New flats on former Letchworth pub site approved on appeal by planning inspector

The site of the former Black Squirrel pub in Letchworth's Gernon Road.

The site of the former Black Squirrel pub in Letchworth's Gernon Road. - Credit: Archant

A plan to build social housing flats on the site of Letchworth’s first purpose-built pub has been green-lit on appeal by a planning inspector.

North Herts District Council planners last year turned down the proposal to turn the former Black Squirrel pub in Gernon Road into 18 flats, citing a lack of parking space and concerns over living conditions.

But an appeal from Isle of Man-based developers Bakestall Ltd has been upheld by government inspector Jonathan Price, who has overruled the district council and granted planning permission.

In his report – written before the district council voted forward the Local Plan for North Herts on April 11 – Mr Price notes that the three-storey development would ‘contribute to reducing the council’s five-year shortfall’.

He acknowledges that the provision of no on-site car parking does not meet council criteria, but invokes national policy stating that plans should only be rejected on transport grounds ‘where the residual cumulative impacts of development are severe’ – and rejects the argument that neighbouring streets will be clogged up with cars parked by the new residents.

Census evidence presented by the developers indicated that 53 per cent of town centre households did not own a vehicle, he notes – and he argues that the lack of unrestricted on-street parking nearby will help deter residents from car ownership.

A passage from the report reads: “The proposal would not cause traffic congestion and the local highway authority has raised no objections. Based on the evidence, a severely harmful impact upon the parking capacity of the local highway network and local public car parks would not result.”

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He concludes that any harm resulting from the lack of on-site car parking is outweighed by the scheme’s benefits.

The district council had also raised issues about the noise from the service yard adjacent to the site, with heavy vehicles said to enter and leave at unsociable hours.

It did not provide a further statement to the inspector to support this second reason for refusal.

Mr Price holds that there is insufficient evidence that the vibration caused by heavy vehicles would make living conditions inadequate – and concludes that with bedroom windows facing the service yard fixed shut, the noise can be sufficiently mitigated to meet national standards.

He accepted evidence from the appellant indicating that deliveries to the yard start at about 5.30am each morning and are less frequent than had been claimed, adding that the district council’s environmental health officer was also satisfied on this issue.

The Black Squirrel called last orders in 2006, and was subsequently a Mexican cantina, a brasserie and a Thai restaurant. It will be demolised to make way for the new flats.

Its name referred to the common belief that Letchworth is the first place where black squirrels were spotted in the UK, in 1912.

It is one of several Letchworth locations featured in the 2013 Simon Pegg and Nick Frost film The World’s End, in which it is called The Beehive.

Mr Price’s report can be read in full at