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ALBERT INN LISTING HITS THE BUFFERS; HISTORIC WYKE PUB CLOSES TOMORROW

Rob Cheeseman [right] and Alex Bardswell [left] outside the Albert Inn in Wyke Regis.Photograph by Michel Hooper-Immins

The fight by the Campaign for Real Ale [CAMRA] to protect the threatened Albert Inn at Wyke Regis as an Asset of Community Value under the 2011 Localism Act, has hit the buffer stops. Weymouth & Portland Borough Council is one of few local authorities to have refused an ACV listing and there is no appeal!

Now comes the shock news that the Victorian Albert Inn is to close tomorrow [Friday.] Rumours are circulating in Wyke that the building will be redeveloped into flats, although in a conservation area.

"It was the fear that this historic pub would be lost to Wyke village, that made us apply to register the Albert as an Asset of Community Value," comments CAMRA West Dorset Chairman Dave Harris, "so if this sale results in a redevelopment without a pub, then Wyke Village will have suffered a grave loss of amenity."

In April last year, the CAMRA Chairman attacked the wholly arbitrary limit of 700 metres imposed by the Borough Council, which is not specified in the Act. "I would expect something around 400 metres to be a more reasonable distance for a small community to preserve locality," Mr. Harris concludes. "But as I understand it, distances are not part of the legislation, this is the Borough Council’s local interpretation of some rather loose wording in the Localism Act."

"Following the initial refusal, we consulted CAMRA Head Office in St. Albans who advised us to apply again," says CAMRA spokesman Michel Hooper-Immins. "That met with another refusal. We think the Borough Council are goldplating the guidance in the Localism Act and inserting distance criteria to deny the inhabitants of Wyke Village their local pub. So far some 300 pubs all over the UK have been listed as ACVs by local authorities, including the Bottle Inn at Marshwood in West Dorset."

Emily Ryans, CAMRA's Head Office Campaigns Manager comments: "We are disappointed that Weymouth & Portland Borough Council has refused to list the Albert Inn as an Asset of Community Value. The strength of feeling in the local community demonstrates just how valued the pub is. We feel the local CAMRA branch made a strong case for listing the Albert Inn and in our view, the Council's decision to reject the nomination on the grounds that there are other pubs nearby was erroneous and misses an opportunity to act to protect a much-loved local community asset."

In a letter to CAMRA Head Office, Hilary Jordan, the WPBC Spatial & Community Policy Manager, was unimpressed, declaring: "ln assessing whether an asset is one that serves the social interests & social wellbeing and is an asset of community value, the council will have regard, amongst other things, as to whether or not the use of the asset enhances the social interests and social wellbeing of the local community because in its absence the local community would be deprived of a resource of value to the residents and the local area. ln this instance, as the Albert lnn is one of several public houses in the Wyke Regis locality, the council was of the view that in its absence the local community would not be deprived of a resource of value to the residents and the local area.

Wyke locals were alarmed in April 2013 to discover that the freehold of the Grade II listed Albert Inn, a pub for some 160 years, was being offered for sale by Punch Taverns, with "potential for residential conversion and development." Marketed by Savills at a price of £300,000- reduced from £425,000- the Albert Inn was built about 1850 and named after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

Rob Cheeseman, owner of the Wyke Stores opposite the pub, had the idea of forming a local consortium to buy the pub and received support from local people.

Last April, Albert regular and Wyke CAMRA member Alex Bardswell announced her willingness to invest in the Albert with others, so that it could be saved for the community. "I’m very sad the pub is closing, the last pub in Wyke Village," comments Ms. Bardswell. "I will fight any redevelopment as a local resident and encourage other Wyke people to support me."

Another Wyke CAMRA member, West Dorset Branch Secretary Tony Egerton says "closure of the Albert is a real tragedy for Wyke, I’d certainly put some money in to turn it back into a community pub."

"Most pub-goers believe that a well-run community pub is as important to community life as a Post Office, local shop or Community Centre. CAMRA is delighted that the Government has recognised this and empowered communities to protect their pubs," comments CAMRA Chief Executive Mike Benner. "With 18 pubs closing every week and pubs becoming increasingly a target for developers, this new power is a massive step forward in the battle to protect our valued pubs."

A Punch Taverns spokesperson says: "following a review of our estate, a decision was taken to sell the Albert Inn, as it was not commercially viable. We are currently in legals and expect to exchange contracts shortly with a potential purchaser."

Michel Hooper-Immins

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