Black Hart, Thorney Toll, must remain a pub- even though it closed four years ago because of falling trade

Black Hart at Thorney Toll. For a while it becamse a quasi charity store but owners have to prove it

Black Hart at Thorney Toll. For a while it becamse a quasi charity store but owners have to prove it is no longer viable as a pub. - Credit: Archant

A Government inspector ruled that owners of the Black Hart at Thorney Toll – closed four years ago because of falling trade- have not done enough to prove the pub is unviable.

A surprise judgement, released today, backed the refusal by Fenland District Council to allow its demolition and replacement with six homes.

Karen Baker, the inspector who conducted an appeal, said: “There is insufficient substantiated evidence before me to justify the loss of the public house.”

The pub, which sits alongside the A47, was closed in 2012 and later sold off by Elgood’s; it had been offered for sale with a guide price of £120,000.

Ms Baker referred to the council’s policies which insist community facilities such as public houses can only be converted or demolished if they pass a viability test.

She said there would need to be evidence of “an appropriate marketing test” and proof the pub was no longer financially viable. Another test was whether it can be demonstrated there is a lack of community need for it.

The inspector said she had read reports which showed how the pub had been marketed prior to closure and that confirmed it closed “due to its non viability and that it remained for sale for nearly a year, eventually being sold for a significantly reduced sum”.

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The inspector also noted evidence from a previous tenant – who ran the pub for 11 years- but who left after trade fell, particularly in the light of the smoking ban and also because of the need to make improvements.

The appeal heard that there was no major concern by the parish council to retain it as a pub and they had backed the plan to build houses there.

But the inspector agreed with Fenland Council that “insufficient evidence has been submitted to show that the public house has not been financially viable and has been marketed appropriately”.

Ms Baker also pointed out the contradiction in evidence that on the one hand showed the pub was not a viable enterprise yet on the other hand the applicant had insisted “Thorney Toll has a thriving local community”.

She also felt the site was not suitable for housing “in an area where development would normally be restricted”.

And she added that the proposed housing “would not comply with local and national policy which seeks to steer new development away from areas at the highest of flooding”.

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