Developer to face legal action over unlawful demolition of ‘cherished’ local pub

Published: Friday 26th June 15

The council has launched an investigation into the unauthorised demolition of a landmark Victorian-era public house in Battersea - and could order the developer responsible for its disappearance to rebuild it brick by brick.

Wandsworth’s planning department is investigating the circumstances surrounding the demolition of the former Fishmonger’s Arms public house in St John’s Hill.  

The empty space where the "cherished" pub once stood

The pub, which was more recently known as The Alchemist, was taken down last month. The owner had not sought consent to do this, although he was required to do so under planning rules because it is located in a conservation area.

The building’s important contribution to the area was highlighted in an assessment which noted that its single storey entrance provides “a break in the otherwise long continuous facade. The Alchemist is a three storey rendered building, larger than the others in this part of the conservation area and in use as a public house. It is a symmetrical building divided into three bays with rendered pilasters framing each bay and a deep bracketed cornice at eaves level which adds a richness of architectural detail. Windows to second floor are timber sashes whereas at first floor French windows open out to a tiny roof terrace above the slightly projecting ground floor frontage”. 

The developer may be required to rebuild it brick by brick

In council documents seeking approval to pursue legal action against the developer involved, the pub is described as “a cherished heritage asset making an important contribution to the townscape of the conservation area”.

Planning chairman Cllr Sarah McDermott said: “There appears to be no justification for the demolition of this important local landmark and no consent was sought by the owners beforehand.

“We are therefore treating this as a very serious breach of planning rules, which we believe can only be put right by the complete rebuilding and reconstruction of this important community asset, using the same materials and to the same architectural design.

“This building is an integral part of the St John’s Hill Grove conservation area and its loss will be keenly felt by local people. That’s why we are determined to take action to ensure it’s restored for future generations.”

‘Article 4 Directions’ have been proposed in the case of 121 local pubs and bars that have historic, architectural or community value. This means owners would need to apply for permission before knocking them down or changing them into something else such as a supermarket or estate agent.

Currently, under ‘permitted development rights’, pub owners do not always need planning permission to demolish a pub or change its use. But Article 4 Directions remove permitted development rights, giving council planners a chance to decide whether or not to allow the changes.  

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Recent comments

There is another aspect here that needs to be pointed out. The original name of the pub (The Fishmongers Arms) recollects the fact that the land opposite (now occupied by the Health Centre) was formerly the site of Fishmongers Company almshouses. I am glad to see that something might happen now (although I will only really believe it when I see it), but the Council needed to show more resolve during the period while the building was obviously being left to rot. The lack of action at that time on the Council's part might have sent a message to the landowner that it would be OK to take a chance. I hope the lesson has been learned.
David Walden

6 July 2015

Why didn't the council stop the demolition before the building was nearly completely obliterated? How many years will this take to at least reinstate the facade?
Krista

1 July 2015

The pub was not "more recently known as the Alchemist", it was known as Stencil Bar and to be honest, can anyone tell me the last time it was open?? Also the picture on the Council have presented of the bar, how long ago was that taken? It has not looked that way in about 5 years. The place has been an eysore for years and it literally had trees and bushes growing out of the building. I am not agreeing that the owner had the right to tear it down, but is not a "cherished" local pub as it was never open. Also, maybe if the Council did not let the owner allow the building to fall into a state of disripute, we would not be having this problem.
John

30 June 2015

I wholeheartedly agree with the Council on this. A precedent was recently set in London forcing a developer to rebuild an improperly demolished pub. Developers have to learn that they cannot create 'facts on the ground' and thereby hope to bully local authorities into letting them have their way. I'm sure it will be very costly for them to rebuild as specified, and rightly so.
Endaf Kerfoot

28 June 2015

Absolutely delighted, that Wandsworth Council , have come on board. It breaks my heart when I see our history and community wiped out at the stroke of an accounts pen. I have been a resident of this Wonderful part of London for 45 years. These buildings are a social asset to the Community.Is the pub game unprofitable ......I don't know. But we cannot allow , the flagrent destruction to continue.
Martyn Truss

28 June 2015

It is extraordinary that the so called "developer" feels above the law with such conviction that he simply demolishes a protected building…agree with its rebuilding but also think that he needs to pay a fine to the WBC as they will spend a lot of our honestly derived tax money to deal with this mess. Would the investigation undertaken include an audit of this arrogant person's other pending building plans? He/she might be up to the same in Lambeth, Croydon…
Glen Richmond

27 June 2015

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Ian Andrews

27 June 2015

Quite right, I more than agree with most of the commenters here that WBC should come down like a ton of, er, bricks on the owner. However, I also agree with the commenter who highlights the hypocrisy of a body which wrings its hands over this, yet desecrates Battersea Park. A place incidentally where in an act of its own wanton vandalism it destroyed the Adventure Playground and is now preparing to bring in a private company to provide what was provided free years ago under its aegis, but now at the probable price of £25 for a couple of hours' play. And the Alton Estate 'regeneration' makes it clear this council only approves demolition on their terms.
Robin N. Bishop

26 June 2015

Developers cannot be allowed to flout planning requirements. An enforced re-build of the property to its original design will help to ensure that there are no future attempts to do anything similar. If they are allowed to get away with it, who knows what valuable building may be neaxt on the list.
Thomas Miles

26 June 2015

I too thought the facade was being preserved . It should have been. We need housing ( affordable ! ) but don't need to destroy our historical and beautiful buildings. Could the facade be rebuilt with affordable housing behind.
Jacqueline Openshaw

26 June 2015

I lived in the Borough for 23years and I am very interested to see what goes on now.
Pamela Dear

26 June 2015

Dale, you're right that it had been an eyesore for a while - but that is because the owner deliberately let it rot, knowing it was worth far more financially sold for redevelopment (or doing it himself) than it would ever be as a pub/bar, however popular. The would-be developer then discovered that Wandsworth takes its Conservation Areas (look up what that means) quite seriously, and was advised he'd never get planning permission. So he thought he might get away with it if he knocked it down anyway. I'm sure this is incomprehensible to someone like you with the type of City job where the correct decision is by definition the one that makes the most money. But some of us have a different approach to life - and we also live here.
Ossie Bullock

26 June 2015

So pleased action is being taken, saw this pub being demolished but thought the facade was being maintained. Think the developer should be made an example of!!
Margaret Gumbrell

26 June 2015

Too right the arrogant developer should replace the pub. When? If you let this situation beat you WBC., you DESERVE to be amushed by other similar situations.
Justin March

26 June 2015

Ironic. Unauthorised demolition of Victorian pub launches council investigation. Council authorised use of Victorian Grade II listed Park for a greatly intrusive car race doesn't seem to bother them.
susan lofthouse

26 June 2015

Why did WBC not intervene until after the event? Where are its teeth? Too few staff now - and even fewer on the ground once the amalgamation with Richmond takes place?
Celia Blair

26 June 2015

I would support the Council 100% on the rebuilding proposal. Well done for making it clear that greedy development should not be tolerated.
peter darbyshire

26 June 2015

The demolition of a local landmark is inexcusable. The Council have been given powers to deal with this kind of misbehaviour, and they should use them in such as way as to be a warning to any others who may put the priority of the preservation of our heritage below personal / corporate gain. When the building is re-instated, due thought needs to be given to how it should be used, lest it be neglected.
Paul E

26 June 2015

I drive past the site of the old Alchemist often and was upset to see it destroyed. Probably some developer wants to make a quick profit and put up a "new apartment development". The fact that no council permission was sought is criminal!
Sarah Smart

26 June 2015

The unauthorised demolition of beautiful landmark buildings should be controlled better in future because even if The Alchemist is re-built, who will control that it is not done cheaply and all original features have been preserved?
Mariana Otto

26 June 2015

The building/pub "Was" integral? having lived in the area for 3 years the building was an eyesore, run down and had trees growing out of facade so happy to say id rather see it used and invested in rather than being a pop up bar home to posters for night clubs. I would suggest re-building it brick by brick to lay desolate again wouldnt be worth the councils legal fee's or the taxpayers.
Dale Hawley

26 June 2015

This pub is/was an integral part of the distinctive and valued Victorian streetscape in St John's Hill. The Council must use all means at its disposal to ensure that the "Developer" rebuilds it.
Michael Leigh

26 June 2015