“How I laughed,” was the response of Rachel Lawrence, one of the organisers of the Save The Ship campaign in South Norwood, when she heard that the developers had described the campaign group as “23 middle-class white guys who don’t live there, kicking up a fuss”, after Croydon Council’s planning committee had rejected their application to turn the old pub into a handful of under-sized but over-priced flats.
It was the third time that the current owners of the 160-year-old pub had had their planning application rejected. Previous rejections had not prevented them going ahead with the flat conversions, though.
The developers had worked with council planning staff for more than six months to try to achieve retrospective permission, yet still their flats came up short of current building regulations and standards. Given that Croydon Council now has a strict landlord licensing scheme in place to ensure private rented accommodation meets certain minimum standards, the flats in The Ship could present an early test of the council’s resolve on this key policy.
It has been suggested that the building owners may not even have a Croydon Council landlord licence, meaning they could face a £140,000 fine – up to £20,000 for each of the seven unlicensed properties. Prosecuting such a case may be quite difficult, however, since the council’s own planning department had collaborated with the developer for such a lengthy period of time.
The developers, ZB Investments, are registered at a Clapham lock-up. They may now have to serve notice to their tenants of the flats in The Ship.
Their agents described the latest planning permission refusal as “a political decision” to satisfy the Save The Ship campaign group.
The Save The Ship campaign wants to buy the property and restore it as a working pub. It has applied successfully for it to be registered as an ACV, an Asset of Community Value, the first in Croydon, which gives it additional planning protection. The ACV application included the signatures of 23 local residents, not all of them men, and probably not all of them middle-class, either.
“We did everything the council asked for,” a spokesman for ZB Investment’s agents said after the council’s planning committee had rejected the latest application. “What do you want us to do? The decision was entirely political.
“They think that somehow that by refusing it will allow Save The Ship to buy the pub. But my client is not selling the building.”
Rachel Lawrence said, “Is this all the developer can say? How I laughed: 23 white middle class guys who don’t live in the area? I don’t know many people who signed the ACV that don’t live in the area. I think we had a mixture of backgrounds on the ACV and petitions.”
Lawrence says that Save The Ship has some private individuals wishing to purchase co-op shares in the pub, and a publican has “registered interested in purchasing The Ship and renovating and re-opening it as a pub”.
Save The Ship has written to the building’s owners again with an offer to buy the property, though there may be some negotiation over what state the property is when handed over, after the extensive work was carried out for the illegal flat conversions. Two staircases and a mansard roof which were installed – all without planning permission – also needs to be removed.
Since the planning meeting last month, there has been no news from the council regarding enforcement action over the illegally developed flats.
“The community of South Norwood are right behind efforts to reopen The Ship as a community pub which could be sustainable and add to the regeneration of South Norwood,” Wayne Lawlor, a South Norwood councillor, has said.
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