A property developer has been accused of “utter vandalism” after he hired builders to hack vintage tiles off a locally listed pub.
Charlie Southall last week abandoned a crowdfunder to renovate the Montreal Arms so Ukranian refugees could be housed there after neighbours questioned his motives and pointed out the large profit he stood to make.
On Tuesday morning, a team of workers started removing the green tiles from the Albion Hill pub as he handed out a leaflet claiming they were beyond repair.
By 4pm, Brighton and Hove City Council had issued a stop notice, but by then large sections of the tiles had been destroyed.
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said the damage was “utter vandalism”, adding: “This absolutely cannot go unchallenged.”
Hanover resident Ruth Boyd said if the aim was to convert the pub into housing for refugees, there was no need to remove the tiles.
She said: “The fact that he’s chosen to attack the antique tiles – the most visible and arguably the most contentious part of the building – feels like a petty and bitter attack on the community.
“He doesn’t have planning permission or apparently the funds to do the necessary work for his ‘philanthropic project’ inside the building.
“Instead, he wastes time and money hacking away at the perfectly serviceable exterior of the property, knowing it would upset and offend those of us who want the Montreal to be able to continue as a public house.”
Another neighbour, Ken Frost, said: “The speed at which he is removing the tiles indicates that he wants the change of use to become a fait accompli.
“I trust and assume the council will stop this ASAP.”
Mr Southall told local media this month he had bought the pub “on a whim” before launching an £85,000 crowdfunder to do it up and allow Ukrainian women and children to live there for three years.
These plans would have involved a change of use from pub to residential, which Brighton and Hove City Council will now only grant after a venue has been advertised as a pub for at least two years at a fair market rent with no interest.
A change of use to residential use would significantly increase the value of the building.
Hanover and Elm Grove ward councillor Steph Powell said she was “fuming”.
She and fellow ward councillor Elaine Hills emailed Mr Southall and contacted Brighton and Hove City Council’s planning enforcement team and solicitors to establish the legal position.
Councillor Powell said: “Those tiles are well over 100 years old I suspect, and well-loved by locals.
“I can’t think what the owner hopes to achieve by doing this.”
The council’s deputy leader, Councillor Sue Shanks, said: “I’m angry that the owner of the Montreal Arms is trying to remove its green tiles, and I know a lot of residents are very upset as well.
“A member of our planning enforcement team visited the site earlier after receiving complaints.
“We believe there has been a breach of planning controls.
“We have told the owner that the work requires planning permission.
“We will be posting a temporary stop notice on site that will come into effect tomorrow.
“This means they will have to stop removing the tiles temporarily to allow consideration of next steps.”
Previous owners The Stonegate Gate group applied to remove the tiles last year. The application was withdrawn in October 2021 after objections.
A leaflet Mr Southall handed out to people asking why workers are removing the tiles stated many are damaged beyond repair.
He lays the blame on the previous owner for cutting through the glazing and nailing through the tiles, as well as large sections of missing, cracked and heavily weathered tiles.
It states there is no formal protection to the locally listed building, and the owner does not need to apply for listed building consent to change the property.
Mr Southall’s leaflet said: “The new property owner has exactly the same permitted development rights as any other property owner in the area, and it is entirely lawful for external features to be altered or removed.
“This is a privately owned property. Please respect the legal rights of the current property owner.”
The green tiles are a feature on several pubs in Brighton which were run by United Breweries.
The Horse and Groom (now Village) in Islingword Road, the Rose Hill Tavern and the Heart and Hand are examples of United owned pubs with the same tiles.
A locally listed building is not the same as a listed building but one considered to be of special interest, because of its local historic, architectural, design or townscape value.
Mr Southall was approached for comment.