Press Release – 26th Aug 2013

FURZE PLATT ACTION GROUP (FPAG) – SAVE THE HARP – 26 AUGUST 2013

The Golden Harp, Furze Platt, Maidenhead, used to belong to Enterprise Inns,  a debt-laden Pubco that runs down many of its pubs so that it can claim they are unviable and close them to sell as domestic properties (which requires planning consent for change of use), or as a supermarket which is permitted development under our archaic planning law. This has enabled supermarkets (especially Tesco) to open many a convenience store at the expense of an often much loved local pub.

The Golden Harp in Furze Platt, a Victorian Village conservation area about a mile from Maidenhead town centre, suffered this treatment recently. In December 2012, hoardings appeared round it, and shortly after this it was gutted. Tesco submitted to Maidenhead Development Control Panel six applications for what they termed ‘minor works’, including punching a large hole in the front of the pub to add shop doors, and an ATM on the side of the original 1889 stable block.

The Furze Platt Action Group (FPAG) formed to oppose Tesco’s plans, and these first six applications were refused by the planning authority at a packed Town Hall, in March 2013, mainly on the grounds that they did not improve or enhance the conservation area. A survey showed that 89% of local residents did not want a Tesco, but wanted to retain their community pub instead. A full Council Meeting on 23 April voted 48-1 to recommend to the Development Control Panel that an Article 4 direction be considered, which would require a full planning application for change of use. This was subsequently felt by the Panel to be too late (and potentially costly to taxpayers and individual councillors, who we believe were informed they might be personally liable if a compensation claim resulted).

Tesco appealed against the refusal of the first set of applications, and the date for this hearing is 17 October 2013. They also submitted another set of very similar proposals, which were all again refused. This time one of the councillors had commissioned a traffic report from Thames Valley Police, carried out at the morning rush hour, which showed the dangers the increased traffic would pose to children passing by to three local schools. Formally this could not be considered, as the applications were not related to a change of use which is already permitted. The FPAG have challenged Tesco to put in a full planning application if the development is as safe as they claim, so that the traffic report can be considered, and everyone can then abide by the decision. Tesco have consistently refused to meet FPAG, and only communicate via their corporate affairs manager, who was instructed by senior officials to say only ‘we will go ahead with this store’. Their Chief Executive and Chair refuse to answer correspondence, despite the involvement of Theresa May MP.

The Golden Harp was listed by the Council as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). However, Central Midland Estates (CME), the owners of the freehold, from whom Tesco have leased the Golden Harp, have appealed against the Council’s listing of the Golden Harp as an ACV. The hearing is expected within the next few weeks. It’s a good job FPAG are an energetic group, supported by the local CAMRA branch and others. There’s no sign of weakening under the pressure.  The battles continue.