Leighton Arms public planning inquiry: Community split and old landlady says locals 'never supported' pub that's now a Nisa
PUBLISHED: 09:35 03 October 2019
Kentish Town may finally be on the verge of finding out if a Nisa supermarket operating in the building that once held the Leighton Arms pub can stay put.
A public planning inquiry to determine the future of the building - which may or may not have opened as a shop in August 2017 - began at the Crowndale Centre in Mornington Crescent this week.
At the inquiry, Camden Council is hoping to see planning inspector Diane James uphold its enforcement notice - which claims the pub's conversion was not lawful and orders developers to revert it back to its previous state.
But developer Bryanston and the family who have been running the mini-supermarket are adamant that they met all necessary regulations, and that - even if they didn't - the conversion should be granted planning permission anyway.
Ms James opened the inquiry by explaining that Bryanston's case rested on three grounds. The first is that there was no breach of planning control, the second is that permission ought to be granted, and the third is that the time given to undo the conversion was too short.
David Forsdick QC, representing Bryanston, told the inquiry the pub had not been viable so change of use should be granted. He said: "In the light of changed social patterns and a general decline in the pub trade, for many years the Leighton Arms had struggled financially, despite attempts to diversify. The idea of having a pub in the community may be popular here, but the figures tell their own entirely compelling story,
The appeal also heard from Bryanston's witness Andreas Georgiou - a food delivery driver who delivers to eight of the Hussain family's Nisa stores. He told the inquiry he recalled delivering to the shop during August 2017 - which would mean the shop was operating in time to make the change of use lawful - but that then "it was boarded up" and there was still scaffolding in place. Mr Georgiou added: "the shelves were very old, everything was very old."
When asked if it was "obvious" to him that the shop was open, Mr Georgiou said it was because there was a cashier working and "a couple" of staff.
Opening the council's case, Mark Beard told the inquiry that "the council stands by its enforcement notice".
He added: "We say there has been a unauthorised material change of use, The starting point is the actual use of the Leighton Arms - at its closure in March 2016 it was a pub."
He added the council "did not accept" that a lawyer for Bryanston had made "reasonable efforts" to make sure it was informed of a request to change the pub into a shop.
The furore over the pub's transformation into a shop has divided the community. A vocal campaign group, backed by local councillors and even actor Charles Dance are angry at what they see as the destruction of a key local facility.
On the other hand, the pub's former landlady has thrown her weight behind the developers and explained that the pub she ran had been "at death's door" for many years. Jeannette Brosnan told the inquiry she was giving evidence because the directors of Bryanston had been kind to her and she wanted to "set the record straight" after rumours she had been forced out.
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She said this was not the case. Asked if it could be described as a "community pub", she added: "No, It was a community pub for about 10 people. The pub was not well-supported by local residents. Hardly any of these people came in to my pub."
Cllr Jenny Headlam-Wells (Lab, Kentish Town) was among a number of local people who spoke at the inquiry,
She said: "I am able to support the council's conclusion that no replacement community facility has been provided. A shop does not provide the community facility.
"I am concerned the precedent that will be set by allowing this as permitted development would be detrimental to the area."
The owners of Susan's Mini Mart, and a number of neighbours in Torriano Avenue and Leighton and Brecknock Roads, also spoke and were cross-exmined by Mr Forsdick, who asked every speaker how often they had used the Leighton Arms.
Meanwhile, Liaqat Hussain, who owns the lease for the supermarket and runs a small chain across London with his family, expressed disbelief.
Mr Hussain, who opened his first shop in Queens Crescent in 1990, told this newspaper: "Why would I sign a 20 year-lease without having the change of use?"
The inquiry continues and is expected to conclude tomorrow (Fri).
Camden Council think it has been operating unlawfully