The Royal Hunt Pub

Residents and their supporters are invited to help combat rural decline by joining the Royal Hunt Pub Community Group who plan to help make the Royal Hunt into a successful pub and restaurant.

The RHPCG have been using legislation to protect the pub from demolition. An Asset of Community Value (ACV) is a property of importance to a local community, which is subject to additional protection from development under the Localism Act 2011. The Royal Hunt Pub has been nominated as an ACV 5 times.

  • May 2015 by Winkfield Parish Council
  • June 2015 by CAMRA
  • October 2017 by CAMRA
  • June 2018 by The Royal Hunt Pub Community Group
  • December 2018 by The Royal Hunt Pub Community Group
Some ACV Nominations were successful and survived challenges but eventually got removed from the Bracknell Forest Council ACV Register.

Despite the below-described High Court judgement, the latest ACV Nomination (December 2018) has been refused by the Legal Department of Bracknell Forest Council on 18th February 2019. The Borough Solicitor's letter starts with an apology for delay and suggests that there has been no material change in circumstances since the previous ACV Nomination submission (July 2018). The letter continues:

The Law

An ACV is land in a local authority's area that the local authority considers to have community value on the basis that (inter alia) it has previously been used for the purposes of furthering the social well-being of interests of the local community in the "recent past" (S88(2)(a)) and it is realistic to think that it will be used for the same purpose again within the next five years (S88(2)(b)).

The Solicitor's letter upholds qualification S88(2)(a). He could hardly do otherwise with the fine testimonials he received from the RHPCG. These include signed evidence of the Golf Society, Darts Club and various charity fund-raising events with supporting photos. The Solicitor's letter then goes on to dispute qualification S88(2)(b) and therefore directly contradicts the below-described High Court judgement, which (of course) he does not mention. The letter continues:

S88(2)(b)"Is it realistic to think that it will be used for the same purpose again within the next five years."
Your nomination sets out details which you feel ought to have been considered in response to previous applications had submissions been permitted. This includes challenges to certain details set out in the Marketing Report and Viability Study put forward by the owner as part of its review submissions last year. For the reason stated earlier in this letter I do not propose to revisit the contents of those reports or accept submissions challenging their veracity.

In terms of the viability of any nominating body to bring the premises back into use as a community asset, it is a accepted that the legislation does not require it to have in place a business plan. Nonetheless the premises stopped operating as a public house over 4 years ago during which time no viable approach has been made by the community to purchase the property.

The above paragraph ignores the events of 2016 and 2017 which ensured that our White Knight was denied the opportunity to make a bid.

The BFC Solicitor's letter concludes:
In terms of new evidence, you have included reference to the owners unsuccessful planning application for the erecting of flats at the site in December 2018. I do not think that this makes the use of the site as a Public House in the next five years more realistic.

I therefore find that having considered all the evidence before me the requirement in S88(2)(b) is not satisfied and that the premises should not be included in the Authority's list of Assets of the Community Value.

After discussions between the North Ascot Residents Association, the Royal Hunt Pub Community Group, our White Knight investor, CAMRA and Ascot Ward Councillors, the following letter has been sent to the BFC Solicitor on Saturday 2nd March.

Dear Sir,
I have 2 questions at the bottom of this letter.

We are very disappointed with your letter (18 February 2019) refusing to recognise the Royal Hunt Pub as an Asset of the Community. Your letter makes reference to legislation and implies that our White Knight potential purchaser was given an opportunity to express interest in purchasing the Royal Hunt Pub. A similar implication was in the BFC Treasurer's March 2018 letter that was copied to me. "CAMRA have been aware of the closure of the property and the intention of the owners not to use the premises as a public house for some considerable time before they applied for a listing, as their organisations was cited as an interested party when the property was previously listed. CAMRA have had the time of the first and the second listing to come forward with a meaningful proposal for retention for community use as a public house and they have failed to do so."

You seem to have a different understanding of the legislation that arises from the Localism Act 2011 and/or you are unaware of our White Knight's communication with Hawthorn Leisure and Bracknell Forest Legal Department in 2016.

I would like to make reference to legislation to show that our White Knight potential purchaser was never given an opportunity to express interest under the 2012 Regulations Moratorium rules because there are 3 pre-conditions that arise from the Localism Act 2011 and the 2012 Regulations Moratorium rules. The 3 pre-conditions for the "Community Right to Bid" are as follows:
  • The pub should already be registered on the local authority's list of Assets of Community Value
  • The pub owner should notify the local authority of their intention to dispose of the pub
  • The original Nominator should be informed by the local authority
In June 2016 an ACV (submitted by WPC on behalf of CAMRA) was challenged by the owners then upheld in the High Courts by Judge Peter Lane who concluded "I find that the evidence shows on balance that it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when the Royal Hunt could resume its role as a community pub." I have a copy of the judgement.

Two of the above pre-conditions did occur in July 2016 when Hawthorne Leisure notified BFC that they wish to dispose of the Royal Hunt Pub. The 3rd pre-condition was never met before the pub was sold to Patrick Ruddy Homes (PRH) for more than 4 times the price paid by Hawthorne Leisure.

Hawthorne Leisure's disposal notice should have triggered a 6-week moratorium in which a community interest group has the opportunity to express interest in making a bid to purchase the pub. BFC failed to inform CAMRA, even though Winkfield Parish Council (WPC) had submitted the ACV Nomination on behalf of CAMRA. CAMRA and our White Knight investor were therefore denied the opportunity to identify a community interest group that would express interest. The BFC Solicitor had a meeting with WPC on 2nd August 2016. CAMRA were not invited. On 15th August 2016 WPC wrote to the BFC Solicitor (I have a copy of the letter) confirming that WPC did not wish to pursue the matter further. Although the borough solicitor had acknowledged CAMRA as an interested party (I have a copy of the letter), CAMRA were not informed of Hawthorne Leisure's disposal notice.

In 2016 The Royal Hunt lost its ACV status. The White Knight potential purchaser consulted BFC Legal Department who said that the importance to a local community would have to be sufficient to get the local community involved in running the pub. If so, the Royal Hunt's ACV status could be re-instated. The 227 online objections (to plans to demolish the pub) proved that The Royal Hunt is very important to this local community.

The only feasible explanation for PRH paying more than 4 times the price paid by Hawthorne Leisure was that PRH were lead to believe it would never be protected by an ACV again.

We (Royal Hunt Pub Community Group) are delighted that our White Knight potential purchaser has this week confirmed that his position re the Royal hunt is unchanged. Under the right conditions, he is still willing to purchase the Royal Hunt and put the money in to restore it to a viable pub. He would be doing this for the community and because he thinks it is important that amenities such as pubs and restaurants are maintained, particularly as housing increases in North Ascot. Looking at the figures from the previous viability report, and making a number of reasonable assumptions, he thinks the Royal Hunt would be a viable business as well as an asset to the community. He originally approached the previous owners, Hawthorn Leisure, but was told it was going to be sold for residential use. If he was to purchase it would have to be at a priced compatible with use as a pub (ie much lower) rather than residential use.

The RHPCG has gathered £233,370 pledges in support of the ACV nomination, in order to put us in a position to make a bid if the property were to be put on the market under the Act & Regulations Moratorium rules, which of course would reduce the market value, due to the ACV.

Question 1: Do you accept that the above 3 pre-conditions have never coincided or been fulfilled and that (contrary to the BFC Treasurer's letter) our White Knight potential purchaser was therefore never given an opportunity to express interest in purchasing the Royal Hunt Pub under the Act & Regulations Moratorium rules?

Question 2: Have you informed the High Courts of your decision to overturn Judge Peter Lane's conclusion?

Yours sincerely

Royal Hunt Pub Community Group

Even if you do not want to make a pledge, we still welcome you to join the RHPCG. The more members we have, the better. Housing developers hope that you will get objection fatigue. Please don't let them win. We ask for your patience, your resilience and your continuing support.

This process can take a few years. For example, the Royal Oak at Hail Weston was in a similar situation in 2012. The Hail Weston Community Pub Society was formed. In January 2017 The Royal Oak was bought by a group of eight local villagers. The building has been refurbished and reopened as an independent village pub on May 19th 2017.