We Object: The Montague Arms

A planning application has been submitted to demolish the much-loved Montague Arms and make a Frankenstein’s monster of a building in its place. The pub isn’t in the Hatcham Conservation area, but we wrote to object anyway. If anyone is keen to do an Asset of Community Value bid on the pub, let us know, and we’ll support you! Great things have been done with the Ivy House in Nunhead and great things are happening with the Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham thanks to an ACV bid.

You can read our full response, submitted to the Lewisham Planning Department below, but please don’t copy and paste it when writing your own response to the council. Your response has to be individualised, or the council will ignore it! Write to planning@lewisham.gov.uk quoting application DC/20/119425. Don’t forget to write which policies (national, london, local) that you think the application goes against….

Dear Lewisham Planning Department,

The Hatcham Society strongly opposes application ​DC/20/119425, demolition of existing building and erection of 4 storey building plus roof space at 289 Queens Road SE15 (The Montague Arms). I appreciate that the pub does not lie within the boundaries of the Hatcham Conservation Area but since it is so close to our boundary we felt compelled to write an official response to the application.

We appreciate that under the plans, the developer QR DEVELOPMENT LTD / KNT Development Ltd have proposed a 100m​2 ​‘commercial’ space alongside a 50m​2 ​‘office’ space in the ground floor of the property. This is perhaps a way of justifying the proposed loss of a historic music venue and pub space. We would like to make clear from the outset that these proposed spaces will not compensate for the loss of a historic music venue and locally cherished pub. This is because the size of the proposed ‘commercial’ space will not be large enough to host the type of gigs and social gatherings that were previously housed at the Montague Arms. According to a​ rental listing of the Montague Arms from 2019​, the ground floor of the current pub provides 2,414 sq ft or 224m​2 ​of space – the proposed ‘commercial’ space constitutes less than half of this and will not provide the same amenities – stage, audience area, bar, seating area – that the current space provides.

We object to the application on the following grounds:

National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The NPPF recognises the important role of public houses within the community. Paragraph 92 of the NPPF states that to deliver the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services the community needs, planning policies and decisions should

a) plan positively for the provision and use of shared space, community facilities (such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship) and other local services to enhance the sustainability of communities and residential environments.

The Hatcham Society believes that if the application for the demolition of the pub is granted, it will contravene Paragraph 92 of the NPPF because the new design – due to the aforementioned loss of space – will not plan positively for the provision of a public house.

The ‘New’ London Plan (2021)

The ‘New’ London plan is on course to become the most relevant plan following the Secretary of Housing’s letter dated 29 January 2021, so the Hatcham Society will only consider this latest plan within our response to ​application DC/20/119425. We consider the latest London Plan, first published in 2016, now supersedes the previous one from 2011.

Policy HC6 B6 recognises the need to protect and support evening and night-time cultural venues such as pubs, night clubs, theatres, cinemas and music and other arts venues.
The policy justification states the night-time economy is becoming increasingly important to London’s economy. The Mayor is keen to promote London as a 24-hour global city, taking advantage of London’s competitive edge and attractiveness for businesses and people looking to expand beyond the usual daytime economy into night-time economic opportunities. The evening and night time economy can make a significant contribution to town centre vitality and viability. It generates jobs and improves incomes from leisure and tourism activities, contributing not just to the vitality of the town centre but also making it safer by increasing activity and providing ‘passive-surveillance’.

Emerging London Plan Policy HC7 (Protecting Public Houses) states that: HC7 A1. Boroughs should protect public houses where; they have a heritage, economic, social or cultural value to local communities, or where they contribute to wider policy objectives for town centres, night time economy areas, cultural quarters and Creative Enterprise Zones. HC7 B. Applications that propose the loss of public houses with heritage, cultural, economic or social value should be refused unless there is authoritative marketing evidence that demonstrates that there is no realistic prospect of the building being used as a pub in the foreseeable future.

The Hatcham Society does not believe that the new ‘commercial’ space proposed by KNT Development Ltd will ever contribute to the night-time economy whereas the current Montague Arms building has the potential to do so once again. Hundreds gathered at the venue for a gig by the musician ​King Krule just three years ago​, showing that the venue has the capacity to attract large numbers if managed properly. King Krule, who was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2018, played at the Montague Arms early in his career, demonstrating that its stage once offered a platform to emerging artists who are now the bedrock of London’s thriving cultural scene. If the proposed development is allowed, London will have lost another vital cultural venue. It’s highly doubtful whether similar artists will want to play at the redeveloped ‘commercial’ space with its greatly diminished size and loss of history.

The Montague Arms is culturally important when it comes to music history as it played host to The Fall’s Mark E Smith, Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan. Culturally significant bands including Gang of Four, Band of Holy Joy (formed in New Cross in 1984), Sludgefeast, and Gnarwolves have also graced the stage. Architecturally, it is a beautiful example of an interwar pub and with investment, it can be converted into a glorious historic asset once more. However, everything will be lost for good if it is demolished.

The application by KNT Development Ltd has failed to demonstrate “that there is no realistic prospect of the building being used as a pub in the foreseeable future.” The fact that there is an active rental listing for the building from as recently as 2019 for £60,000pa demonstrates that the current pub does ​have a realistic prospect of being used as a pub in the future. ​Without full evidence that the ​applicant has made a genuine attempt to market the pub as a going concern, the application to demolish and rebuild the site should be rejected.

The borough recently lost the nearby White Hart as a live music venue. The Council should be doing what it can to protect these live music venues, and should not agree to the demolition of the Montague Arms. You must protect one of the last remaining music venues in this corner of Lewisham and do all you can to support its return to a thriving music venue.

Draft Lewisham Local Plan (2021)

Policy 8.112 of Lewisham’s emerging Local Plan states: Development proposals involving the demolition or loss of an existing public house, including through change of use, must submit evidence to demonstrate that the pub is not financially viable and there is no reasonable prospect of the premises remaining in this use, or an alternative community use. We will expect to see full details of patronage levels and trading accounts over the past 3 years, including accounts from previous management where appropriate. In addition, applicants must provide a statement documenting the steps taken by the owner or operator to respond to viability concerns, including falling patronage levels and profit margins. This might cover considerations given to business diversification (for example, expanding the food and beverage offer), promotions or building refurbishment. Finally, proposals will need to provide proof of a marketing exercise covering a minimum continuous period of three-years, including details of commercial agents, advertisements and lease terms offered. During this time the pub must be actively marketing at a reasonable local market rent. We will consider whether any ties or restrictive covenants have affected interest. Proposals will be resisted where there is good reason to believe that the viability of the pub has been compromised by deliberate neglect or mismanagement.

The Hatcham Conservation Society has not seen any evidence of the aforementioned requirements outlined in 8.112 in the application for the Montague Arms within the planning application documents and we cannot see how this application, even if adapted and expanded upon by the applicant, can ever be approved by Lewisham Council. We therefore ask Lewisham Council to reject the application and for the applicant to re-think their plans to demolish this cherished pub and instead work towards restoring it and turning it into a viable music venue once more.

The Hatcham Conservation Society