A PROPERTY firm deliberately allowed a Chesham pub to go to ruin to make it easier to knock down and make way for housing, it was claimed at a planning appeal this week.
Promised investment in the Nash Arms in Vale Road never took place, former landlady Alex Maddern said - adding attempts by the community to save the pub by buying it from owners Bramwood Taverns fell on deaf ears.
The firm made two applications to redevelop the pub - firstly applying to demolish it completely and replace it with a row of five houses, before submitting proposals to convert the ground floor into a shop and the first floor into three flats.
Both were refused by Chiltern District Council and the two applications were considered together at the same appeal hearing at the council's offices in Amersham on Wednesday.
Mrs Maddern was landlady at the pub from November 2009 until May 2010, when it was bought by Bramwood Taverns.
She said: "They assured us there would be significant investment in the pub, which never happened. The lack of investment and the way the pub has been run down contributed to its lack of viability."
Mrs Maddern said other pubs in Chesham had benefitted from the type of investment Bramwood should have made.
She told the hearing: "The Jolly Sportsman, Red Lion and particularly the George and Dragon are now extremely successful after investment in the interior and exterior of the building and the development of proper revenue streams.
"Bramwood Taverns have deliberately allowed the current situation to occur with the sole intention of coming to the planning [committee] to get the application approved for development of housing.
"The community is of the opinion the only way of getting the pub re-opened is getting it out of the hands of Bramwood Taverns."
David Cooper, a solicitor representing Bramwood Taverns, read from a report by a property consultant at the hearing which said: "The building has suffered from many years of neglect and requires major repairs to the main structure.
"The roof is in very poor condition with numerous slits and missing slates. There are areas of dampness on the brickwork and evidence of rising damp."
He then asked Mrs Maddern: "You are not suggesting that Bramwood have caused all this?"
She replied: "I'm not saying Bramwood has caused all this but they have done nothing to alleviate it. I assume they did a survey and they should have been aware of it and they should have been prepared to undertake the repairs."
The Nash Arms closed unexpectedly last October and Mrs Maddern said an attempt was made to put together a community purchase of the pub - but said she didn't receive responses to phone calls or emails.
Mrs Maddern eventually tracked down the estate agent handling the sale, telling the hearing she was told they would expect offers in excess of £500,000.
She told the hearing: "They did say they were valuing the property with the expectation of getting planning permission. The pub had been closed and completely stripped - to purchase it and put it back in a state for it to be fit for use was well outside our reach.
"If it had been suggested they would have accepted £400,000, we might well have pursued the project of putting together a package to actually buy it."
Mr Cooper said Bramwood had never received a formal approach to buy the property for the amount Mrs Maddern suggested, adding no business plan had ever been put forward.
Mrs Maddern said she had email proof there had been an indication of an approach but said the figure £500,000 had been put forward over the phone and not made in writing.
Concerns over the design of the houses and the impact on nearby shops were also raised by residents, while Buckinghamshire County Council said they had reservations about the impact of extra traffic.