Plans to turn village's last pub into house rejected

The Blue Bell Inn closed in March 2018 as a result of poor trading. Picture: Sarah Hussain

The Blue Bell Inn closed in March 2018 as a result of poor trading. Picture: Sarah Hussain - Credit: Archant

A bid to turn a Norfolk village's last remaining pub into a house have been rejected.

A second application from Oxygen 56 Limited to turn the Blue Bell Inn in Stoke Ferry, near Downham Market, into a residential property was submitted to West Norfolk Council after the first application was turned down last year. 

And officials have refused permission for the proposed development on grounds that it would result in the loss of an employment site and community facility in the village, which is defined as a "key rural service centre".

The applicant had submitted an appeal against the original decision which was considered by the Planning Inspectorate but dismissed in September.

They then resubmitted another application for the same change of use, arguing the period of time the property had remained empty showed that a future as a pub was unrealistic.

But a notice of the refusal, published on the council's website, said: "The application as submitted fails to clearly demonstrate that the continued use as a public house or alternative community or employment use is unviable."

It added the proposal failed to accord with West Norfolk Council's core strategy and national planning policy framework.

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Campaigners in the village have been working to save the pub by holding fundraising events as part of their 'Save the Blue Bell' cause.

The group is hoping to reopen it as a community-owned pub and hub following the pub's closure in March 2018 as a result of poor trading.

Last month, its members celebrated an award of £2,500 funding from the Plunkett Foundation's 'More than a pub' programme to help them with their bid to take over. 

The group said villagers had expressed “overwhelming support” to keep it open as a community-run facility and are ramping up their campaign to save it by selling shares to the public in order to raise funds to buy it from the current owner.

Stoke Ferry Parish Council maintained its objection to the proposals and said it is "very interested" in finding ways to help the campaign group.

Jim McNeill, member of Save the Blue Bell, said: "It validifies our position that it being run as a community pub is a viable proposition.

"We're getting loads of support from local businesses and we've moved on considerably as a project, we're now in a position to launch share offers this week.

"We're also in a position to purchase the pub if we can agree a price with the owner."

He added that the group were "totally optimistic" about securing the pub's future.

A share launch will take place on Wednesday, December 2 and Thursday, December 3 and the group has said people can apply for shares starting at £50.

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