‘We’ve given it our all’ say owners of pub overlooking River Adur as its conversion is approved

The owners of a nearly 200-year-old Southwick pub now have permission to turn the venue into a home.

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 11:23 am
The Scooner in Southwick

Plans to close The Schooner Inn, 146 Albion Street, and convert it into a residential dwelling were approved by Adur District Council’s planning committee last night (December 6).

The current owners, the McWilliams, say the pub is no longer viable as a business and it has not reopened since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

The couple became the landlords in 2014 and say they have invested £167,000 since.

Stephen McWilliams explained the decision not to reopen, saying: “Reopening without outdoor space is just not an option – COVID has unfortunately created a real inequality amongst pubs and those without outdoor space have suffered the most.

“Given that we struggled before COVID, it really would be impossible now.”

The McWilliams currently live on the first floor and will now turn the whole building into a family home including: a gym, basement storage, lounge, TV room, a main living area, and four bedrooms.

No alterations are planned to the outside of the building, which is in a conservation area.

Planning officers say that future developments will not be allowed under ‘permitted development rights’ and must gain planning permission before going ahead.

Planning officers approved

The pub is 200 years old next year and planning officers initially objected to the plans.

This is because Adur’s local plan aims to prevent the ‘loss of community facilities’.

However, the McWilliams submitted details of alternative nearby venues and planning officers were satisfied this met the requirements of the local plan.

“There are at least four or five pubs locally, including the Newport Arms, in a very similar location on the harbour front with views of the harbour,” said officers.

They said a ‘balanced case’ had been presented to turn the pub into a home.

Ultimately deciding to approve the plans, the committee was ‘sad’ to see the pub go but agreed the business was not viable.

Paul Mansfield (Con, Cokeham) said: “We’ve seen The Green Jacket go, that’s now Tescos, in my own ward I’ve seen the Ball Tree go, the Joyful Whippet just recently, now the Marquis of Granby – unfortunately it’s a downward trend.”

Dave Collins (Ind, Marine) was a regular at The Schooner and had seen ‘many landlords come and go’.

“It’s not viable for anybody to take on,” he said.

Jeremy Gardner (Lab, St Mary’s) said he would ‘rather see the building looking good as a home’ than ‘as a struggling pub’.

Closure is ‘truly sad’

Some 13 letters of objection were received, with one in support of the plans.

The supporter said the couple had put ‘tremendous effort’ into the business adding that ‘the closure of the pub is truly sad’.

One objector, Trevor Wickson,  said he has been a Schooner regular for more than 50 years.

Mr Wickson said: “It cannot be right for one family to exclude access for 30,000 other residents by seizing this two centuries old maritime tavern just for themselves.”

The plans could ‘create a dangerous precedent of asset stripping’, according to Mr Wickson.

Another speaker said: “There are at least 20 good reasons to keep this maritime heritage tavern as a pub.”

Seven landlords in 11 years

The McWilliams refuted claims that the pub had been bought with the sole purpose of turning it into the family home.

Mrs McWilliams said: “We’ve obtained data from the previous owners confirming that there were seven landlords in the 11 year period prior to us – that’s an average of one and a half years per landlord.

“This provides evidence that it’s not just us as an anomaly that struggled and it supports that the site itself has challenges.”

Mrs McWilliams said the couple had ‘net losses’ and withdrew ‘little or no salary nor dividends’.

“We can hand on heart say we’ve given it our all,” she said.

Mr McWilliams said that regulars had been ‘understanding and sympathetic’ when he told them of the decision to close the pub.

“Many know just how hard we worked to build a business at the Schooner,” he said, “and ultimately, it’s hard to deny the pub was ever sufficiently busy, at least in recent history, to maintain a viable business.”

More details can be found at the Adur planning portal using reference: AWDM/1327/21.