A public inquiry into the future of the Carlton Tavern site in Kilburn has been held. Developers who knocked down the heritage building without permission will now wait until the summer, to hear what they will need to do next.
The pub was demolished in April 2015 by owners CLTX, in the knowledge that it was being considered for listed status, by Historic England; the rush job saw the 1920s building flattened, complete with all interior fixtures and fittings – and with a distinct lack of site safety provisions. CLTX had previously had a redevelopment of the site refused by Westminster City Council.
Following the demolition, CLTX appealed the refusal of their planning application, which was to redevelop with a new pub at ground level, and 10 flats above over four floors. And they demanded the appeal be heard in private, by written representation. In response, the council issued CLTX with an enforcement order, requiring them to reconstruct the pub brick by brick. The reconstruction demand has also been appealed by the developer.
Cllr Robert Davis, Cabinet Member for the Built Environment at Westminster City Council, said: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with the residents of Westminster in wanting to see the Carlton Tavern rebuilt brick-by-brick. The strength of feeling from the community is clear and the council has done all it can to support them in seeing this part of the city’s special heritage reinstated.”
“Throughout this unfortunate story, I have been committed to doing all I can to see the situation rectified. It is my sincere hope that this planning inquiry will help us do that and I look forward to hearing our case being put forward in the strongest possible terms by the council’s officers, as well as by local people themselves.”
At the inquiry, the council’s representative Saira Kabir Sheikh QC said: “It was a flagrant breach of planning control and building regulations with the single aim of frustrating the designation of the pub as a grade II listed building, which Historic England had confirmed it would have been very likely to recommend.”
“The importance of the Carlton Tavern was properly understood by all in advance of its unlawful demolition, including the appellant. In addition to the heritage harm caused by the demolition, weight must also be given to the loss of a community facility, which has since been registered as an asset of community value.”
John Simmance, from the Friends of Carlton Tavern, told the Standard: “Our hope is to have the pub rebuilt as it was before it was demolished and we support the decision by Westminster City Council to make CLTX do so. It was vandalism and thuggery on a large scale.”
The developers claimed the pub had suffered a slump in business, and the tenant wanted to end the lease, but offered no evidence to this end. The building has, since the demolition, been listed as an asset of community value.
LPA Perspective: Not since the Firestone building was demolished on a bank holiday weekend on the Great West Road, has quick-fire action on behalf of a developer generated such outrage in London.
The owners of the Carlton Tavern knew the property they owned was in danger of being listed, so they did away with it, in order to cynically ensure they could redevelop. At the inquiry, their closing arguments dismiss the council’s demands for rebuilding, effectively suggesting they build something similar in place of the lost building.
But aside from detailed arguments over what to build on the site of the tavern, there is a larger issue here, which the planning inspector will have to address, in order to establish the strength of the law; fudge this, and plenty of others will see an opportunity to do as these developers will, simply paying the modest fine afterwards.
In rare cases such as these, where a developer acts to outsmart the planning and heritage listing process, there needs to be thought given to that very process. Perhaps the very fact that listing is being considered, should be made enough in law to force an owner to halt any activity, until the decision is made; or perhaps that listing consideration needs to be entirely covert.