Residents draw up rescue plan after brewery calls time on pub

Nelson Arms 3

A CAMPAIGN to save The Nelson Arms has been launched by customers and residents who want to stop the disappearance of another historic pub in Tonbridge.

The Barden Residents Association submitted an application last week to have the Cromer Street pub listed as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ (ACV) after owners Shepherd Neame put it on the market last month.

The property’s listing describes the pub as a potential site for transformation ‘into a pair of semi-detached houses or flats’.

The current landlord, Charlotte Gow, has said the pub will be closed by March 2017. She explained that she has ‘loved’ running the pub for the last five years, but she handed in her notice in September, so that she could ‘get back to normal life’. She is not involved with the campaign.

There is concern that the closure of the popular social spot will hurt the wellbeing of the community. The Chairman of the Barden Residents Association Mark Hood argued that, as ‘the only pub in the Barden Road area’, its loss would lead to an increase in people in the area feeling isolated and lonely.

“For many elderly and single people the Nelson Arms is the only place where they get the chance to catch up with their friends and neighbours,” said Mr Hood who submitted the ACV application on Saturday December 10.

If the application to the Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) is successful, an initial moratorium period will be triggered, meaning the property cannot be sold for six weeks.

If within that period the Barden community decide that they will attempt to raise the funds to buy the property, they can inform the council to extend the moratorium to six months.

Nelson Arms 3Even if community funds are not forthcoming, the ACV status would mean that any proposal to turn the pub into residential premises would have to receive planning permission from TMBC. Campaigners claim this ensures the local community has the ‘right to object to the loss of such a valuable local amenity’.

Shepherd Neame argue that the pub no longer fits into their ‘current business strategy’. Chief Executive Jonathan Neame, added: “In the last five years we have actively addressed the changes in the market to reduce our exposure to small wet-led community pubs and to take the opportunities for growth in casual dining and accommodation.”

However, residents insist the pub still has great potential to be a profitable business. They point to catering to the new demand for craft and real ales, as well as restoring the function room on the upper floor as just some of the ventures they could explore to ‘improve the viability of the business’.

If The Nelson Arms was to close down it would join a long list of Tonbridge pubs which have disappeared. In recent years these include Mojo’s Bar, The Wharf, The Castle, The Red House, The Pinnacles and Bishops Oak.

However the ‘Save Our Pub’ campaign has received support from Campaign for Real Ale member Ian McMillan. He ensured The Rifleman in Sevenoaks received ACV status in November and has helped write the Nelson’s application.

He criticised Shepherd Neame’s ‘careless’ approach to the establishment.

“These local back street pubs are very vulnerable. They are low hanging fruit for developers. Their loss can destroy a way of life for many people,” he said.

Mark Raymond, Chief Corporate Policy Officer for TMBC, confirmed they had received the ACV nomination and will deliberate over the next eight weeks. He added that the decision will ‘include an assessment of the community value of the public house both now and in the future’.


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