BY OWEN SHEPPARD
Local Democracy Reporter
A developer will appeal against Westminster council after it was refused planning permission to turn Joe Strummer’s old favourite pub into flats.
The Cowell Group, which has owned The Squirrel in Chippenham Road, Maida Hill for nine years, said running a pub was no longer profitable because not enough people were drinking there.
Director Adrian Levy said the investment firm, with a portfolio of real estate in Soho, Holborn and Pall Mall, tried for two years to find a new tenant, but with no luck.
He said: “People talk about wanting to save the pub, but the community didn’t use it enough when it was open, so it wasn’t profitable.
“We have had the building for about nine years. We didn’t want the pub to close down. But if you’ve got an empty building, what do you do? Especially when London has a housing shortage.”
The Squirrel, formally the Skiddaw, dates to the 1880s. It closed in October.
The company which leased the premises, Faucet Inn, went into administration in January.
Joe Strummer, the late frontman of punk band The Clash, was said to regularly drink there while squatting nearby.
Novelist Martin Amis mentioned the old boozer in his story London Fields, and it was reported to have been frequented by Victorian poet Francis Thompson.
The Campaign for Real Ale includes the pub in its Inventory of Pub Interiors of Outstanding Historic Interest.
And local residents, including Labour councillors and MP Karen Buck, campaigned for it to be saved.
On Thursday of last week, Westminster council blocked the Cowell Group’s bid to turn the ground floor and basement into five new flats, adding to homes on the building’s three floors above.
The council has a policy to protect pub buildings that it thinks can still viably
function as a pub business, and so refused planning permission.
Mr Levy said: “We tried for two years to find a new tenant, without success. At the moment we have got nobody willing to take it over. If someone does want to take it over, then I’ll tell them ‘here are the keys’.
“We were accused of trying to run the pub down. We have been portrayed as villains and trying to run the business into the ground.
“But if you look across the road, all the shops are empty. The reality is, if it was viable to run a pub there, there would be operators lining up to take it over.
“It’s really sad. I’m furious about the whole situation. “As far as I’m concerned, we will be looking to appeal.”
After the plans were turned down, Labour councillor Tim Roca, who helped organise a protest in May, said: “We’re relieved the council has backed the community campaign to reject this application and save a much-loved local pub.
“The area has lost so many to developers in recent years despite proof that, if well-run, they are viable, popular places where people come together.
We want to work constructively with the owners to see it restored to the thriving local pub it used to be.”
Faucet Inn, who were charged £60,000 annual rent, also came under criticism for closing celebrated Camden LGBTQ pub, the Black Cap in 2015.
Tory cabinet member Richard Beddoe said: “It’s vital we do all we can to save this sort of pub from the wrecking ball.
“Through our new city plan, we’re putting policy in place to preserve pubs and all the character they bring to our communities.”