Affectionately known as the ‘little pub with the big heart’, The Ship Victory has served locals since it was turned into an ale house during the Napoleonic wars.
But now Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) plan to flatten the boarded-up pub to make way for plans for a £10m grass-roofed bus station on the Gorse Stacks car park – despite real ale lovers fighting to buy it.
The historic building, which has stood empty since January, is in a designated conservation zone, but CWaC say it is not afforded any protection from demolition due to being in an area “earmarked for regeneration” .
Friends of The Ship Victory (FSV) applied to CWaC to list the building as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) – allowing them six months protection to buy the building under the Localism Act – but were shocked when the council refused their application, saying it was not a “viable asset”.
Keith Porter, of FoSV said the idea the pub – where regulars raised over £107,000 for a breast cancer memorial fund in memory of former landlord, Joe Gildea’s, daughter Angela – was not of community value was ‘ludicrous’.
“It is a piece of Chester’s history we cannot keep knocking these buildings down, it has to be preserved,” said Keith, who said the pub would be a success in the right hands.
It is thought it is the first time an ACV application has been refused by a local authority, with CWaC saying the pub would need around £150,000 refurbishment to continue to function as a pub.
But Keith said the council had no right to refuse the ACV due to financial implications, as if granted the community group would be responsible for footing the bill.
“As the pub is already owned by the council, how on earth can they make a ruling on an asset they already own? It is a clear conflict of interest,” said Keith, who appealed against the decision but was surprised when it was disallowed, after being advised only the land owners – CWaC – can appeal.
“We are very cross with the council, they have been less than straight forward with us. They refused the ACV on speculative grounds, at no point did they say we couldn’t appeal.”
The group are now seeking legal advice from The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in their bid to save the pub.
Council leader Mike Jones, who used to drink in the pub before football matches and has openly supported saving the Ship Victory, said: “I just love the old buildings in Chester, and for that reason I have insisted we have a full consultation.
“Unfortunately the engineer cannot [go forward with the bus interchange] unless the Ship Victory is removed.”
Spokesperson for CWaC Rachel Ashley said if the ‘preferred option’ went ahead the Ship Victory would need to be demolished, but they would consider putting a plaque or information board to honour the pub.
“It is a drive in, drive out facility, not one which would have buses reversing. The only straight forward way would be without The Ship Victory on site.
“Because it is in an area earmarked for redevelopment there is no community right to buy in these circumstances.”