Flats in Chorley pub conversion will be for 'professionals, not addicts', councillors told
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That was the pledge made to councillors as they gave the go-ahead to the redevelopment of the Seven Stars Inn, on Eaves Lane, which closed down at Easter.
The proposal will see the historic hostelry – which dates back to the early nineteenth century – turned into a “house in multiple occupation” (HMO) for 10 tenants.
The plans for the pub attracted a 22-signature petition and a similar number of formal objection letters, which raised concerns about likely parking problems – due to the fact that no off-street spaces would be provided – and also the claimed potential for an increase in antisocial behaviour in connection with the premises.
A nearby resident told a meeting of Chorley Council’s planning committee that locals’ experience of another HMO created out of a disused pub in the vicinity had left them fearful of similar issues arising at the Seven Stars site.
“Individuals that… end up in a one-bedroomed bedsit usually have high needs in terms of social care – they usually have dependency issues and they need adequate support,” said Christopher Porter-Blake.
“There has been…antisocial behaviour [in the area] and the concern of the street and myself is [whether] this [is] going to be another example of failure by planning to actually put things in place for the residents, to support them. We’ve already seen an increase in crime.”
However, Roberta Sanna, the agent for the application, said that the Seven Stars scheme would be a very different proposition to the one being characterised at the meeting.
“As we value the neighbours’ wellbeing, the aim is to have the right tenants in the property. The tenant profile [is] young professionals [who] can’t afford to rent a house or a flat of their own and would find it much more convenient to rent more affordable accommodation.
“So why have an empty building when it can be used to house [this] category of workers? The current market is in need of this type of accommodation, with very few [similar] options in the local area,” Ms. Sanna said.
Committee member – and planning cabinet member – Cllr Alistair Morwood said that any “presumption [about] the type of people” who might live in the property was not one that the council could take into account in any case.
His committee colleague Martin Boardman added that he was “concerned” about the assumption that HMOs are “always used for [the] vulnerable in society – that’s not necessarily the case”.
Chorley East ward councillors Hasina Khan and James Nevett also objected to the proposed HMO, with Cllr Nevett telling the committee that Eaves Lane was a major route that was now often busier than the A6 – and would be badly affected by an increase in parked cars.
He said that a condition imposed on another HMO in the area to install a bike storage facility had not been enforced – an issue which the council’s planning team has now promised to investigate – but added that it was “naive” to assume that such a measure would discourage car ownership in any case.
“The reality is most people do not use cycles – most people do rely on cars for some form of commute,” said Cllr Nevett.
Mr. Porter-Blake added that parking in the area was already a “nightmare” and said he was sometimes forced to park three streets away from his home even though he is disabled.
“There [are] often times when you approach Davenport Way and you can’t pull into the street safely from Eaves Lane, [because] cars often block the junction,” he said, adding that most of the pub’s former patrons had walked to the venue and so not posed the problems that he feared the HMO would generate.
However, Ms. Sanna said that car ownership amongst the future HMO tenants was likely to be “minimal to none”.
Cllr Morwood said that illegal or obstructive parking was a matter for the police, while Cllr Boardman said HMO schemes in areas well-served by local amenities – as he suggested Eaves Lane was - did not require the level of parking that they otherwise might.
Lancashire County Council’s highways officials did not object to the proposals on the basis that the location was deemed “sustainable”, sitting not far from Chorley railway station and with bus stops nearby.
Meanwhile, planning services manager Adele Hayes said that while the loss of the pub was “regrettable”, it reflected a “general trend” of such closures. The meeting heard claims that the business was no longer deemed viable – a position that was supported by a previous owner.
“The way in which the property would be used would have little impact on the character of the area or upon residential amenity, given the extent of existing residential properties in the vicinity,” she told committee members.
Ms. Hayes added that the HMO would generate fewer “comings and goings” than the pub it is set to replace – and the application was passed by a majority, with two abstentions.
Separately, another new HMO on Eaves Lane, just yards away from the Seven Stars, was also approved. That will see the conversion of an existing residential property into a dwelling for three people.
Cllr Nevett said his feelings about the smaller proposal were “entirely the reverse” of the Seven Stars scheme, because the former was a “a very sensible three-bedroom conversion” with parking bays available nearby.
‘WE’RE LOSING OUR LOCAL HISTORY’
When the Seven Stars called time for the final time back in April, the doors closed on around two centuries of Chorley’s heritage.
It is thought that the pub dates back to the first half of the 1800s, but its final owner, Admiral Taverns, said in the spring that “after careful consideration, we felt that the Seven Stars did not have a long-term sustainable future”.
The hostelry went on the market, inviting offers in the region of £150,000.
The majority of the work involved in the conversion of the building to a house in multiple occupation will take place internally, with little change proposed to its outside appearance – save for changing a rear door to a window and adding other new windows, also at the back of the property.
However, Cllr Nevett warned that the scheme would be jeopardising “rich pieces of our local history” in a building that is thought to have once hosted coroner’s inquests.
“The sort of internal demolitions which...would be involved - and the alterations, taking out historical windows, chimneys and brickwork – would really be to the detriment of that local history, Arguably, it would be an act of iconoclasm.
“There are items in that building – whether it’s the historic glass [or] the paintings found behind the plaster – all of [which] would be lost if we don’t take action now.”
But Cllr Morwood said that local history groups could be enlisted to ensure the preservation of any items of significance.