By Emma Harwood

A couple who want to demolish their 85-year-old pub and replace it with two houses and a café/bar have defended their plans, saying local objectors need to allow them to ‘move with the times.’

Steve and Steph Stone currently live above the Smuggler at Pett Level, but say it is bleeding money to the tune of almost £1 000 a month in business rates and would need hundreds of thousands spending on it to turn it into a viable, year-round enterprise.

The couple bought the pub – which faces north and whose front beer garden looks out on to a blind bend – four years ago from Steph’s grandfather Des Coleman, who had let it to a string of tenants for low rent over the previous 30 years.

However, and not surprisingly, considering the fact that Pett Level is lined with expensive, individually designed houses, most used as second or holiday homes, none could make it profitable and one was even bankrupted leaving unpaid debts and staff.

But despite hoping to keep it open while spending money on gradual improvements, the couple were forced to close it last year because they say locals and holidaymakers preferred to support the Beach Club down the road which offers lower price drinks in return for a £17 a year membership and, during the summer, a terrace which overlooks the beach.

Live music nights and a clutch of six or seven loyal regulars, they say, were not enough to draw in customers and keep their business afloat.

And having unsuccessfully tried to sell the crumbling building – which also has a back garden overlooking the beach, as well as an ice cream hut – with Fox and Sons estate agents, who estimated the value at £800,000, they now want to build two homes in its place. They would live in one and sell the other to fund the building of a new, low-level café which would be licensed and serve fish and seafood dishes.

According to their plans, the new building would be made from shipping containers with capacity for 42 people and a terrace overlooking the coast. It would be a third of the size of the current pub, which measures 252 square metres, and employ three members of staff. It would be open all day from 9 am-10.30 pm, and in their opinion, be a year-round attraction because of its new location and seafront views.

However, since the couple submitted the scheme in August, Pett Parish Council has applied to have the beleaguered pub – originally built to serve the needs of the now partially occupied beach front caravan park behind it – registered as an Asset of Community Value. It questions whether the pub couldn’t be viably run under the right management, citing comments from the pub’s previous tenants.

Susan Stoten and Stephen Roberts, of the Hastings Arms in George Street, wrote to clarify that in running the pub between 2013 and 2014, it was ‘thriving’ and their reasons for leaving the business ‘were not financial’ but ‘down to personal choice.’

One complainant, who said he’d lived in Pett Level for several years – Chris O’Donaghue of Marsh Cottage, Chick Hill, said, “if dog walkers – who do not live here -want a decent cup of coffee, then a decent landlord would make sure they could have one.”

“It seems to me to be obvious that the Smuggler is a community asset and should be kept as a pub.”

Another objector accused the Stones of deliberately over-pricing the building so as to ‘force a change of use’. Gary Kent of Coastguard Cottages, said: “I personally know of several businessmen who were very interested in purchasing the pub – but at a realistic price. How is £800,000 a realistic pricing strategy?”

“The village needs a pub, properly run, this would be a very profitable business….Pett Level is a very special place, do not let it turn into a ribbon development of ugly industrial type home (sic) for wealthy second homers.”

However, the Stones – who have amended the description of their new business from ‘café’ to ‘pub’ to appease objectors, claim they had offered the lease to local residents for just £22,000 a year to run as a co-operative but none wanted to take it on.

“A lot of locals have kicked up a fuss but they don’t know what it’s like trying to run a business here. A lot of these are second homes and those caravans are only occupied for six weeks of the year. We haven’t got any other option.”  said Mr Stone.

“It needs to move with the times.” added his wife.

“Sitting looking out on a main road is not the most attractive prospect for customers.”

“We hope our new business would attract more local residents and people from outside of the area, all year round.”

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