Hundreds want pub to reopen

I see from your report about the plan to convert the Black Horse at Amberley into two houses (West Sussex County Times, June 7), that the new owner has engaged a specialist firm to “consult with the village” about the proposed plan.

I can save him the expense. To date, in an open letter to the new owners, around 400 people – 157 residents and 234 visitors to the village – have expressed the hope the current closure of the pub is merely temporary and look forward to it reopening in the near future, which suggests there is overwhelming opposition to permanent closure and conversion to two dwellings.

Plainview Planning Ltd, which, according to its website, specialises in “securing valuable planning permissions for residential and commercial sites…and change of use” and “strives to prepare dynamic and persuasive planning applications for every project”, claims that a high turnover of owners have tried, and failed, to make the pub work in recent years.

The reality is that the Black Horse has had four landlords in the last 40 or so years, and for most of the time it has been run as a very successful business.

In your report, Ian Woodward-Court, Plainview’s managing director, is quoted as saying that “Punch Taverns sold the premises in 2007 due to under performance, and now Admiral Taverns have been forced to sell for similar reasons a few years later.”

What he fails to point out is that Admiral Taverns, one of Britain’s biggest tenanted pub groups, went into administration in 2010 after it was left with more than £1billion of debt.

It has been forced to sell off hundreds of pubs, including the Black Horse.

True, the Black Horse has not attracted the custom it might have done in recent years, but there have been a number of contributory factors.

The two other pubs in the parish – The Sportsman and the Bridge Inn at Houghton Bridge – have both been successfully turned round in recent years, as has the George & Dragon at Houghton, all under dynamic new management.

In view of its location in the very heart of the village of Amberley, which is also within the recently-created South Downs National Park, and close to the South Downs Way, there is no reason why the Black Horse should not also flourish.

Because it appears in all the guide books, numerous walkers and other visitors to the village are disappointed to find the Black Horse closed.

Finally, Mr Woodward-Court appears to be under the illusion that conversion of the pub into two “high quality family homes” is in some way beneficial to Amberley.

Apart from the dozen or so properties currently on the market, and four new-builds for which planning permission has been granted, the village has, in the last four years, gained a total of 16 new homes, five of which proved difficult to sell.

Instead of more unsold houses, the local population would enthusiastically welcome a well managed pub/restaurant in the centre of the village, alongside the shop and tea rooms.

Perhaps Mr Woodward-Court should advise his client accordingly.

Mike Toynbee

East Street, Amberley