The White Swan at Thornton-le-Clay has now been given an Asset of Community Value listing, meaning its use cannot be changed and it can now only re-open as a public house.
The business closed in March 2020 when its last tenants' lease was not renewed, and it was put up for sale and purchased by a local couple who then applied for a change of use.The decision at a planning committee meeting on November 12 was unanimous, with six councillors all agreeing with Ryedale Council forward planning officer Jill Thompson's recommendation for refusal.
The meeting heard from parish councillor Paul Readey and Save Our Swan campaign group member David Johnson as well as The White Swan's owner and applicant, Richard Harrison.
Opponents of the development Mr Readey and Mr Johnson both spoke about the social and economic impact of the proposed application, the thriving nature of the business pre-lockdown, and how its loss would affect not only the pub, but also the neighbouring village hall and the primary school, which both enjoyed a symbiotic relationship and added to the vibrancy of rural community life.
Mr Readey referred to the issues of loneliness and social isolation which would be undermined by the pub's permanent closure. Mr Johnson added that if the pub were to be lost, it would be viewed by future generations as being ‘tantamount to an act of social vandalism’.
Mr Harrison defended his application and suggested that other pubs in the area were available for village residents.
A report from hospitality surveyor Fleurets about the business' viability and statements from chartered surveyor Mike Hughes and commercial estate agent Barry Crux supplied to Ryedale Council were all taken into account.
Among issues discussed by the councillors before their decision was reached were the lack of viable alternatives for the service of the local community, the lack of opportunity for young people entering work, and the initial marketing of the business, which was sold via a residential estate agent. One councillor said that he was particularly impressed by a letter received from a teenager, who recalled that the pub had offered her an induction into the world of work and how valuable an experience this had been.
The York branch of CAMRA also backed the Save Our Swan campaign, which began when the planning application was submitted in April. The Harrisons had purchased it the previous summer.
Coun Mike Potter also noted that he had never had so many objections and letters relating to a single planning case.
Mr Harrison and his wife Tracy made an initial application to turn part of the building into owners’ accommodation, retaining some public space for wet service only, but this proposal was withdrawn soon after. A subsequent planning application in June 2021 requested retrospective permission for a change of use to alter the pub into a family home. This followed several months of alterations having taken place, which included the reconfiguration of internal space, and exterior garden landscaping to the front and rear of the property, where the pub’s car parks had once been.
Save Our Swan group spokesperson and chairman Matt Smith said: “We are suitably reassured at this stage that the planners have listened and understood our protest concerned with saving this thriving business, a historic village pub which is now a recognised and valuable asset of community value. Support for The White Swan to remain as a public house has been overwhelming, and the strength of feeling is commensurate to Ryedale planners’ united decision to turn down the change of use application.
"That said, we recognise that even now with the decision fully supporting our cause, we still have a way to go before the Swan is fully operating as our ‘local’ once more, and we are committed and 100 per cent determined as a group to follow this through for the very best outcome for our rural community and its social and economic wellbeing.”