The Crooked House scandal ‘must be catalyst for change’

  • By Vanessa Pearce
  • BBC News, West Midlands

Image source, James Stevens

Image caption,

A change in the planning law is needed to protect heritage pubs, says a campaign group

Vital heritage will be be lost unless planning laws change to protect historic pubs, campaigners say.

An open letter to the government from the Campaign for Pubs has highlighted the “appalling” case of The Crooked House pub in the Black Country, gutted in a fire then demolished.

Anger over the incident must act as a “catalyst for change”, said campaigners.

Mayor Andy Street said whoever did this messed with the wrong community.

He strengthened his call for the pub in Himley, near Dudley, to be rebuilt “brick by brick”.

“Whoever has targeted this beloved landmark in this way has messed with the wrong pub, the wrong community, and the wrong authorities,” the West Midlands Metro Mayor said.

Saturday night’s fire is being treated as arson by Staffordshire Police.

The 18th Century building, famed for its sloping floors and walls, was bulldozed less than two days after the fire, prompting anger from residents and former customers.

Video caption,

Watch: Mystery surrounds end of wonky pub… in 52 seconds

“Many historic pubs up and down the country are being lost as owners seek to cash in on the development value of a pub, even despite the pub being profitable and even when there is a potential owner who wants to buy the pub, as a pub,” said the campaign group, which aims to promote, protect and support pubs across the country.

“The government must act to prevent pubs being lost when there is a buyer as a pub as well as introducing far more serious penalties for unauthorised conversions and demolitions.”

Image caption,

An aerial view shows what is left of the pub

Marco Longhi, MP for Dudley North, said he would campaign to close a “potential loophole” which could prevent the destruction of property during a potential criminal investigation.

Police should have been able to take the premises under their control during the arson investigation, he said.

“The site should have been cordoned off for investigation and forensics the moment the police and fire service came to the site,” he said.

“I will support any initiative to close this potential loophole which the police is relying on for The Crooked House case.”

Image caption,

Signs have appeared in the rubble at the site

James Stevens of The Chapel House pub at nearby Gornal echoed the call for new legislation to protect public institutions.

“I can’t think of a more fitting legacy for our place than to use its name to stop another community from being robbed of their Crooked House.”

Image caption,

Local landlord James Stevens echoed calls for new legislation to protect historic pubs

The Crooked House was sold by Marston’s in July to ATE Farms, based in Bedworth, Warwickshire.

ATE Farms is run by a Carly Taylor, with George Adam Taylor, 44, a previous director. Mr Taylor was also previously a director of Himley Environmental Ltd, which owns the 15-hectare Oak Farm Quarry and Landfill site adjacent to the Crooked House and is registered to the same address as ATE Farms.

They have been approached for comment by the BBC.

Mr Taylor owns the Sarah Mansfield pub in Willey, Warwickshire, which is empty and up for sale after being internally gutted in 2021.

Image source, Facebook/Carly Taylor

Image caption,

Carly Taylor runs ATE Farms which acquired The Crooked House from Marston’s last month

Through another of his companies, AT Contracting Ltd, Mr Taylor has had two planning applications approved to renovate the pub’s first floor into letting bedrooms and to build either one or two dwellings in the car park.

One source, who did not want to be named, said the pub had previously been a thriving hub in the village, but had since become a “depressing eyesore”.

“One day during lockdown, a load of guys turned up with skips and machines and literally gutted the pub,” they said.

“When we mean gutted, we mean no wiring, no plumbing, it’s just an empty shell.

“It’s sad looking at it. It’s a loss, every time we walk past it it saddens us more.”

A planning application made by ATE Farms to convert former quarry land near Lutterworth, Leicestershire, into a solar farm and residential lodges attracted some objections from locals.

One complainant called the plans “a blot on the landscape” with another accusing the applicant of “considerable removal of existing hedgerow on the site”.

On Thursday, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street met with the leader of South Staffordshire Council to discuss the incident.

The council is considering whether the demolition of the building was unlawful.

Mr Street said resolve had been hardened to recreate the pub after the meeting with the local authority, and encouraged members of the public to stay away from the site.

“We feel the sadness, anger, and frustration as much as anyone over what has happened to The Crooked House, but the last thing we want is for well-intentioned community action to inadvertently damage any positive future for the site,” he added.

“The Crooked House will not be consigned to history on our watch.”

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