Locals launch bid to safeguard future of the White Hart but new owner says plans for the pub are ‘undecided’.
PEOPLE in Bratton Fleming are hoping to register the village’s last remaining pub as an ‘asset of community value’.
More than 150 attended a meeting in the village to discuss the future of the White Hart, which has been closed since December 2012.
They fear the pub, which was sold by Enterprise Inns earlier this month, will never re-open under its new owner, local businessman Philip Milton.
Resident Trevor Hilton, a former pub landlord himself, said he had started exploring a possible community ‘Right to Bid’ but the sale of the pub had come as somewhat of a surprise.
“It’s the old case of hindsight, but if we knew six months ago what we know now, we’d have been three parts down the road towards purchasing,” he said.
“All the villagers know it could do a lot better. It needs to be more than just a pub that does food. It needs to be the centre of the community – the village hub.”
Fellow campaigner Michelle Dickson said that by registering the pub as an asset of community value with North Devon Council, villagers would be in a position to launch a community ‘Right to Bid’ should it ever come up for sale again.
“We held a meeting to find out if the pub was worth fighting for and the feeling in the village is that we don’t want to lose our last pub for ever,” she said.
“The pub has been the heart of the community for however many hundreds of years and the feedback we received was that villagers would love to support it once more.”
But White Hart owner Mr Milton told the Gazette his plans for the building were undecided.
“We are not planning anything immediate at all and are in no hurry,” he said.
“The only thing we may do in the near term is consider making the domestic accommodation within the place available for rent.
“Our suggestion would be that a compromise development solution is likely to be a very wise outcome, as opposed to seeing permanently closed doors for the village.”
Mr Milton, who said he pipped a Bristol-based property development company to the sale, said any plans villagers had to buy the pub themselves would have been ‘wishful thinking’.
He said: “I think the villagers are suggesting an enthusiasm which wasn’t there until after the event.
“Unfortunately there has been inadequate support from locals for the business for as many years as it has changed hands over the last decade and with insufficient support.”
Financial advisor Mr Milton, who also owns Trimstone Manor Country House Hotel, said the White Hart had floundered due to competition from the village’s community sports and social club, as well as the constraints of drink driving.
“Many have tried to make a go of the business yet the odds have been so against them.
“The property would need a disproportionate amount spent upon it just to bring it up to an appropriate condition to reopen if it remained in its present format.”
A second meeting about the pub is being held in the village hall tomorrow (Wednesday), starting at 8pm.