring the electrics.

Mr Southall also said that the million pounds belonged to his video production company, and had been loaned to his property development company to buy the pub as taking it out directly would make him liable for a significant amount of tax.

He said when buying the pub, before Russia invaded Ukraine, he had considered turning it into a co-working space or renting it to pop-up businesses, and that his nine-year-old daughter had been keen on using it to sell biscuits and cakes.

Mr Southall was also asked about reports he had a track record of not paying freelancers at his video production company, Dragonfly.

The resident, who said she knew someone who was owed thousands by Mr Southall, asked him: “You have got a reputation locally for not paying contractors and employees.

“How can people trust you?”

Mr Southall replied that in the last decade, his company had had professional relationships with thousands of people, and some had gone sour, adding that you would expect complaints about any business.

The meeting was chaired by Hanover councillor David Gibson, who after an hour and a half, brought it to a close by reassuring residents that the council would not bend planning rules.

He said: “The local authority wants to play whatever role it can in helping Ukranian refugees.

“In terms of this building there are planning procedures that would have to be gone through and they wouldn’t be any different for this, regardless how good the intentions are.

“Speaking personally, there’s an empty flat upstairs, it’s got a kitchen, it needs doing up, it’s got a toilet.

“A couple of families that might be able to support each other could live there and look after this building and that would be a start and then you could worry about the planning permissions and whether the oak panelling gets ripped out later on.

“The guardianship model is probably the way to start.”

Mr Southall replied: “Maybe that’s the best way forward. Apologies if I have handled this badly. I’m going to go away and think about our future plans.”

  1. Josephine Dimbleby Reply

    Thanks for the follow up, Jo. You are doing great work.

    “Mr Southall replied that in the last decade, his company had had professional relationships with thousands of people, and some had gone sour, adding that you would expect complaints about any business.”

    ^ Wow. This is just… incredible.

  2. Dodgy chap Reply

    How about getting your reputation cleaned up first.

  3. Stephanie J Reply

    I must admit I thought this when I read this story. He wants a crowd funding campaign to get the public to pay to refurbish his pub so it can become an HMO whilst he also gets money from the government to house refugees. This will uptick in the value of his property and make it easier for him to get planning permission that otherwise would most likely be refused. He is also denying his long-term intention is for this place to remain an HMO (too in the future house students, addicts, bail hostel, refugee centre, working professionals it is not clear exactly what he intends). The council should remove the refugee question out of this proposal and only grant planning permission if they would have done regardless. This isn’t to say his heart is not in the right place and his intentions are not honourable. However, what happens in six months to this building when the refugees will have probably moved elsewhere. Intead of the public being asked to contribute to this it would be a better use of money if they rented an already refurbished property elsewhere.

    • Stephanie J Reply

      Sorry I meant he is not denying the place will remain an HMO. There should be an edit / delete option on comments on this site in 2022.

  4. Idgie Reply

    >Mr Southall then said that if he were to fund the refurb himself, he would be bankrupt.

    I mean maybe you should have thought about that first, mate. Good grief, nothing like a crisis to bring out the grifters.

  5. Billy Short Reply

    March 29th.
    The shocking follow up to this story is that the new owner is now hacking off the historical green tiles from the front of this building.
    A previous planning application for this pub had refused permission for the tiles to be altered or removed.
    The building is also listed in the council documents as being of historical local interest.

  6. Geoff Hetherington Reply

    The planning status of the pub is as a pub, regardless of it being closed. Accommodation in (above) the pub intended (originally) for the owner/licensee/landlord is ancillary to the building’s use as a pub. To use the pub for accommodation when the pub is not open is not an ancillary use and is therefore contrary to its planning status and would require planning permission. This is not to do with what type of accommodation (e.g. the HMO, guardian or temporary refugee housing mentioned), but solely whether such accommodation is ancillary to the pub operating as a pub.

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