Steeped in rich history, rural villages are a wellspring of local lore. From the incredible to the legendary, it’s the stories behind these street-scenes which make each what is today.
And it the village pub, naturally, which is the “beating heart” of places like Kirkby Malzeard.
Here, in this North Yorkshire village, it is the story of Henry Jenkins, an unlikely supercentenarian said to have lived to the age of 169, who was immortalised within the pub’s name.
But this beating heart, and his name, say residents, is in danger of disappearing forever. The pub, closed now for years, was last month threatened with demolition to make way for housing.
While villagers rallied, registering dozens of objections and persuading planners to save the site, an act to secure its future, by listing it as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) and potentially a community buy-out, was still refused.
“It’s part of the streetscape of the village, part of its fabric,” said resident Richard Sadler of the Save the Henry Jenkins Committee. “It can’t be right, that a 250 year old pub, that has been so important to this village of Kirkby Malzeard, has not been listed when the legislation has been set up for exactly this purpose. What’s the point in even having this legislation when it’s not being used for it’s intended purpose?”
The application to submit the ACV in December was a complicated one. The bid, eight A4 pages long, was backed by a list of 28 community groups prepared to use the pub. Signatures were secured from 21 residents, all with a local postcode, to meet the legislation. There were photos, letters from previous landlords, Camra and campaigners. But it was refused by Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) as it had been closed for more than five years as the owner tried to sell it.
“Our understanding is that under the Localism Act, authorities have a duty, as much as is possible, to protect assets,” said Mr Sadler. “They have a duty placed on them to try and preserve. We thought it was an extremely strong case.
“As we understand it, there’s a presumption that if an application is put in, in the right way and in the right area, and that it’s clearly been used by local people, that it should be protected. What seems to be the case is that they look for reasons not to list it.”
The residents are looking seriously at the idea of a community buyout to save the Henry Jenkins, with options for a B&B, a library, craft shop, even a micro-brewery. While they can’t appeal the decision, they can keep re-applying, which is what they intend to do.
“We’re losing pubs and community assets at a rate of knots,” said Mr Sadler. “Land, for housing, is worth a lot more than land for a pub or a village hall.
“But we think it’s wrong that someone can buy up something that is a much loved asset and then just knock it down to the detriment of the wider community. With the right platform, the community becomes more vibrant. In this day and age, when a lot of villages are becoming dormitory villages, it’s more important than ever that we hang onto what we’ve got. If we lose them, they aren’t going to come back.”
The Right to Bid, introduced under David Cameron, aims to transfer power under the Localism Act to allow communities greater authority in protecting essential assets.
But with a third of all bids rejected in Yorkshire, and up to three quarters in some areas, questions have been raised over the interpretation of the legislation.
The lowest success rates for bids were in Wakefield and Harrogate, with a 23 per cent and 24 per cent pass rate respectively.
Antony Sadler, Wakefield Council’s service director for communities, said: “Wakefield provides comprehensive guidance through its website to support communities in submitting applications for assets to be listed as ACVs. When applications are received, a decision is made based upon the statutory requirements set out within the Localism Act. Where the application does not meet the statutory requirements, it is necessary for applications to be refused.”
In Harrogate, council leader Richard Cooper, said the authority had recently looked into its success rate as it had concerns that it “may be low compared to other areas”.
‘We found that the council had a consistent approach in considering applications,” he said, adding that there had been several successes including the Pinewoods in Harrogate, commended as being an “innovative” scheme.
“We have taken the view very strongly that all nominations must be able to demonstrate that the buildings or land they nominate have, or have had, an important community use and that this can realistically continue.
“Where there is a lack of evidence that this will be the case, we have been unable to justify making that recommendation.”
Otley first to embrace idea
The market town of Otley became the first in England in 2015 to have all its pubs listed as Assets of Community Value. The Otley Pub Club, a non-profit organisation, submitted the bids. And with the value of land for housing increasing, the group says, it is more essential than ever.
“Otley is an historic market town,” said MP Greg Mulholland, president of the Pub Club. “At one stage, it was vying for one of the towns with the highest number of pubs per member of the population. We want to ensure that we retain as many as possible.”
The application initially was for 20 pubs, 19 with a Leeds postcode and one with a Harrogate postcode. All but the Harrogate one was accepted.
“It’s a rural pub, a public asset outside the town which is clearly very important to the town and visitors,” said Mr Mulholland. “It does show the starkly different approach, in this case with pubs barely a half mile apart.”
While the measures offering communities greater authority under the Localism Act are to be celebrated, Mr Mulholland said, stronger powers are needed still.
Camra is now backing an amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, initially proposed by Mr Mulholland, which would close a loophole over planning laws for pubs.
The amendment, initially rejected by the House of Commons, is due a second hearing having been passed by the House of Lords and would mean developers would need planning permission to demolish a pub or convert it into offices.
“They are part of our heritage and our history,” said Mr Mulholland. “Yet we stand by as greedy developers asset strip with no regard for communities or that heritage and history.”
Villages seeing ‘return of community spirit’
Communities are seeing a revival of local spirit, Yorkshire campaigners have said, and are prepared now more than ever to fight to save their local amenities.
Kevin Keaveny, Camra regional director for Yorkshire, is one who helps local communities prepare their bids to create Assets of Community Value (ACV) in the region.
And after the demise of the traditional village a few decade ago, he said, he is starting to see its return.
“In the past five years, a lot of villages have changed completely,” he said. “In past decades, we’ve all become commuter villages, with the heart disappearing out of the community. We’ve seen the death of all our local amenities, local Post Office branches, libraries.
“But then in the last five years we’ve seen a massive change, where people want to start investing in the their communities.
“There are a lot of community shops being set up. There’s a sense of community spirit coming back into villages.”
Yesterday, the Prince of Wales was pictured pouring a pint to promote the role of pubs as hubs of community life.
The prince was attending an event in Wiltshire, organised by Yorkshire-based Pub In The Hub, which assists rural pubs in broadening their range of services to communities.
And part of the cause behind this surge in community spirit, said Mr Keaveny, is a necessity for villages to turn inwards.
With fewer bus services, people are going out less on an evening, while they are less prepared to travel with services like libraries closing.
“In many rural Yorkshire villages, if you don’t buy a pint of milk on the way home, it will cost you £7 to get to the supermarket in petrol,” he said. “People who used to spend most of their time going out, are coming back.”