Hopes of reopening Bristol neighbourhood’s last pub dealt a major blow

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City council officers are advising councillors to approve controversial plans for two homes above the Rhubarb Tavern

Hopes of reopening a Bristol neighbourhood’s last pub have been dealt a major blow.

City council officers are advising councillors to approve controversial plans for two homes above the Rhubarb Tavern in Barton Hill and six more in a new three-storey block in the rear beer garden.

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Although the ground floor would retain the use as a pub, campaigners say this would be impossible because of the greatly reduced outdoor space and potential complaints about noise from the future residents.

Bristol couple Sunny Paradisos and Tara Clerkin who crowdfunded more than £45,000 to reopen the boozer as a gig venue and not-for-profit community hub are calling on the development control committee to vote against the recommendation to grant permission.

They have been backed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), one of 154 objectors to the homes scheme, which will be decided on Wednesday, January 24.

As previously reported, the pair thought they had secured a lease with London-based property developer Mona Mogharebi, who owns the pub in Queen Ann Road, but last month claimed she had “reneged” on the deal.

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The owner disputes the couple’s interpretation of their agreement.

Ahead of next week’s crunch council meeting, Tara said: “We’re the only prospective tenants who’ve been able to come to an agreement with her over the three years she’s been looking for someone to lease the pub.

“I hope Bristol City Council can see an approval of the proposed development for what it clearly would be – a huge disservice to the people of Barton Hill and Bristol.

“We’re aware that we’re probably burning bridges by coming out publicly in opposition to the owner we were hoping to sign a lease with, but this issue goes far beyond our own plans for the pub and the year we’ve spent trying to get it open again.

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“If the council allows the upstairs and beer garden to be turned into flats then the threat of neighbour complaints, along with the reduced space needed to make the business viable, will make it practically impossible for the Rhubarb to ever function as a pub again.

“If this decision is allowed to go ahead then the pub itself will remain empty and decaying until that too is eventually allowed to be turned into some other development.

“The Rhubarb has been a working pub since the 1870s and could carry on serving Barton Hill and wider community for many more decades to come.

“Everyone involved in this decision needs to resist looking for short-term solutions and think about the benefits of looking after our communities long-term.”

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CAMRA Bristol and District branch said the redevelopment, including the loss of most of the garden along with living accommodation upstairs for potential licensees, “seriously undermines the potential viability of any future pub operation and is therefore unacceptable”.

It said: “It is beyond the bounds of credulity to suppose that there will be no conflict between residents of the proposed flats and pub customers, particularly those using the greatly reduced outdoor space.

“The robust response from the local community to try and save the Rhubarb shows there remains a substantial customer base.”

CAMRA said almost 900 people contributed to local musicians Tara and Sunny’s crowdfunder appeal.

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“We believe this is far more compelling evidence of the degree of local support – and thus potential viability – than the rather flimsy evidence of community engagement provided by the applicant,” it said.

“We urge that this application is rejected and that the whole premises are retained as a public house.”

The council’s Conservation Advisory Panel said: “The proposed design of the new building to the rear is banal and does not sit comfortably with the locally listed building.’ 

But the planning officers’ report said the pub’s status as an Asset of Community Value was not a barrier to granting consent.

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It said: “The application is recommended for approval on the basis that it has been demonstrated that the site in its current form is in such a state that it would not provide a viable offer to any potential business looking to renovate the pub and bring it back into viable use.

“The proposal would retain the public house, with the building restored through the development of additional residential properties within the grounds.

“It would also retain the traditional pub frontage and protect the locally listed building from further harms.

“It would also secure improvements to the pavement to the front of the building, add eight dwellings to the city housing stock and the use of the pub would be protected from any potential noise issues.”

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The report said an independent study commissioned by officers concluded the proposed development “would result in a viable public house” even with the loss of the beer garden.

“This viability study supports the applicant’s economic/marketing statement which shows that the pub has remained vacant for more than three years,” it said.

“In that time, it has suffered significant damage from squatters, much of the metal work and services inside the building have been stripped out and the building has been left in a state of significant disrepair as a result of a failure to secure a leaseholder.

“The proposed development is considered acceptable.

“All dwellings meet space standards, are dual aspect and would provide an acceptable level of accommodation.”

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The application is by Natan Ltd whose sole director is Mona Mogharebi, according to Companies House.

She has said that “no definitive terms were firmly agreed” with Sunny and Tara and that their interactions “at best involved loose negotiations”.

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