“Last chance” for beleaguered Ploughshare pub

The owners of the Ploughshare Inn in Beeston hope to put an end to years of uncertainty over the pub's future as they prepare to re-open in time for Christmas.

Its an unpredictable saga which, like all good soap operas, revolves around the local pub.

But after a turbulent five years littered with false dawns and dashed hopes, the next episode of the Ploughshare Inn's story could be the most crucial in its 400-year history.

So the owners of the beleaguered pub have urged the locals to grasp their 'last chance' to save the social heart of their village when the doors re-open in time for Christmas.

The 17th-century pub in Beeston, near Dereham, will open on December 16 after being closed for almost two years as a succession of previous landlords failed to make it thrive.

Co-owner John Scammell said, with his wife Sue running the bar, he was confident of the pub's success.

But he said its ultimate survival depended on the support of the villagers – and in gaining permission for a controversial plan to subsidise the business by building a three-bedroom house in a corner of the car park.

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Mr Scammell said the only way to secure the pub's long-term viability would be to re-open the Ploughshare's kitchen and restaurant – at a �30,000 cost which could only be financed by income from the housing project.

'If we don't get planning permission we will stay open as a drinkers' pub but it won't be operating at its full capacity,' he said. 'We had a viability study done which says the pub won't survive long-term without a restaurant, and the money for that has to come from the plot outside.'

Landlady Mrs Scammell said: 'We want to see as many people here as possible and we will do everything we can to make it welcoming and warming for everybody. We are open to suggestions if anybody feels there is something missing. But if people don't use it this time, it may never open again. It could be the last chance.'

Mr Scammell, who jointly owns the pub with his brother, North Walsham-based property developer Robert Scammell, said �20,000 had already been spent on renovating the bar.

Initially, it will be managed by license-holder Mrs Scammell – but the couple hope to hand the pub onto a couple to run it permanently when they are certain it is profitable and in safe hands.

The planning application for the house is due to be decided next month by Breckland Council's development control committee – which has already rejected an earlier plan for two homes on the same site.

Mr Scammell said he believed there were no planning reasons to refuse the revised, smaller scheme – although he still has to win over some of the building's neighbours.

Seven letters of objection have been lodged with planners, including concerns that the house-building project could affect the pub's viability as a business, with one calling it a 'death knell'.

And a letter from Beeston Parish Council clerk Bryan Leigh says councillors voted unanimously to object to the plans after hearing parishioners' concerns at an open meeting on November 30.

Mr Scammell said: 'We said from day one we wanted to open the pub, and what is frustrating for us is that there are new houses all over the village – but a pub is an emotional thing.'