CAMPAIGNERS to save one of Cheshire's oldest village pubs can celebrate after plans to turn part of it into a home have been rejected.

When the Holly Bush in Little Leigh closed in May 2021, the land around it was sold off in lots, including three separate buildings previously used for overnight accommodation. 

The owner of two of these, the Barn and Bungalow, applied for planning permission in April to reduce the number of bedrooms across both buildings from nine to six.

But campaigners raised objections, claiming it was a ‘disguised' attempt to turn the Barn and Bungalow into a private home.

They claim a proposed new ‘owner/occupier accommodation’ was evidence of the owner's intention to turn the buildings into a residence. 

Although there was no formal proposal to alter the buildings’ use, the application included a request to separate the Barn and Bungalow from the pub, so it can operate as an independent business.

The campaigners, who want to buy the pub and re-open it, said if that happened, it would have a 'detrimental' impact on its viability as a business going forward. 

An objection published on the Cheshire West and Chester Council planning portal on August 15, states: "The plans indicate the configuration is clearly designed for a private residence, and not as stated for 'letting rooms'.

"The Barn is an important, integral element in the Holly Bush site, and granting this planning permission will significantly frustrate its re-opening as a viable pub.

Another objection published on August 14 says: “This is an attempt to create a residential property disguised as commercial property.

“Granting such a proposal would detrimentally affect the reopening of the Holly Bush pub as a profitable commercial entity.”

Planners from Chester West and Chester Council have now looked at the application and rejected it.

In a notice of refusal published on Friday, November 3, they noted the applicant provided ‘insufficient evidence’ the proposal would not ‘undermine the pub’s use as a community facility within the rural area’.

They also noted ‘the lack of private outdoor amenity space’ in the proposal, given the Barn and Bungalow’s proximity to the pub.

The notice adds: “The local planning authority considers that the proposed development is unacceptable in principle.

“It has therefore not been possible to work with the applicant in a positive and proactive way to secure a development that will improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of the area in line with the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Comberbach resident and campaigner to save the pub, Alistair Nicholls, said: "This refusal is a very important decision.

"It confirms the Holly Bush and its associated buildings are essentially one site for planning purposes. 

"The wider campaign group are still in a position to bring the site back into one ownership, undertake the necessary refurbishment works, and reopen the Holly Bush better than ever.

"We ask others to work with us to achieve this goal.

"It is quite probably in everyone’s best interests because I would expect there to be significant costs maintaining empty listed buildings."