A developer will have to spend more time marketing a Brighton pub for sale – as a pub – after councillors turned down plans to turn the building into flats.
The developer, Hafez Barakat, wanted to convert the Montpelier Inn, in Montpelier Place, Brighton, into five flats and maisonettes.
But Brighton and Hove City Council’s Planning Committee rejected his planning application because he did not provide enough evidence that the pub had been marketed “robustly” as a viable venue for two years.
Council policy requires planning applicants to demonstrate that a pub is not economically viable in the future, that the community does not need it and that an alternative is available.
Marketing must also offer freehold and leasehold options without a “tie” to a pub company or brewery.
A report to the council’s Planning Committee noted that the Montpelier Inn was on the market for eight months with “little interest” – not long enough to satisfy the policy.
The grade II listed pub was ordered to close after a licence review in December 2020 after a stabbing when evidence emerged of drug dealing from the premises.
Its former owner, the pub company Stonegate, sold the building in April last year to Hala Management Ltd, owned by property developer Essam Barakat.
When plans for flats were submitted to the council, 19 neighbours sent letters in support.
Green councillor Alex Phillips, who represents Regency ward, told the Planning Committee that the Montpelier Inn was a “sports bar” rather than a “locals pub”.
It was more suited to Western Road than the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Conservation Area, she told the meeting at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 7 December).
Councillor Phillips said: “The site was a constant source of trouble for local residents with noise disturbance, drugs and finally a stabbing. That’s why it closed.
“The pub has been reported and investigated by licensing and police for decades following residents’ complaints. Three licensees have failed to make a profit.”
Shirley Tilman spoke on behalf of neighbours. She said that there were plenty of alternatives, with more than 180 pubs within a 20-minute walk of the Montpelier Inn.
She said: “For 10 years, we’ve experienced noise, environmental and anti-social complaints. Over the last three management teams, this property has never made a legal profit.
“Finally, this venue was closed down after an attempted murder following an incident in the pub during lockdown.
“Elements of drugs and drug-related equipment and a dealing enterprise was finally found and this was being taken further by the police prior to the developer purchasing the property.”
Mr Barakat’s agent, Simon Bareham, of Lewis and Co Planning, said that there were three community pubs in the area, adding that the Montpelier Inn was never a community pub.
He said: “It is not an application for removal of a pub that is fondly remembered by the local residents but the loss of a city centre sports bar which generated significant problems.”
Independent councillor Tony Janio asked whether the pub is an “asset of community value” and heard that it was not.
Councillor Janio said: “We’ve heard from the ward councillor. If any of us don’t support our local pub, that’s electoral suicide normally. But, quite clearly, the residents don’t want this pub.
“I can imagine they’ve been living under the horror that this could be a pub again. There’s policy but we have a planning committee to listen to people, the ward councillor, the residents.”
He added that if he went home without listening to them, “I would be turning this committee into something that rubber stamps something the residents don’t want.”
Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that there were similarities between the Montpelier Inn’s problems and the Bevendean Hotel which was forced to close in 2010.
It reopened as the Bevy to be run by the community and now operates successfully as a co-operative pub.
Councillor Yates said: “There was a pub which was not valued by the community because of the anti-social behaviour, the fights, the nature of the people attracted to it, the drug taking, breaking the law, shut down by the police.
“Then the community reopened it. The Bevy has been open for eight years now. It hasn’t been shut down by police. They have been supported by the community.
“It’s changed the nature of what’s going on. If the Bevy was converted into housing, there would have been a loss of public space that would never have been regained.”
He said that he sympathised with residents but said that the Montpelier Inn was “not a bad boozer” back in 2006 and “it could be (good) again”.
Green councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones also said that she sympathised with residents but added that the marketing – required by the council’s planning policy – needed to be done.
She said: “I haven’t heard anything that convinces me that we should make an exception to a policy we’ve only just adopted.
“Let’s wait and see and do the marketing so the applicant can come back in 14 months and show there is no prospect of a pub on that site.”
Councillors refused the application by seven votes to one, with just Councillor Janio supporting the proposed flats.
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