Save the Queensbury: Battle to save the historic pub is now in the hands of a government inspector - again
PUBLISHED: 18:41 28 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:55 28 August 2019
Round two of a battle to save a popular Willesden Green pub from being demolished is to be decided once again by a planning inspector.
Government inspector Phillip Ware began a four-day public inquiry to determine the future of 110a Walm Lane, home of the Queensbury Pub - with something of a sense of déjà-vu for campaigners.
Redbourne (Willesden) Ltd appealed for the inquiry after Brent Council kicked out its application bid in May.
Under the developer's plans the pub, a "cornerstone building and important gateway", could be demolished and replaced with 48 flats within a five-storey block, with a bar on the ground floor.
Brent's planning officers and campaign group Save the Queensbury, and its supporters, hope the inquiry will find in their favour a second time and preserve the Edwardian building in keeping with the surrounding conservation area.
Various community groups are based in the pub including baby and parent group Busy Rascals, which fears being relocated if plans are given the go-ahead.
Thomas Hill QC, representing Redbourne, said as the inquiry opened this morning: "First, we do emphasise the character of the appeal site makes it an unusual and highly attractive opportunity for redevelopment."
He said it was a "plainly underused" tract of land, that "lies on the edge of a town centre, opposite a Jubilee line station and buses running from it".
"This proposal will save the Queensbury and the community space as well," he added. "That's their aim."
But both council and community have been here before. The former Conservative Club building, which dates back to 1893, was sold to Fairview New Homes in 2012 and plans soon emerged to demolish the pub.
The council decided in March 2014 not to bulldoze the building and the same year identified it as an asset of community value.
The following year Fairview took its appeal to a public inquiry where the government's planning inspectorate ruled the pub would not be demolished.
In 2016 the company re-emerged as Redbourne and submitted three applications in 2018, refused by the council.
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Campaigners pointed out both firms were registered with Companies House under the same number, but Mr Hill insisted "it is not" the same company.
Ian Elliot, of Save the Queensbury, who has a "Rule 6" allowing him to speak at the meeting and cross-examine opponents, said the community nonetheless had "a legitimate expectation" that the inspector's findings in the first inquiry about the contribution made by the building "will not be set aside".
He added: "The local community sees the Queensbury as very much making a valuable and positive contribution to the conservation area and the community.
"The strength of feeling both for 110 Walm Lane as a building, not just a pub, and also against the proposed scheme makes clear that the existing heritage asset is more important in its context than a poorly designed, modern replacement."
He also raised the "prospect of a Trojan Horse scenario" whereby a public house is promised, but conditions change after planning approval development and the pub space becomes "unavailable or unviable" because of poor design.
The meeting also heard from two conservation experts from Mapesbury Residents Association (MapRA). Gerry Weston said that, while conservation areas aren't "necessarily utterly sacrosanct", the group believes it right to "preserve and enhance buildings where possible".
He added: "The proposed building in our view neither preserves nor enhances the conservation - quite the opposite."
Stephen Nathan QC added the planned building was "too high, too massive [...] with dormer windows that say nothing at all about Mapesbury, and is completely out of character and nothing to do with conservation."
Both men said the new building was "sterile" and "ugly".
Local neighbour Rochelle Berger asked the developers why the development could not be built elsewhere. "Stop pestering the users of the Queensbury bar," she added.
Daniel Rees, an architect representing Brent Council, told the meeting Redbourne's first scheme failed as the development was "quite random" with, for example, bay windows that had a "mix of elements" and a "lack of articulation".
"It's a cornerstone building and sets a precedent for the whole of the conservation area and how it's regarded," he said, adding it "would be nice to see a level of detail [...] but there's only gestures and mimicking without true understanding of what a conservation area is about."
Of the second scheme, he said: "There's not much detail. It's hard to tell. It's the same mass, it's just reproportioned."
The inspector's decision is due at a later date.