Campaigners hoping to save a much loved Ellesmere Port pub from becoming affordable apartments have had a huge New Year boost.
They have revealed the borough council has accepted their request for the Grace Arms on Stanney Lane to be recognised as an asset of community value.
This brings campaigners a six-month breathing space to raise funds to buy the pub and, they hope, should delay the planning process.
Fears were raised that the pub appeared set to follow others in the town in closing its doors when Birkenhead-based Magenta Living announced plans for up to 42 apartments for affordable rent ‘on land at Stanney Lane’.
Magenta has teamed up with north Cheshire-based Lane End Developments which specialises in new build for registered housing providers. The application, in two blocks on the land occupied by The Grace, is now with borough planners.
A letter to Stanney Lane residents inviting them to a consultation sparked a flurry of posts on Ellesmere Port’s Pride in the Port website about the possible loss of the Greene King-owned pub.
The prospect led to objections and to the creation of a ‘Save the Grace Arms’ Facebook campaign which quickly attracted more than 650 ‘likes’.
After pleas from campaigners planners have now had 131 objections of which 126 oppose the loss of The Grace and two support the proposals.
Ellesmere Port Town ward councillor Jess Crook (Lab) and Whitby ward councillor Karen Shore (Lab) have also asked for the application to be called in to the council’s planning committee citing policy reasons why the development should not go ahead.
“I believe this pub is essential to the gateway to Ellesmere Port and the hugely supported petition ‘Save the Grace Arms’ indicated that my residents have an overwhelming desire to maintain the Grace Arms in its current position,” Cllr Crook added.
Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders (Lab) has also raised the wider issue of pub closures in Parliament mentioning The Grace.
He told the House: “The Grace Arms is a well-known landmark on the drive into Ellesmere Port town centre but its existence is under threat from property developers.
“Many in the area are deeply concerned by the potential loss of this much-loved community facility so may we have a debate on what more the Government can do to support local pubs?”
Agents argue the three storey blocks would raise the architectural quality of the area and offer a choice in housing.
The 18 one-bed and 24 two-bed apartments would create ‘high quality housing’ which would provide ‘much needed’ new homes allowing local people to remain living and working in their own neighbourhood they have told the council.
The campaign said: “Good news, a step in the right direction and the council recognising its value to the community.”
Activist Ray McHale, a former planner, posted: “This is clearly a breathing space which may put the brewery or the housing association off.
“However it is a very large pub for a community to take over. Need someone with ideas about how to better utilise the site and make it more viable on a long term basis.
“Is there scope for building on part of the car park, perhaps something like the Bache in Chester where the pub is retained but accommodation added?”
Maureen Jolly says: “The Centurion pub in Vicars Cross is run by the community and seems well run. It is a real family pub you can hire it for kids parties etc. It may be worth looking at their model and how they run it.”
Brian Adams suggests: “I think it’s still viable as a pub so should be kept as a pub. It’s also in an ideal location as it’s only just across from the park.
“Whenever there is an event on the park the pub is well used by the public. The current landlord and landlady are very experienced publicans.
“Since they took over the running of the pub I believe business has increased and I’m sure they have plenty of ideas on how to increase trade.”
Sally-Ann Preater comments: “Good thing because a lot of disabled people go there to eat and drink. I go to The Grace and I remember my family going there for a family meal on special occasions. Good news. A part of Ellesmere Port history.”
Michael Davies believes: “They have a perfect site to build these apartments, the old Knot grounds. No building to be demolished, in the middle of the town and getting rid of a derelict eyesore.
“Leave The Grace as it is serving our community. I am afraid this council have no vision.”
Richard Simon, however, believes housing is ‘desperately needed’ prompting campaigner Gemma Baxter to reply: “Housing is desperately needed and will continue to into the future but at the detriment of communities?
“The life and soul is being taken out of the town by developers and we’re protecting our heritage.”
Gary Wright argues: “As a developer myself I would rather it be bought and if not viable as a pub just converted into apartments keeping the exterior appearance the same.
“This way the building would remain as it is. It’s a stunning looking place. We would quite happily talk with all parties and design something that works well.”
The Friends of the Grace Arms will be holding their first meeting on January 21 to appoint members to the board and make plans for next steps.
At an earlier stage Magenta’s community regeneration chief Jamie Martin said: “If the acquisition and construction proceeds this project will bring Magenta Living’s investment in affordable homes in Ellesmere Port to nearly £20m since 2014.”