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Demolition of the Royal Oak Public House, Kingston Road, Leatherhead - Update 12 January 2018

January 2018
This statement has been prepared by Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) to explain the events and decisions that were triggered by the demolition of the Royal Oak Public House in Leatherhead.

Disclosure of interest
For the sake of complete transparency, Councillor Irvine, MVDC's Executive Member for Planning would like to disclose the following interest:-

On 21 December, Councillor Irvine posted a Facebook video about the demolition of the Royal Oak Public House. Councillor Irvine's brother was subsequently contacted by a friend who mentioned that he works for the company which owns the Royal Oak and had been previously aware of the demolition. Councillor Irvine cannot recall having spoken to his brother's friend recently and has definitely never had a conversation with him about the Royal Oak. This tenuous personal link only came to light as a result of the Facebook video posted on 21 December and is disclosed in the spirit of absolute openness and honesty.

Demolition Notice
The agent for the owner of the Royal Oak submitted a Demolition Notice under the 1984 Building Act indicating the intention to demolish the public house. The Notice had been submitted on the 7 September to an email address at MVDC. This email address had however not been in use since June 2017 when provision of the Building Control service was transferred from MVDC to the Southern Building Control Partnership. What had not been appreciated was that emails to this inactive account were not being auto forwarded to the new Southern Building Control Partnership. This only came to light when MVDC asked the Southern Building Control Partnership whether they had received a Demolition Notice for the Royal Oak. As a result MVDC had no prior knowledge of the intention to demolish the Royal Oak.

Once it was realised that there was an inactive email account for the former MVDC Building Control Service, its contents were checked and actioned. The account contained three other Demolition Notices. They all related to development schemes which had been granted planning permission.
The integrity of all auto-forwards that should be in position to ensure that issues relating to Building Control matters are forwarded to the Southern Building Control Partnership, has been tested and verified, and the learning from this will feed into project planning relating to the establishment of any future shared services.

Demolition of the Public House
A member of the public informed MVDC late on 23 November and again early morning on the 24 November that the Royal Oak Public House was being demolished.
A site visit by the Planning Department's Enforcement Team was carried out on the morning of 24 November. The Enforcement Officers asked those on site to stop the demolition but they refused.

Since then there has been correspondence between local residents, MVDC Councillors and the Planning Department to explain what happened subsequently. This was summarised in an open letter from MVDC's Chief Executive sent on 22 December as follows: -

"With regards to the Royal Oak site. I am very aware of the ongoing concern regarding the demolition of the  pub. There is no doubt that the Council has learnt lessons from this case. There was confusion on our part regarding whether or not planning permission was required for the demolition for which I offer my sincere apologies.

In terms of what happened - When the demolition of the Royal Oak was brought to the notice of the Council it was noted that the demolition of a building was generally permitted development under the General Permitted Development Order 2015. There was however a requirement that, before beginning the demolition, an application had to be made to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether the prior approval of the local authority would be required as to the method of demolition and any proposed restoration of the site.

As MVDC had not received an application for a determination, it was concluded that the demolition was unauthorised, but not illegal. However, in view of the extent of the demolition that had already been undertaken at the time, it was concluded that it was not expedient to take further action at that time.

Having received additional information from a number of residents and, having had the opportunity to review the case in more detail, it became clear that earlier in the year an amendment to the General Permitted Development Order was enacted to give more protection to public houses. Specifically, the amendment added a provision which indicates that demolition is not permitted by the General Permitted Development Order where the building is used or was last used as a drinking establishment within Class 4 of the Use Classes Order.

Consequently it was recognised that the demolition of the Royal Oak did require planning permission. As no planning application had been submitted or granted, the demolition was unauthorised. However, it was not illegal and, as such, a prosecution could not have been brought against those responsible for the demolition. Consideration was then given to any other action that could be taken. Given that The Royal Oak was not a Listed Building, in a Conservation Area or on the Register of Assets of Community Value, and as the demolition was already well underway, it was concluded that there really was no viable follow up action which could be taken. I appreciate how difficult this must be to understand and would like to put arrangements in place for a public meeting with local residents in order to discuss this further."

One of the intended purposes of the meeting to be held on Monday 15 January was to explain what had happened, the inconsistencies in the information that was provided and answer any further questions residents might have. In addition, it was intended to explain the lessons that had been learnt in relation to listening, learning and responding to residents, keeping people informed and making sure that officers are aware of legislative changes.
Since arranging the meeting it was suggested that some members of the Planning Team were aware on 24 November that the demolition of the public house did require planning permission. The Chief Executive has looked into this matter and has carried out preliminary investigations. These confirmed that some officers do appear to have known about this legislative change on 24 November, but that not all of the Team reviewing the case were similarly aware.

Understanding the detail of what happened once the Planning Team were made aware of the demolition of the Royal Oak is absolutely key to ensuring that, in the future, our processes and internal communications are such that similar events should not  happen again. In order to take this forward the Chief Executive has confirmed her intention to arrange for an independent investigation to be commissioned which will report back to the Council. This will be carried out by a suitably experienced person who will be external to MVDC and impartial. MVDC recognises the urgency of completing an effective review and will be publishing more details, including the timescale and the arrangements for sharing the outcomes. 

Enforcement action
In hindsight it is recognised that a Temporary Stop Notice could have been served on the owner and contractor when the demolition commenced. This would have given MVDC twenty eight days to decide whether to serve an Enforcement Notice requiring the reconstruction of the building.

If MVDC was to consider serving an Enforcement Notice now requiring the reconstruction of the building, it would have to demonstrate the planning reasons for requiring the building's reconstruction and that the requirement is proportionate to the breach of planning control and that enforcement action is expedient.
Bearing in mind the building was not a Listed Building, in a Conservation Area or a registered Asset of Community Value, it is considered that an Enforcement Notice requiring the reconstruction of the building is unlikely to be successful.

Future of the site
In order to redevelop the site, the owners will have to bring forward a planning application. MVDC has advised the owners of the site that in order to satisfy MVDC's planning policies they will be required to provide evidence that the use of the site for a community facility is no longer required and suitable alternative uses have been considered. They will be required to demonstrate that they have consulted with an appropriate range of service providers and the community in drawing up their plans for the site.

Local residents and stakeholders will have the opportunity to express their views on the future of the site when a planning application is submitted for its redevelopment. These will be taken into consideration by MVDC before making a decision on the future use of the site.

It is acknowledged that significant mistakes have been made in the handling of this case which are unacceptable. MVDC apologises unreservedly for this.

© 2018 Mole Valley, Pippbrook, Dorking, Surrey, RH4 1SJ.
Tel: +44 (0)1306 885001 Fax: +44 (0)1306 876821, 2018.