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Boost in bid to have Battle of Britain rebuilt to original state after community asset bid

By Lizzie Massey

Developers may be forced to rebuild a popular pub as an application has gone in to turn it into a community asset.

The Battle of Britain in Coldharbour Road, Northfleet, was pulled down under the cover of darkness last month prompting local people to insist it be rebuilt “brick by brick”.

They hope that listing it as a community asset could mean developers are forced to reconstruct it to the original specification and then offer it for sale as a pub, rather than flats or houses.

The Battle of Britain pub in Gravesend before demolition began.

Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, an independent body which campaigns for community pubs and consumer rights has previously fought for The Crown and Thistle pub in The Terrace, Gravesend, to be listed and now it has applied to Gravesham council for the Battle of Britain to be listed too.

Peter Cook, the treasurer of the Gravesend and Darenth branch, said: “The owners of the Battle have done wrong by knocking it down. If they are allowed to get away with that, what is the point in any of these planning laws?

“If the council cracks down they could be forced to rebuild it, and we think they should. It can be done, it’s happening at the moment with pubs in London.”

Residents, including a campaigner for the pub, Tina Brooker, and local councillor Bronwen McGarrity, have said for some time that the former landlord of the pub was obstructed by the owner in improvements to the pub and left and since then the new management has run it down with a sale in mind.

Battle of Britain pub being demolished in Gravesend without permission

Mr Cook said: “Of course you can’t expect people to run an unviable business, but in this case it seems the developer knew it would be bought up as a pub.

“But housing on the same plot of land sells for much more than a pub ever would.”

If the application is accepted and the pub rebuilt, the owner would need to offer the Battle for sale as a pub initially.
Camra are confident somebody would buy it, but if not it would only be at that stage the owner of the land could bulldoze or sell it for building flats or houses in it place.

A council spokeswoman said: “There is a process to be followed and this is on-going. Once this has been completed we will revisit the planning situation.”

Putnam Construction Services, contracted to carry out the work, has declined to comment throughout this process.

As has the Brakspear Brewery owned by the applicant for the demolition J. T Davies & Sons, Paul Sturgess of the developer the Caldecotte Group, and the pub’s most recent manager Phil Davies.

Demonstrators outside the site of the former Battle of Britain pub, Coldharbour Road, Northfleet.

Asbestos Concerns

Asbestos remains a cause of serious concern as campaigners for the pub, which is right next to a school, say it was torn down without proper safety measures.

Cllr Bronwen McGarrity, for Coldharbour ward, was among 50 people who stood outside in protest last month, after council officers’ demands that the developers to stop midway through the work were ignored.

“We know these workers have not taken proper safety measures and that is a huge concern. There was not time for any asbestos checks, and there is a school right next door,” she said.
Jill Inglis, from the Health and Safety Executive, said they were only made aware of the demolition after it had happened.

Gravesend Messenger front page on the week the Battle was demolished

She added: “We have followed up on concerns about the asbestos and are satisfied the duty holder has managed the risk from asbestos appropriately.”

Tina Brooker, of The Warren, Gravesend, who is leading the campaign to save the pub said: “I’ve seen the documents the HSE have, stating the asbestos was all safely removed on October 12 but we know that the building was already almost demolished. There’s no way surveys and safe removals could have happened then.

“The HSE has just taken the document they’ve been sent on face value, and don’t seem to want to dig deeper.

“There’s no mention of asbestos in the out buildings either, which the previous landlord said was present.”

Ward councillor Bronwen McGarritty.

According to the HSE’s own regulations the duty holder of the land/building must “locate and identify all ACM (asbestos containing material) before any structural work begins at a stated location or on stated equipment at the premises. It involves destructive inspection and asbestos disturbance. The area surveyed mustbe vacated, and certified fit for reoccupation after the survey”.

The owner of the land, J. T Davies & Sons, has been uncontactable to verify this and the Messenger has asked HSE for confirmation.

The campaigners are calling on the council to follow in the footsteps of Wandsworth which, this summer, issued a blanket Article 4 directive on all its pubs and bars, which gives them greater protection and means that any change of use or development of a pub would have to have approval by the council.

The council is the first in the country to instigate Article 4.

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