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Save the Chesham Arms!

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted June 18, 2014
Flats or pub? The message is clear. © Save the Chesham Action Group

Hackney residents gear up for crucial battle to save local pub. We hope they win.

Residents in the London Borough of Hackney are preparing themselves for "a key stage" in their fight to save the Chesham Arms on Mehetabel Road.

According to a press release sent to the Rake & Herald by the Save the Chesham Action Group, this coming June 24 will see the start of a Public Inquiry into the division of the property and the renting of part of it as a flat, "a move the developer [Mukund Patel from Enfield] made without planning permission despite warnings from Hackney Council this was required".

The hearing, expected to last two days, will begin at 10:00 local time in the Hackney Picturehouse on Mare Street, with a decision likely to be announced around four to eight weeks later.

the pub's exterior
Local hub: The Chesham in better days. © Save the Chesham Action Group

The Chesham, apparently the only pub in the UK to bear such a name, had served the local community for 147 years "before being bought, and then closed, by a property developer in October 2012".

Since then the local community has staged "a determined campaign" to save the Chesham, including listing it as the borough's first Asset of Community Value, "a status the group also successfully defended in front of a judge following another challenge by the developer".

The Public Inquiry, the Action Group states, "is the latest stage – and perhaps the most crucial so far – in the battle to save the pub and follows complaints by eagle-eyed local residents who spotted an advertisement for a newly self-contained flat" on the upper floor of the building.

This ad, the press release continues, was placed in defiance of warnings from Hackney Council that dividing the property in such a manner first required official approval.

When these warnings were ignored, the Council issued an Enforcement Notice to stop the developer, who subsequently challenged this and called for a Public Inquiry.

"The hearing is crucial because the property developer has asked the Planning Inspector to grant planning permission for the creation of the flat," the Action Group says.

"If this were granted, future use of the pub would be under serious threat as the access to the flat has been created right through the centre of the original pub, destroying the bar and completely dividing the pub in two."

"Local residents will therefore be asking the Inspector to throw this request out."

the pub's bar
Gutted: The bar that is no more. © Save the Chesham Action Group

The Churchwell Residents' Group, representing householders in the streets around the Chesham, has been allowed a formal role in the Inquiry, alongside the developer and Hackney Council.

As such, its members "have spent months preparing their case and collecting evidence from other planning decisions all around the country".

"When we started trying to save our local pub, I can't say I ever expected to be called up before a judge or would need to speak at a Public Inquiry," says local resident Martyn Williams, who will give evidence at the Inquiry.

"I hoped the developer would do the decent thing – apply for planning permission for his proposed flats, let local voices be heard and let the Council make a decision."

"Instead, this developer has thrown huge sums of money at lawyers and experts to try and outwit us with all kinds of bizarre legal challenges."

"So far, good local knowledge and a lot of careful research means we have held our own and won every battle."

"We are quietly confident we can do it again."

And we here at the Rake & Herald certainly hope they do.

While this particular hack has never had the pleasure to drink in the Chesham, I am well aware that its current plight is indicative of those of so many other local pubs around the country.

It also brings to my mind the disgusting demise of the Cavalier on Weaver's Field in nearby Bethnal Green.

This was a cracking little boozer filled with an eclectic mix of bric-a-brac amassed over the years from the surrounding markets.

It was a place with character, good beer and friendly staff.

As well as direct access onto Weaver's Field itself, it also boasted a fan-flippin'-tastic roof garden.

I went away one weekend and when I came back it had been turned into offices quite literally overnight.

It has now been pulled down.

Part of me died when they killed the Cav.

Save the Chesham.

Save our pubs.

And sod the bloody developers.

For more information on the campaign to save the Chesham, have a click of this. Meanwhile, to follow the campaign on Twitter and FaceBook, click here and here, respectively.

See also List your local, save your pub, posted 13/4/13; Stop supermarket pub conversions, posted 6/2/14; and UK pub closures hit 28 a week, posted 3/3/14.

Ignatius Rake
is a freelance journalist and geographer who has visited more than 70 countries on six continents. A published lyricist and founder of the Naked Trouser DJ collective, he has fronted punk bands in both the UK and Poland, including the only band to be kicked off BBC Radio Cornwall. In 2013, he represented the UK at the Fourth Annual Smoke's Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto, getting his arse royally whipped by Rake & Herald reader and Major League Eating speedscarfing supremo Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut. He has been known to like a pint.

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