Should North Devon Council buy the White Hart pub for Bratton Fleming?

The White Hart in Bratton Fleming. Picture: Andy Keeble

The White Hart in Bratton Fleming. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

Councillors are to be asked if they would like to buy the White Hart pub at Bratton Fleming.

The village’s last remaining pub has been closed since 2012 and has been at the centre of a campaign by villagers to get it reopened.

On Monday, North Devon Council’s executive will be asked to consider a compulsory purchase order on the pub, following a request by the Bratton Fleming Community Benefit Society (CBS) Ltd.

Owner Philip Milton, who bought the pub in 2014, is currently appealing after his planning application to build three cottages to the rear of the pub on the beer garden and function room area, was refused.

He had said this would enable the pub to reopen, together with refurbishment to create a tea room, shop and post office.

Philip Milton, owner of the White Hart in Bratton Fleming. Picture: Andy Keeble

Philip Milton, owner of the White Hart in Bratton Fleming. Picture: Andy Keeble - Credit: Archant

READ MORE: Plans to re-open North Devon pub – complete with tea room, shop and post office .

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But village campaigners have been at loggerheads with Mr Milton and say they fear it will never reopen if his appeal is unsuccessful.

A CBS spokesman told the Gazette: “We are hopeful the council will agree to at least look into it. There’s nothing else that’s a real community hub that’s open to the whole community.”

The White Hart was listed as an ‘asset of community value’ in 2014 – which gives the community a ‘right to bid’ if it goes up for sale – but that runs out this year.

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Mr Milton said under community asset listing rules he had given the CBS the full six month period in which to buy the property and had offered it to the group for around £400,000, but its counteroffer had only been £150,000.

The CBS has claimed his valuation was double what it was worth.

But Mr Milton added: “The greatest sadness is that from the initial point of our purchase, we had plans to provide a community pub/hub/eatery/shop etc and it is now six years since its closure.

“The very unhelpful actions of a vociferous minority has resulted in no such facility of any form being available to the community, visitors and holiday makers.

“In relation to a compulsory purchase, I am unaware of councils across the country moving into the public house business.

“It would seem an inappropriate use of ratepayers’ money, especially as it could turn into a costly white elephant and I regret that unless members of the community committed real money to the project from inception, I cannot see the ‘community’ ever stepping-forwards to put hands deeply enough into their pockets to meet the cost of purchase, the refurbishment and working capital demanded.”

The CBS spokesman told the Gazette they believed the property was now in ‘a pretty poor state’ inside.

They said they feared if his appeal failed the pub would be ‘mothballed for the foreseeable future’, adding, “Obviously we don’t want that as a community, as it has a community value, and also it is becoming a bit of an eyesore in the village.”

They said there was momentum around the country where other councils had been looking at compulsory purchase of village pubs which had been empty for a long time.

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