With Secret Garden Nursery owner Charlie Perkins at the Ridge
Why does an MP get involved in the future of a pub that’s already closed?
That’s the question I asked myself over two years ago, when I read about Morrisons supermarket’s announcement of their decision to apply for a petrol station on the site of the ex Ridge & Furrow pub.
The answer was that I didn’t believe a ‘study’ by their consultant claiming residents were resolutely behind this idea. It was partly that the site is not ideal for a petrol station – beside a popular GPs’ surgery and a stream, raising questions about run off and environmental pollution, and partly because this wasn’t what residents were telling me on the doorstep.
So I did my own survey to thousands of residents, with a very high response rate, which confirmed my suspicions with almost 70% against. This destroyed the supermarket case that the petrol station was wanted.
So the scene was set for a planning battle – in fact several battles, including an appeal. All were lost by Morrisons, the last appeal only recently. We – principally a good combination of motivated residents, dedicated Councillors and a planning expert giving his time free of charge – got the pub listed as an asset of community value: the City Council did its objective job well and the right result was reached (even if I thought for the wrong reasons, but let’s not go there).
Victory? Only in a negative sense. Almost three years on the site is still boarded up, the car park blocked by rocks, the garden untended and no-one living in Abbey can be proud of that. Having got involved in the principle of local feeling, I didn’t, and don’t, think I can walk away at this stage from residents who feel ‘OK, what now?’
I feel an obligation to work with those opposed to a petrol station to find what would be good, and to get a solution. The starting point was Morrisons. So I’ve been in contact and am delighted that this week, after a few mails and a conversation, the supermarket has confirmed that they have no plan to try again with another planning application for a petrol station. That’s a welcome step forward and I’m grateful to the supermarket for confirming it.
The next point is then what the community think would be a popular solution. I have have had suggestions of a nursery from several operators, and the concept of a nursery as well as a pub or family restaurant from Charlie Perkins of the Secret Garden, a stunning Eastgate St. nursery.
Morrisons is not selling the site, so there is no opportunity at the moment for a community buy-out. Trust Inns remains the lessee, which means dealing with them. And as my father (who has been in the pub business for a long time) said, there probably isn’t enough to feed three mouths – landlord, lessee and a tenant manager.
At this stage a sensible MP would probably be slipping away from the battlefield – announcing victory, and letting others try and untangle the future. But I don’t feel I can do that. Victory is when a viable business provides a useful new service to the local Abbeydale and Abbeymead community, pays a commercial rent to the landlord and earns a decent living at the old Ridge & Furrow. We’re still a long way from that.
So the next stage is:
1. Seeing who might be interested in establishing a business there (ideas please, even though no specification or rent details are available)
2. Hearing what residents would most value (ditto: ideas please)
3. Discussing with Trust Inns their plans and interest in the site
I will write to Trust Inns on that point, although they weren’t very forthcoming last time I contacted them, and something tells me this is going to need intervention high up. If that’s what it takes then so be it. This Jack Russell doesn’t give up easily.
Meanwhile, if you know of an interesting business looking for a new hub in a great location, then do let me know. I hope there will be enough interest for a community meeting before long.
This is all taking time: is it worthwhile? I think so, but I’m conscious that we are all impatient nowadays, and I share any frustration readers may have. The good news is that we are now over the petrol station phase of the site and can focus on a bold alternatives.
Let me know your thoughts on solutions on firstname.lastname@example.org.