CAMPAIGNERS have insisted a fight to save a village pub “isn’t over yet” amid calls for a High Court challenge to be mounted. 

The Vane Arms, in Long Newton, has permission to be converted into a three-bedroom home after a planning inspector overruled Stockton Council’s refusal of the move last week. 

It struck a heavy blow for villagers who’d gathered more than £230,000 to try to buy and run the venue as Teesside’s first community pub. 

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But Nigel Dennison, chairman of the Long Newton Community Hub, said the fight wasn’t over yet – and there have been pleas for the council to mount a resistance to the decision through a Judicial Review. 

A meeting in March saw Stockton Council planning committee refuse plans to convert the 18th century pub and create a detached property in its beer garden by 12 votes to one. 

Planning agent Steve Barker, on behalf of developer Camfero Homes, argued the Vane had been losing money for five or six years – and there were alternative facilities in the village. 

Now planning inspector David Cross has ruled that the nearby Derry would “go some way” to compensate for the loss of the Vane.

His report found the sum raised by the community group fell short of the “realistic asking price” of the pub, and its future use would not be economically viable. 

The report added: “Viewed objectively, the community group’s proposals to continue operating the Vane Arms would not appear to be suitably robust. 

“Although there is reference to a formal offer submitted to the property owner by the community group, this carries very limited weight given the evidence in respect of funds raised and viability.”

But Conservative group leader, Cllr Tony Riordan, has written to the council urging it to challenge the inspectorate’s decision through the High Court. 

He added: “A number of matters in the inspector’s report give rise to concerns that the Inspector was unaware of, or gave little weight to.

“For example, The Derry is no longer open and therefore cannot provide an equivalent alternative to the residents of the village.”

Cllr Nigel Cooke, cabinet Member for regeneration and housing, was very disappointed that the committee’s decision had been overturned. 

“We are considering our position on this,” he added. 

Shock and sadness were shared by campaigners when the Planning Inspectorate’s verdict was published last week. 

Mr Dennison said the community hub’s fight wasn’t over and the group was reflecting on it’s next move. 

“We’re very much of the same opinion as the council,” he added.

“We feel let down by the inspectorate to be honest – there was evidence we think has been overlooked.

“It’s at very early stages at the moment but we are attending to bring parties together, have a meeting and see a way forward.

“We’ve been campaigning now for two years and we don’t want to give up the fight just yet. 

“There are other avenues to explore and the community deserves it.”

“Expensive” option

The Derry has been shut since August after its former landlord Chris Driver handed back the keys following a rise in rents.

And Mr Dennison feared the village could be left without a pub.

“There is a real possibility we’ll be left out on a limb,” he added.

“It’s really important to get the message out there that this is not a done deal yet.”

Campaigners are hoping a bid to a new Government pot – the Community Ownership Fund – will be successful in the coming weeks to take its war-chest to £500,000.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has opposed the conversion of the Vane since plans emerged but urged caution on the cost of any Judicial Review. 

The Labour MP said: “Time and again we have seen Government-appointed inspectors turn over Stockton planning committee decisions to refuse housing developments in our villages amongst other things, whilst at the same time ministers wax lyrical about giving local people a meaningful say over the area in which they live. 

“A judicial review is an option to be considered – and I would certainly support them in it – but the council would need to weigh up the cost effectiveness of this. 

“However, if the council did go forward on it, a review could help provide clarity around pub conversions and guide future decision-making like on the planning application to convert The Ship, in Wolviston, into apartments – another development I am opposing alongside the community.”

Meanwhile, Mr Barker was pleased with the Planning Inspectorate’s verdict. 

But he added the applicants hadn’t been “put on notice” about any appeal attempt.

Mr Barker said: “Judicial Reviews are very challenging things to mount because you’re not just saying you disagree with the inspector – you’re trying to point out the inspector has made a perverse and unreasonable decision.

“I don’t think he has. 

“He’s made a very careful analysis of the situation and just hasn’t found (in favour of) the residents.”

He added: “I’d be very surprised if they were successful, but it’s their right to try.”

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