EXCLUSIVE: Council turns down extra �50,000 for Letchworth pub land

A COUNCIL has admitted turning down an extra �50,000 for land which is to be used for a Tesco Express, following a pub’s closure.

The Comet made a Freedom of Information request to North Herts District Council after land situated at the former site of The Pelican pub in Letchworth GC was sold to pub retailer Greene King.

We can reveal that the council agreed the �100,000 sale on February 8 for the freehold in Middlefields despite receiving a rival offer the previous month of �150,000 - which could have seen The Pelican remain open. An improved offer of �175,000 was then made but the council say it was contacted after the sale was complete.

Greene King, which said the pub was “not viable”, have since struck a deal with Tesco which will see an Express store open in the autumn.

Shop owners at nearby shopping precinct The Parade had strongly opposed the move following the pub’s closure in January, with fears that the presence of a Tesco Express will put them out of business.

Nisa owner Sudager Aujla made the two rival offers in a bid to keep the pub open and save his convenience store in Southfields, which will be in direct competition with the supermarket.

Speaking about the bidding process with the council, Mr Aujla said: “We weren’t getting any feedback from them. I must have left 10 messages asking to meet up or speak to them over the phone to talk about it. But they never once got back to me - how can they make the decision when nobody knows my intentions?

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“I offered �175,000 on Wednesday morning (February 8) after they had told me they had sold it on Tuesday night and said we would go even higher if we had to. Surely the council needs to get the maximum price for the people in the area.”

After speculation that Tesco wanted to take on the pub site, Mr Aujla set up a petition with fellow businesses against it which he told the Comet amassed about 2,000 signatures.

Mr Aujla is planning on extending his opening hours later this month to 7am-10pm in an attempt to compete with Tesco.

He added: “A lot of people are really angry. We don’t need a supermarket. Tesco is saying they are going to create 20 jobs but The Parade is going to lose 20 jobs.

“I was going to run it as a pub. It had never been closed and was still making money. I could’ve run it on behalf of Greene King or bought the lease off of them.”

A council spokesman said the decision was taken on February 3 with interested parties informed three days later. She said Mr Aujla’s higher offer was received the day after the sale had been completed, something the Nisa owner disputes.

She added that Greene King’s bid was accepted amid concerns that Mr Aujla’s offer would require a legal process for Greene King to forfeit its lease, if it was not compelled to continue running the pub.

Andy Cavanagh, the council’s head of finance, performance and asset management, said: “We always strive to achieve best value for council taxpayers, which is based on more than purely financial considerations as we also take into account what is best for the social and economic well being of the area.

“Greene King’s proposal represented the clearest opportunity to bring new employment into the area and avoid having an empty property once the pub had closed. The council is completely satisfied that all procedures were properly followed and that all interested parties had sufficient opportunity to present their position to the council.”

The �100,000 freehold sale included �6,000 in compensation after Greene King chopped three trees down outside The Pelican without the council’s permission last June.