Controversial plans to convert a village pub into a doctors’ surgery have been given the go ahead by Rother planners.
On Thursday (September 12), Rother District Council’s planning committee approved an application to convert The Smuggler in Pett Level into a doctors’ surgery and cafe.
While approved, the scheme had proven controversial with many residents of the village, including a group which is in the process of attempting to have the vacant pub listed as an asset of community value, with the aim of opening it again for business.
Speaking on behalf of this group, Pett Level resident Martin Hogarth told councillors the pub was the village’s ‘community hub’ and, they hoped, could still prove to be a successful business in time.
Mr Hogarth said: “Pett Level has no shop, community centre, village hall or school and if this change of use is approved we will have no pub.
“If this change of use goes through, it sends a message to all property speculators that buying and selling community assets and selling them off for profit is acceptable and will lead to the destruction of village life.”
Mr Hogarth also said his group disputed whether the proposed surgery – intended to act as a new premises for Guestling Surgery – should be considered as a new community asset for the village as similar services are already provided in the surrounding area.
In light of this he expressed concerns about how the attempts to market the pub had not been examined in detail as part of the application, saying his group did not believe it had been put forward at a reasonable price.
This extent of the marketing had been queried as part of a previous application to build housing on the site, but had not been re-examined as the current proposal was for a community building, Mr Hogarth said.
However, this view was disputed by Eimer Murphy, a planning consultant speaking on behalf of the applicant.
Ms Murphy said: “A doctors’ surgery cannot be anything but community use. It would bring another employment activity to the area and would include a cafe.”
“We have sought to consider the marketing exercises the previous owners have gone through.”
She described how the activities had appeared to be unsuccessful until Dr Craig Namvar came forward.
Ms Murphy also told the committee that the proposals had been submitted with ‘urgency’, as the lease at the Guestling Surgery’s current premises had nearly expired.
Committee members, however, shared concerns around the loss of the pub, with several asking what could be done to give residents a chance to run it themselves.
Cllr Gennette Stevens (Con, Rye and Winchelsea) said: “I think the community ought to have a go at running this as a pub. They’ve gone for the asset [of community value] and I think they should be given the chance.
“There are too many local pubs shutting and we should try to support ours. It is a hub of the community.”
Similar concerns were raised by Cllr Deidre Earl-Williams (Ind, Bexhill Collington) who called on the committee to defer the application.
Cllr Earl-Williams said: “I think maybe we should defer this to give it a chance. To see if the community are able to run it themselves before we make a final decision that will mean the pub is lost forever.”
But other committee members felt the creation of a new doctors’ surgery would off-set the impact of the loss of a pub.
Proposing the application be approved, Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Mier, whose Southern Rother ward includes Pett Level, said: “I find this a very difficult decision, but the fact is that for some years successive managements have failed at running it and it has been closed for some time.
“What we are presented with now is a realistic opportunity to retain it as a community asset.
“It is accepted, I think, by all that the doctor will have to vacate [his] current premises and has been looking for some time for somewhere suitable. This is indeed somewhere suitable.
“I would much rather we have both, but we can’t and I think we owe it to the applicant to make a decision today and go forward with this.”
Following further discussion the committee approved the application 11 votes to two.