Ploughshare pub housing plan ‘not justified’

Concerned customers of a resurgent village pub have argued that its recent success has undermined the owner's financial justification for a controversial house-building plan.

The Ploughshare, in Beeston, endured a chequered history of closures and different landlords before it was bought by Robert Scammell in 2009.

The North Walsham-based developer said he intended to subsidise vital renovations to the 17th century inn by building housing within the grounds.

He applied in March for outline consent to build a four-bedroom house on the rear beer garden – the fourth variation of the scheme to be presented to Breckland Council, with previous plans either withdrawn or refused.

Meanwhile, the pub's regulars have reported a roaring trade since the pub reopened in December – first under the interim guidance of Mr Scammell's brother John and his wife Sue, and then by permanent tenant Jonathan Loome, who relaunched the kitchen and food service when he took over last month.

Many villagers have maintained objections to the house plans, based on crowded car parking, loss of outdoor family space and the potential impact of complaints from the occupants of any new housing on the pub's viability.

But now they say one of the most compelling reasons against it is the risk of damaging a thriving community pub which has proved the owner's initial assumptions wrong by succeeding independently.

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Mr Scammell said the business was only busy on Friday and Saturday nights, and its income could not sustain the �30,000 of improvements still needed to the roof, wiring, heating and septic tanks.

Paul Marchant, who lives with his wife Jean on Back Lane, said: 'They are saying they need to build a house to make the pub viable. Unfortunately for them, the pub has kicked off and been going like a train since December.

'John and Sue did such a good job and would admit their takings were far greater than they could have dreamed of. The only reason the house would be needed now would be for profit.'

Mr Marchant said although the revised plans allow an outside function space, it would not be large enough to allow marquee events and receptions which have helped sustain the pub in the past.

Hilary Howden, who has lived next door to the pub on The Street for almost 20 years, said: 'If he is allowed to build on that garden it will be lost forever. The other side of the pub would be too near the road for children.

'We all enjoy coming to the pub and some of us have been coming here for a long time. It is the only real place to come to in the village and it would be just so awful if we lost it. I am sure that if this development was allowed, the complaints would force the pub to close.'

Phil Williams, a retired teacher who lives on Dereham Road, said 'The main thing we want here is a pub – a working pub where you can go and meet people and socialise and find out what is happening in the village.

'That is being lost throughout Norfolk, and we don't want that to happen here. As it is now, the pub is superb. I have yet to meet one person who has agreed we should have housing there.'

Mr Scammell said �20,000 had already been spent on internal renovations, but maintained that the house plan was still the only way to generate the cash needed to secure the pub's long-term future.

'What people see is that this pub is busy two days a week, but that does not sustain seven-day expenses,' he said. 'The figures are OK, but they are not enough to support everything that needs doing. The village wanted us to get the pub open again, and we have done that, and now we have half a dozen people saying it's too busy. They cannot have their cake and eat it.'

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