A well-attended and often lively meeting held in the Gill Nethercott Centre sent a virtually unanimous message to the planners at Basingstoke & Deane that the people of Whitchurch care about their local community and the character of the town.
With just ten days to go to the planned demolition of the historic Harvest Home, residents keenly questioned the Council’s motives for not imposing an order preventing demolition before any planning application has been submitted.
An emotional plea…
Cydni Green, granddaughter of Sid, famous for his fish and chip meals and perhaps the most remembered of the past licensees, made a passionate plea for retention of the building, where she was brought up as a child. “If I could buy it and run it as a pub I would” she stated with tears welling as past pictures of community life in the pub were displayed.
CAMRA’s representative John Buckley, explained how when they launched the Save the Harvest Campaign, they requested that Basingstoke impose an Article 4 Direction as a means to protect the building from demolition – “This was as much about saving a building of character as much as a pub”. He also ran through the value a pub puts back into a community as well as changes in the laws that CAMRA is pushing for at national level, including requirements for more transparency and community involvement in pub sales –“Behind the door sales of community assets should have no place”.
Chaired by local Borough Councillor Keith Watts, the meeting quizzed at length Basingstoke’s Cabinet Member for Planning Rob Golding, on why they were refusing to provide this protection despite the local demand.
At times the questionning was polite but ‘robust’ as Cllr Golding claimed there could be a requirement for paying compensation to the developer, yet also admitted he knew of no cases where this had actually occurred.
He recognised peoples’ feelings on the matter, saying “This is a very good turnout for a meeting – and that speaks volumes”.
Risk of compensation claim…
When asked, he stated “The only way to stop demolition is the Article 4” as requested by CAMRA. He stated that this would certainly be imposed if someone could cover the Council’s perceived risk of a compensation claim, which they estimate to be around £100,000.
However the calculations were hotly disputed as local campaigners provided evidence that some of the Council’s figures may be incorrect, particularly relating to property values claimed and actual sales figures that could affect any possible compensation levels.
As a result he promised to re-look at the whole issue and would meet with his officers.
On another front, there is a need for an environmental impact survey on the site. The developer’s report specifically states there was no evidence of roosting bats observed on site. This was vehemently denied by several present including those who had lived there. Indeed it was even claimed that until very recently bat boxes were attached to the building.
Requests for a re-investigation were called for, which Cllr Golding took away with him to reconsider.
The meeting closed with Cydni providing another request for the building to be saved and for the Council to recognise the importance to local people and the community.
Re-looking at points raised…
Although no decisions to halt demolition were forthcoming, Cllr Golding left the meeting understanding the depth of feeling, and that Whitchurch certainly values what it presently has. His attendance and willingness to listen was very much appreciated by those present as were his promises to relook at some of the points raised.
The responses to the items he went away with will be critical to the final outcome.
Refreshments were organised by Cydni Green and costs for the meeting were provided by the volunteers from CAMRA
SAVE THE HARVEST HOME