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The Story So Far...
Would you like to help save our beautiful and much loved old pub, the White Lion in St Leonard's, Buckinghamshire, which shut its doors just months before it should have been celebrating its 300th birthday? That's nearly 300 years of providing a warm welcome next to the roaring fire or in a delightful garden, serving food and drink to the local community and weary passing travelers - all gone!
The White Lion is the social heart of the community, the village's living room, a place to meet and share stories over a pint or a glass of wine. It is where people who have just moved to the area can meet their new neighbours, where visitors, families and friends can eat, where the young and old alike can get together, where regulars and the occasional punter can go for a well earned pint - it is the heart of our community. One phrase that says it all "a village without a pub is just a dormitory" and we can't allow this to happen while we are custodians of the local villages.
Please don't let this happen in St Leonards, Buckland Common or any of the Hilltop villages - your pub is important to so many in the community and we need to fight to save it! Please sign up to support the White Lion. By registering your name you are joining the campaign to save the pub and your support really matters. We will not inundate you with emails, but send you the latest news on the campaign, what happens next and occasionally what you might be able to do to help us achieve our objective - Saving the White Lion! Please subscribe at the top or bottom of this page by entering your email and postcode to register your support - thanks!
This is what we've been up to so far.........
The White Lion has been at the heart of St Leonards and Buckland Common for over 300 years. Like many businesses, it has had its up's and down's over the years, however it is fair to say that under the ownership of Punch Taverns, like many other village pubs that are tied to big the Pub Co's in England, it has really struggled with high rents and prohibitive beer ties. The last landlord who really had the pub buzzing was Gary Heap (to view a great video on You Tube, please click here) until his untimely death in 2008 and since then, Punch have installed a series of temporary and inexperienced people, on very short contracts, to keep the pub open. With irregular opening times, uncertainty of whether there would be any beer, wine or food available, it was no surprise that over time many local people gave up on the White Lion. It certainly lost much of its very important passing trade too. The wheels had come off Punch Taverns business model and they decided to try and sell the pub in 2011 and it was put on the market at a totally unrealistic price with the suggestion that it might be able to convert to a private house, which would enhance the potential value of the asset to Punch. Below is a reverse timeline (latest news 1st) of how our campaign has progressed:
Mandy and Kevin have spent considerable time and money so far in making the building watertight and improving the insulation. They have also improved the living accommodation on the 1st floor, however they have had a tough time getting their refurbishment plans for the public areas approved by the local Council. Obviously the building is Grade II listed and any inappropriate development should be prevented, but the pub does need bringing into the 21st century and a number of improvements for both the customers and owners should be permitted. The pub has to become financially viable for the long term and we believe Mandy's ideas are good. Hopefully the redrafted plans will be accepted by CDC and further delays in reopening the pub avoided. We can't at this stage predict when the doors will open.
Mandy Grinwood and Kevin 'Jogger' Franklin are the new owners of the White Lion after completing the purchase on 22nd June. Sadly the pub and gardens were left in a poor state by the Millers, however the pub now has a future at the heart of the community and will also provide a home for Mandy and Kevin. The Save the White Lion team are fully supportive of their efforts and we look forward to the reopening of the pub and wish them well during the refurbishment program and their new business venture. We look forward to the 1st of many beers & wines to be drunk at the pub!
Some WONDERFUL news........
Following several offers to buy the pub from different parties, it has been bought and we understand the new owners, who originate from the local community, plan to reopen the White Lion. That is the outcome we have all been fighting for - the White Lion returned to the heart of our community. We look forward to the pub offering a warm welcome to all once again and the team has offered all their support to the new owners. The sale completion is not due until June 2017 and of course there is a lot of work that needs doing before the Lion can roar once again! We can't wait........
At long last, the owners of the White Lion have put the pub back on the market, accepting that their speculative development plans had failed and it was time to move on. The pub has been listed with Potter & Ford, a local estate agent in Chesham. The Save the White Lion campaign team have decided at this stage to wait and see what interest there is from others before considering launching another community bid. However if it is clear that there is little or no interest, we are prepared to make another attempt.
VICTORY! The Planning Inspector delivers her verdict - the Appeal is dismissed and the Enforcement Notice is upheld. The White Lion can be financially viable and is an important community asset. The property developers, who bought the pub from Punch in 2014, in the hope of converting it into a private house, have been thwarted with a damning verdict that picked up on many of the key points that Chiltern District Council and the Save the White Lion team presented at the Public Inquiry. They are not permitted to convert the pub into a private house and they have 12 months in which to return the building to its lawful use under the planning rules. Hopefully the owners will take a pragmatic decision and try to sell the pub and extract themselves from a situation that they surely can't enjoy. If the pub does come back on the market and you have an interest in buying it to run as a successful business, knowing you have the backing of the local community, please do not hesitate to contact us. If nobody steps forward, we may even attempt another community purchase, but at a fair and realistic price.
May & June 2016
The Public Inquiry was held at the Amersham offices of Chiltern District Council and it was clear that with the considerable evidence being put forward by both sides, that additional days were going to be required. Two further days were timetabled at Chesham Town Council in June. There were three parties attending the Inquiry; the Appellants who were represented by a QC, Chiltern District Council who were represented by a Barrister and the Save the White Lion team who were permitted under the Rule 6 regulations. Each party presented their evidence to the Planning Inspector and they were then cross examined to ensure their evidence was robust - a nervous time for those of us not experienced in the dark arts of the legal profession! There was tremendous support from the local community, which clearly demonstrated to all present at the Inquiry, the strength of community feeling towards the White Lion and the Chiltern pubs in general, which are probably all worth more as a private house than a pub. We had tremendous support from CAMRA and the Chiltern Society, along with testimonies from other successful local pubs.
The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) have decided the the Planning Appeal will be heard at a formal Public Inquiry. The date has been confirmed as Wednesday 11th May 2016 to be held at the Chiltern District Council Offices at 10.00 AM. The Planning Inspector will listen to the arguments from both sides, under oath, and following this, will make the decision on the pub's future. The public are welcome to attend the Inquiry and indeed, we will be urging all our supporters to attend and demonstrate the continuing support there is for the White Lion in our community and beyond. It is likely that Chiltern District Council will be represented by a QC to ensure their decision to refuse planning to turn the pub into a private house is upheld and they will be calling expert witnesses to back this argument up. The Save the White Lion team hope to be able to speak at the Inquiry and will put forward our case that the pub can be financially viable and that we had put forward a credible offer from the community, to buy the pub from the current owners, something we hope to be able to do again.
On 24th July, the owners registered an appeal against the decision of the Chiltern District Council (CDC) Planning Committee to refuse the change of use. We will have to await for the Planning Inspectorate to review the decision the Committee took and hopefully decide to uphold this refusal to permit a change of use at the pub. At the same time, we have attempted to restart discussions with the owners and have expressed our willingness to attempt another community purchase of the pub once again, but at a fair price. We also know that CDC have served an Enforcement Notice on the owners to cease using the building as a private house and they have 12 months to comply.
The Planning Inspectorate are now inviting comments from the community and we urge everyone to write in support of the decisions that CDC took in rejecting the owners planning applications and the subsequent Enforcement Notice. Comments must be received by 18th September 2015 and you can submit yours via the Planning Inspectorate Web Portal or email email@example.com. You must quote the appeal reference numbers in all submissions and these are APP/X0415/W/15/3130704 for the appeal against the refusal for the change of use and two appeals APP/X0415/C/15/3130705 and APP/X0415/C/15/3131920 for the Enforcement Notice. Please write to support the decisions that CDC made and tell the Planning Inspectorate that you want the White Lion as a pub and not a private dwelling.
On 30th April, the CDC Planning Committee firmly dismissed the Planning Application to convert the pub into a private house. There has been overwhelming support from the community to Save the White Lion with over 60 members of the community turning up to the Planning Committee meeting and 159 letters and emails being sent to the CDC planning officer all objecting to the pub closure. Many of these were heartfelt and passionate about what the pub meant to the locals and visitors to the area alike. The case officer has said that the response was "remarkable" and "most unusual" for an application such as this. CDC also commissioned a independent report regarding the ongoing viability of the White Lion as a pub and this concluded that as a Free House and well managed it indeed had an good future, but it would need to be purchased at a price that reflected its value as a pub and not as a speculative domestic house.
The new owners submitted a planning application in September 2014 for the change of use from an A4 business premises (a licensed public house) to a private dwelling. This is contrary to all the local planning policies, however they had to prove "exceptional circumstances" for this to be permitted by CDC. The main argument stated in their planning application is that the White Lion is no longer financially viable. Due to the mismanagement over the last couple years, with transient and inept people running the pub tied to a brewery, unsurprisingly, the pub did not fare well. But when the pub was run and managed well, it was an exceptional business that made money, employed local people, was supplied by local businesses and provided a good living for its tenants. As a well run Free House and including a local village shop, selling local produce, fresh food and some general foods, the White Lion certainly has a viable future. This has been backed up by an independent financial viability report commissioned and published by CDC in January 2015.
There was an outcry when the pub closed and at a stormy Cholesbury-cum-St Leonards Parish Council meeting, where over 100 people attended to voice there objections, the new owners offered to sell the pub back to the community for what they had paid. The Save the White Lion team reformed and started work to formulate a strong business plan and to find out whether sufficient funding could be raised from the local community to buy the property and reopen the White Lion as a Free House. The team, along with the strong support and assistance of the Parish Council, had the White Lion registered as an "Asset of Community Value" with Chiltern District Council.
There was terrific support, with over 160 local people signing up, most of whom represented one single household. Financial Expressions of Interest were requested and sufficient funds were raised by the team, based on the White Lion Revival Plan, to put fully funded and fair offers to the owners. The final offer of £300,000 represented the price they had paid Punch Taverns, plus their costs, but less the damage that had been caused by the removal of many of the key fixtures and fittings from the bar area and kitchens and the Stamp Duty they had personally incurred. It was complicated by the VAT the new owners had paid to Punch Taverns and the fact that the vendors had put completely unacceptable terms on the contract of sale. Sadly our final offer received the terse response from the vendors "Sorry, we have moved on". The funds we had raised and banked were returned in full to those who contributed and the campaign moved from one to try and buy the pub, to that of ensuring the property was not developed into a private dwelling but retained as a village pub.
When the pub was put on the market by Punch Taverns and it was clear that there were no buyers, a group of locals came together in 2013 to consider whether it was possible to raise funds from the community and put a fair offer to Punch to buy the White Lion. Considerable effort resulted in a credible offer being made, however we were advised that another offer had recently been accepted by Punch from the landlord at the time and the team were told this was progressing by both parties. Imagine our shock and disappointment when we were told at Christmas 2013 that this purchase had failed and that the pub had been bought by a private individual. The pub closed on 3rd January 2014 and shortly after, the new owners advised the community that they had no intention of reopening it ever again but intended to turn it into a private house. Shortly after the sale, many of the pub's fixtures and fittings were removed, including the bar and the specialist cellar and commercial kitchen equipment.
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Our vision is to build the White Lion into an asset of real value for the local community by keeping it as a traditional village local without the crippling costs and operating restrictions associated with being tied to a pub company.
We have a number of plans to increase use of the pub and its revenue while at the same time provide additional much needed facilities for residents of the hilltop villages and its visitors. Among them are to develop the outbuilding at the rear of the pub into a village shop, similar to the one run successfully at Lee Common; ensure 'food with flair' is served on a regular basis backed by seasonal barbecues and other events; re-instate the children's play area and serve 'real coffee' over extended hours with afternoon teas and refreshments. Before we do this we need to buy the freehold and refurbish the pub, replace the bar, equipment and furniture already removed since the new owners moved in, as well as improve the accommodation upstairs, the garden and external areas. The level of refurbishment and development will depend on the amount of funds that we can raise above the purchase price.
Those who provide funds will receive shares in the community owned limited company that would own the freehold of the White Lion and be run by an elected management team. In time, and depending on how the offer was structured, we would expect shareholders to receive either a repayment of loans or a dividend. However this would only happen once the pub was running on a financially stable basis. Detailed financial projections will be included in the company prospectus we will issue should we consider we have enough support to succeed in our objectives. Shares could be bought and sold, if willing buyers and sellers could be found. At this stage we anticipate the amount of shares each individual could hold would be limited to ensure one person could not have significant voting influence over other community shareholders.
The White Lion would be leased to tenants who would pay a fair rent to the community company that owns the freehold. The rent would be the company's income. We expect the tenants to make a fair living and they would be responsible for all aspects of the day to day running of the pub under a broad set of principles and direction included by the community company in the tenancy agreement.
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Richard and Paula have a great passion for the White Lion where they have met many friends in the village since moving here 21 years ago. They sincerely believe that it must be retained as a social hub for the community and a welcoming place for the many visitors coming to the Chilterns. Along with a shop and other facilities for the community's benefit, it can return to be the beating heart of the Hilltop Villages.
Mick and Linsey chose to live in Buckland Common because it was a village location with a couple of pubs close by, in fact Linsey has been drinking in the White Lion since about 1984 when she lived in Chesham and remembers it as being called “the pink pub” and passionately hopes it will be a pub once more, even if not painted pink!
As residents of St Leonards for the past 35 years, Bill and his family say they have benefitted from a cohesive community spirit that has been fostered by the St Leonards church, the village hall activities and the White Lion. Bill’s contribution to the White Lion Revival campaign is largely concentrated on the financial aspects.
When retired journalist Rick and wife Linda moved to Buckland Common 25 years ago they had two pubs within a 100 metres stagger of their house -- a significant reason for them choosing to live there. With the White Lion closing they now don't have either. Rick says:"The Lion is a marvellous old place holding great memories where we met many of our friends and well worth fighting for. A village without a pub is just a collection of houses."
I have lived in the Hilltop Villages for over 20 years, and almost every new friend I have met has been via the White Lion. It would be a great shame if one of our last social opportunities was lost forever.
The White Lion was a place where I met dozens of very good friends I would otherwise not have met. I hope my children have that same opportunity.
Join the cause now to help get your pub back!
Local people have given a resounding verdict on the delayed application by the new owners of the White Lion to change its use to a house after 300 years operating as a pub. They say: “Turn it back to a pub or sell it to the community at a realistic price so they can do so.”
Read more about what we are doing right now, and how our campaign is progressing.