Owner of Thorpe Morieux pub loses bid to stop it becoming ‘community asset’

Carol Gibson outside the Bull Inn in Thorpe Morieux
Carol Gibson outside the Bull Inn in Thorpe Morieux
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The owner of the historic Bull Inn at Thorpe Morieux has failed in a bid to stop the premises being listed as a ‘community asset’.

Carol Gibson had argued at a tribunal that she had suffered serious financial losses running the Bull Inn, despite taking a full time day job.

She claimed that the property should not be listed under the provisions of the Localism Act 2011.

Listing of the property means that if she wants to sell it, a community group would have six weeks to consider being treated as a potential bidder, and the property could not be sold for six months.

However, she would retain the right to sell to whom she chooses, and to decide the amount.

Miss Gibson bought the pub and an adjacent two bedroom house for £616,000 in 2007, and invested a considerable amount of money in the business, believing she could make it successful.

But two years later she took a full time job, opening the Bull at evenings and weekends, and put it on the market for £575,000.

However, in August 2013 Babergh District Council listed the Bull, which has been a pub since the 1860s, on its list of assets of community value.

Later the council decided the Bull should not be listed but then changed its mind and relisted it in July 2014.

Thorpe Morieux Parish Council had hoped to run the pub, and local residents wanted to buy it for £200,000 and spend £50,000 on renovations.

Against that background Miss Gibson challenged district council’s relisting decision before a First Tier Tribunal which deals with such challenges.

She claimed the pub had experienced difficult times over the past 20 years, and had closed as a business in the 1990s. The village had only 250 residents, which she argued was not enough to support a pub without passing trade.

Opposing her challenge though the parish council argued that she had failed to invest in the premises, and had allowed them to become “shabby and uninviting.”

They also claimed that she did not live on the premises, and made unwise business decisions, among them such as starting a fish and chip night on the same night as a mobile chip van with a loyal clientele visited the area.

Backing the decision to list the premises, Judge Peter Lane said he considered that until Miss Gibson closed the premises as a pub in 2013 the Bull Inn had “plainly furthered the social well-being and interests of the community.”

“Not only was the pub used by locals for eating and/or drinking (albeit that their numbers were small) various clubs and other bodies also used it,” he said.

He continued : “I have had full regard to Miss Gibson’s evidence and submissions regarding the commercial difficulties she encountered in running the Bull Inn.

“I do not, however, find as a fact that her experience is such as to show that no other individual or group could realistically run the Bull Inn as a pub.

“Miss Gibson’s grounds of appeal record that, on purchasing the Bull Inn in October 2007, she was “confident that she would be able to make a success of the pub”. I consider the evidence discloses that, regrettably, the problems in caring for her elderly parents and her need to take a daytime job in order to repay her bank, hampered her efforts to run the pub business.

“For the last few years Miss Gibson has not, it seems, resided at the Bull Inn.”

Dismissing the challenge he said that looking at the evidence overall, he was not satisfied that it would be “fanciful” to think in the light of Miss Gibson’s own experiences the Bull Inn successfully could not be run successfully by others.

Judge Lane added that there was a strong local wish to see the pub reopen, and that the Friends of Thorpe Morieux Bull had offered £200,000 for the property, although she criticized this as unrealistically low.

Miss Gibson on the other hand had, he said, applied for planning consent for change of use of the premises to a dwelling. That application was refused in January this year.