Hundreds of people have joined a campaign to save a popular village pub from being sold off to developers.
The historic Lamb Inn, in Ripe, was closed in January 2015 and residents have been fighting ever since to save it from being permanently lost.
Villager Tracey Cunnell said: “Ripe is an idyllic village and the heart of the village is our pub. Currently the pub is falling into disrepair and it is boarded up with metal shutters and huge concrete blocks across the car park. It looks ugly in the centre of our beautiful village and is surrounded on all sides by listed buildings.
“We don’t deserve this. We all take pride in our houses and our village. We are very sad to see our pub like this.
“It seems the brewery Shepherd Neame have intentionally let the pub deteriorate over the past few years and placed unsuitable landlords in the pub to try and prove the pub is not viable. It has all been part of their big plan to sell the pub to a developer at a high price.
“We as a village want to save our pub and are all fighting for this. We have placed posters round the village, we have written to the brewery, we have written to the council and made them aware we will object to any planning application from a developer. We know that offers were made by genuine buyers who did want to run the pub as a freehouse, it seems these offers were not even considered or discussed.
“We have also written to HRH Prince of Wales and we are inviting you to attend to help publicise our plight. The building is a lovely old flint building in the centre of this picturesque village, it is the hub of our community.”
Councillor Philip Ede added: “The permanent loss of the historic Lamb Inn would be a tragedy. This is the pub where the legendary author Malcolm Lowry, who lived in the village, drunk his last. It is where generations of Ripe families have celebrated, commiserated, and commemorated over a convivial drink for over a hundred years. To close it down and contemplate its end was, I believe, shortsighted. It still has potential as a successful pub, if only investors would recognise that.”
Maria Caulfield MP also backs the campaign. She said: “One of my key pledges is to support our rural and village communities. I know how important the Lamb Inn is to the people of Ripe and keeping it as a pub is vital for the local community.
“While housing is vital, we desperately need the infrastructure to support it including community facilities such as local pubs.
“The Lamb is a community asset and while the easy thing to do would be to sell it for housing we are calling on Shepherd Neame to look seriously at bids from those who want to retain it as a pub and a vital community resource.
“I have been working closely with Councillor Philip Ede and I am happy to support whatever actions emerges from the protest today. We need to save the Lamb Inn.”
A Shepherd Neame spokesman said: “We totally reject this summary of events surrounding the sale of the Lamb Inn, Ripe. We are aware of considerable local interest in the future of the pub and welcome the opportunity to clarify the situation surrounding its sale.
“Despite approximately £80,000 of investment from the brewery, and the best efforts of our licensees, we are equally disappointed that the pub has not succeeded under our ownership over the last 10 years.
“The pub was closed in January 2015 and made secure. As necessary with an asset of community value (ACV), we waited six months for a proposal from the local community to buy the pub. We always give serious consideration to such approaches and hope that they succeed. On this occasion, we did not receive an offer from any qualifying group.
“Following this period, the Lamb Inn has been consistently marketed for sale as a pub, via specialist agents, who advertised it in major trade titles and on business websites. They also emailed a network of potential trade buyers. We are now very close to finalising the sale of the pub on an existing use basis.
“Within the last month, we have spoken twice to a local councillor and circulated an open letter to a significant number of members of the local community, updating them on progress of the sale.
“We have not received a petition from local residents, but we are well aware of the strength and depth of feeling surrounding this issue. As with any sale – and as set out in our correspondence – it is not appropriate to disclose the details of any potential buyers before a sale has been finalised.
“We are particularly disappointed that misleading statements regarding our actions and intentions have been circulated, which may have created confusion and concern in the community.
“We can confirm that we have received an application from Mrs Siobhan English, who wishes to “request our shareholders to vote against the sale of the Lamb Inn, Ripe to a developer”. This request is under consideration. We do not know whether Mrs English is acting in a personal or a professional capacity.
“Shepherd Neame categorically refutes the allegations made about our conduct relating to the Lamb Inn. We would like to thank those customers who were loyal to the pub during our period of ownership.”
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