CROOKED HOUSE FIRE INSPIRES MP TO INTRODUCE BILL TO PROTECT HERITAGE PUBS

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The Conservative MP for the Black Country constituency of Dudley North, Marco Longhi has introduced his Heritage Public Houses Bill. The Bill is a response to the still unexplained fire which gutted the historic #CrookedHouse pub at Himley in Mr Longhi’s constituency.

In introducing the Bill Mr Longhi told MP’s that the story of the fire and demolition of the Crooked House in August 2023 exposes the need to protect heritage pubs from what the MP described as the forces of greed and the winds of change.

He added that the foundation of his Bill was the view that legislation should make it unviable for a bad actor to destroy history, and enshrine in law the ability of local people to protect pubs at the core of their communities.

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Introducing the details of the Bill Mr Longhi said that his legislation would empower and compel local government to maintain a record of heritage pubs within their jurisdictions. In the event of possible sale and change of use this would trigger assessments for possible listing, Mr Longhi said and in addition it would highlight their local importance and ensuring local planners had immediate visibility of any impending activity on site at point of sale.

Another issue was the speed at which events had unfolded at the Crooked House between its sale by former owner Marstons, and the fire and demolition, which left no time for moves to have the pub listed to play out.

Mr Longhi pointed out that in Wales buildings are automatically protected pending listing decisions under section 24 of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and this rule could be introduced in England.

The Bill would also introduce a twelve month period when the sale of a pub building could only be made to another pub trade buyer.

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The third aspect of the proposed Bill is to enhance the ability of a community to buy a pub as an Asset of Community Value.

“I say stand with the ghosts of the Crooked House,” Mr Longhi said in closing, “…stand with my local communities in Gornal, Sedgley, Dudley and far beyond who want to see the Crooked House rebuilt brick by brick, and stand for the future of our heritage pubs.”

Mr Longhi was given leave to bring forward the Bill unopposed.

The second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons will be on 21 June.

Mr Longhi’s Bill has been welcomed by the Campaign for Real Ale [CAMRA].

The website Beer Today reports that CAMRA’s pub and club campaigns
director Gary Timmins said,

“We welcome this proposal from Marco Longhi MP,” adding “The support he and West Midlands mayor, Andy Street, have provided for the protection of heritage pubs has been vital in helping to save the country’s historic pubs.”

Mr Timmins continued,

“After the tragic and deliberate destruction of the Crooked House, great work has been done to order the re-construction of the heritage pub.”

“But this must never be allowed to happen again, and stronger planning enforcement laws must be implemented by the government to prohibit any more vital, historic pubs being lost again.”

Mr Timmins concluded by saying: “This is why CAMRA supports the Heritage Pubs Bill, and why we are calling on the government to give its support to make sure this bill becomes law.”

“We are also campaigning for the Scottish and Welsh governments to significantly strengthen their planning laws so that demolition or
conversion of a community local always requires planning permission.”

However, unless the Government either adopts the Bill as Mr Timmins asked, or at the very least makes time for the Bill to progress the Heritage Public Houses Bill is unlikely to reach the statute book.

Mr Longhi’s Bill comes as the appeal by the owner of the Crooked House, ATE Farms Ltd, against an enforcement notice issued by South Shropshire Council to rebuild the pub as it was before the devastating fire is due to be heard by the Planning Inspectorate in August [2024].

ATE Farms Ltd argue in a submission to the appeal that the pub was not viable and the demolition was necessary on safety grounds. Nonetheless the company offers to rebuild the pub at a new location, along with an interpretation centre explaining the history and archaeology of the area which is famous for its coal mines.  It is those old mineworkings  which led to the Crooked House subsiding in the first place.

The proposed development would be accompanied by retirement homes.

Opponents argue that to allow ATE Farms to rebuild the Crooked House on its own terms would be to reward the company’s alleged bad behaviour and give them a vacant site to do with as they please.

ATE Farms Ltd also deny any involvement in the fire.

Five people remain on conditional bail as the Police investigate allegations that they committed arson with intent to endanger life.

Lead Image: Edited from MIDI via Wikipaedia CC BY-SA 4.0

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