THE future of Sandhurst’s oldest pub is still up in the air after councillors chucked out plans to build two houses at the site.

As the News reported last week, the Rose and Crown pub could lose half of its beer garden to make way for the three-bedroom dwellings.

Proposals were rejected in November 2018 before being shelved at the last minute in February 2019.

Now plans have been put on hold again as councillors at a Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) meeting chose to defer a judgement on the application as they were ‘not happy they had all the information’.

This came after a concerned resident raised fears about access requirements for wheelchair users at the redeveloped site.

The proposed width of a new footpath leading to the homes is only one metre wide at its narrowest point and council officers claimed in a report this would provide “adequate width” for wheelchair users.

But this could not be supported by council officers at the planning committee meeting after residents questioned the judgement, leading to chairman councillor Michael Dudley calling for a deferral of the application which was backed by his fellow councillors.

He said: “I’m sorry but I think we need to know this information – it’s quite important. We’re not going to pass a planning application if it doesn’t comply with access requirements. I’m not happy that we have all the information that we require especially in regard to disabled access.”

Cllr Dudley told a number of concerned Sandhurst residents he was “sorry for the anti-climax” when the meeting closed after just 29 minutes.

After the meeting, Adrian Russell, chairman of the 150-strong Rose and Crown community support group, shared his views on the responsible officers with the News.

He said: “They’re a bunch of amateurs – they didn’t know about the disabled access (requirements).

“Scope (a charity for disability equality) would be horrified if this got through because it means people who don’t use wheelchairs don’t count.”

Mr Russell claimed electric wheelchair users need 2.5 meters to be able to turn around.

He added: “What they’re saying is disabled people can’t buy this house. People forget things. They can’t turn around – what they would have to do is reverse 45 meters all the way back – how embarrassing is that?”

More than 80 objections have been received by BFC in response to the planning application, which would see two three-bedroom homes go up in place of half of the existing beer garden.

Many residents are worried the application signals the beginning of the end for the pub, with one resident writing: “This appears to be a money grabbing exercise on the part of the owners with no respect for the local area, and will likely lead to the full closure of Sandhurst’s oldest pub in the near future.”

One other suggested reducing the size of the pub’s garden would be “madness” while another objector said: “The housing behind will ruin what’s left of the best pub in Sandhurst.”

Mr Russell told the News he had concerns about the owners of the Rose and Crown, Punch Taverns, which was bought out by private equity firm Patron Capital in 2017.

According to pub specialists Beer Guild, upon the purchase of Punch Taverns, Patron Capital expected “to continue to pursue, and in some cases accelerate or enhance, key elements of the Punch management team’s strategy, including investing in the pubs, adapting and modernising operating models such as through the roll-out of the managed operating format, and continuing to sell non-core assets.”

Under the proposal’s design guide, the beer garden is deemed “surplus to operational requirements” and the applicant is “seeking to make more efficient use of the underutilised land”.

But Mr Russell believes this could spell doom for the pub, as he claimed the owners have “got no long-term interest in the running of pubs.”

Earlier at the meeting, a representative for Punch Taverns told councillors: “Punch remains fully committed to the Rose and Crown and has no intention of closing it and are quite happy with the asset of community value that has been designated.”

Before that, Lyndon Beardsley played 20 seconds of guitar music by pub local and musician ‘Rob’, who regularly plays live with his son at the pub, before playing another 20-second clip of what locals would hear if the application was approved.

The second clip was silent.

At the meeting on Wednesday, April 17, councillors were considering a report which acknowledged how plans would breach three of the council’s planning and development policies as the proposed homes would be situated on countryside land.

But because national planning guides support the “effective use of land for new housing and the development of underutilized land”, the report claimed the application would be suitable for approval.

Despite this, Mr Russell said the council has not considered another 11 planning policies which the application allegedly breaches.

The deferral means the proposal is likely to come back to Bracknell Forest Council’s planning committee in the near future, but Mr Russell told the News he is not giving up.

He said: “I’m not going to let this lie.”