Councillors refuse change of use for Chester Arms

Oxford Mail: The Chester Arms The Chester Arms

CONTROVERSIAL plans to convert an East Oxford pub into a home have been thrown out.

City councillors defied officers’ recommendations to unanimously reject plans to turn the Chester Arms in Iffley Fields into a four-bedroom house.

Applicant Woodchester Estates Ltd had argued the pub was not viable, there had been no formal bids to take it over as a pub and suggested other pubs in the area the community could use.

But councillors disagreed and said the loss of a pub to Iffley Fields would be unacceptable.

The council received 75 letters from residents objecting to the plan, and one in favour.

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) also lodged an objection to the change of use.

Sarah Wild, of the Iffley Fields Residents’ Association, spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting and claimed the applicant’s viability assessment was “biased”.

She said: “This assessment has been commissioned and paid for by the developers. We believe an independent assessment is required.”

She added: “There are no alternative pubs on the Iffley Road and it is the only really big family pub in the area.

“Of the other pubs that have been suggested, three are private members’ clubs and of the others the majority are on the Cowley Road.”

Committee member Elise Benjamin, councillor for Iffley Fields, said she had a prejudicial interest because she had already made up her mind and removed herself from the decision making.

Arguing against the scheme, she said the council should have used Camra’s viability test, rather than the applicant’s, and said there were three people lining up to take over the pub.

Nik Lyzba, speaking for the applicant, said: “If the 75 people who objected had been regularly in the pub we probably would not be here today, but they were not.

“The pub has had 18 tenants in recent years and the majority have lasted two months – the longest was five and a half years.

“There was an investment in 2010 but that did not lead to an increase in trade.”

He said there had been no formal approach from anyone to take over the pub, and added: “We suspect that is because it is not a viable proposition.”

My Lyzba also disputed allegations that the viability assessment had not been independent and said there were other pubs in the area.

He added: “There is a range of services available to local people such that if the pub was lost it would not be significant in terms of loss to the community.”

But councillor John Tanner said: “We do not accept the officers’ recommendation and we reject the idea that this pub could close.”

He said other public houses in the area were a long walk away and added: “We need pubs in this area.

“Clearly the owners are trying to make money and do not have regard for the community interest.”

The west area planning committee found there was not enough evidence of non-viability, it had not been demonstrated suitable alternative pubs existed to meet the community’s need and disputed that no occupier could be found.

Speaking after the meeting, Camra Oxford spokesman Tony Goulding said: “It is wonderful news.

“We believe the pub should be saved because the community has fought hard to save the pub and this is the start of their reward.

“It will be a viable pub given the right brewery or pub company supporting it and the right people running it – with help from the community.”

Mr Lyzba was last night unable to confirm what Woodchester Estates would do now.

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