Villagers’ fury at plan to transform Bell Inn

editorial image

RESIDENTS and parish councillors in Hook Norton have spoken of their dismay at plans to transform an historic village pub into an estate agency.

The Bell Inn, which dates from the 17th Century and is the oldest pub in the village, was purchased last year by William and Zoe Shapland who closed it down immediately to carry out renovations on the dilapidated building.

Since then a number of alleged planning breaches have been cited including the removal of the bar from the Grade II listed building.

Cherwell District Council announced last month it was considering whether enforcement action was necessary, but last week leaflets were distributed around the village suggesting Oliver James estate agents, which has a branch in Kidlington, would be moving into the disused pub imminently.

Parish councillors have campaigned to keep the pub open as a village amenity.

But they say the change of use to an estate agents would require no amendments to planning permission as it would retain the commercial use of the building.

Emma Kane, chair of Hook Norton Parish Council said: “The feeling is shock, amazement and disappointment that this is happening to The Bell.

“Why does the village need an estate agency? It doesn’t.”

She conceded a minority of residents are not in favour of The Bell remaining open.

Councillors and former patrons of The Bell fear the plan is part of a longer term goal to transform the pub into homes.

Ms Kane added: “As a parish council we can’t take any action.

“We have made our feelings known to the owners and have expressed our disappointment. We can only try to make sure Cherwell is doing all it can.

Sarah Alling­ton of Oliver James confirmed she had been approached about the possibility of setting up an agency in the village and is in talks about the move.

“I was approached in good faith and it was never our intention to upset anyone within the village.

“The amount of e-mails I received last week was astounding,” she said.

“I was offered an opportunity and I felt it could help the local community in a way. As far as we could tell it wasn’t a case of the village losing the pub as it was closed already.”