THE owner of the old White Lion at Crays Pond no longer plans to put it on the market despite having said he would.
Satwinder Sandhu, who purchased the former Greene King hostelry in 2013, told South Oxfordshire District Council in April that he intended to sell the vacant premises on.
He was legally required to do this because it is an asset of community value, meaning any sale is subject to a six-month moratorium to give the community a chance to work up a bid.
A group of residents formed a non-profit company and made an offer to Mr Sandhu about a month ago, which they claim was “generous” considering the pub’s condition.
They hope to convert the property into a community “hub” offering additional services like a coffee shop, meeting rooms for hire, bicycle rental, farmers’ market, book clubs or film screenings.
It could also host coffee mornings for different groups like parents at nearby schools or the elderly.
About 260 villagers have backed a campaign to get this off the ground and organisers say they have received “substantial” pledges of financial support.
But now Mr Sandhu, who was living at the pub unlawfully until he was ordered off by the High Court in 2019, has told the district council he isn’t selling and has declined the offer.
He hasn’t explained why but says he may have more news in a few weeks.
Should he wish to try to sell again, he will have to give another six months’ notice before the premises can go on the open market.
Fiona O’Brien, of the Save The White Lion action group, said she and her colleagues were disappointed but not surprised by his decision.
She said: “Our offer remains on the table but Mr Sandhu has decided not to pursue the sale as he originally claimed he would.
“It’s a shame because we were all ready to go ahead and we don’t know what he’s planning or what has prompted him to change his mind.
“We can only assume he’s still hoping to get consent for some kind of residential conversion and is holding out in the hope that he’ll eventually get it.
“It will remain listed as a community asset for the next five years so we’ve got until then to make something work.
“For commercial reasons, we can’t disclose the offer we made but it was based on a professional valuation of the pub some time ago, with a little bit added.
“When you ask yourself what most people would pay for a pub in that condition, we think it was very fair but it probably wasn’t in his eyes”.
Ms O’Brien says the campaigners have a “broad” idea of how they would like to convert the pub and several providers, including a bike hire firm, have shown an interest. The owner of another nearby pub, who isn’t yet willing to be named, is also interested in being the landlord.
The campaigners could ask the district council to seek a compulsory purchase order forcing Mr Sandhu to sell at a reasonable price, preventing further deterioration.
Ms O’Brien said: “We’ve got so many ideas which all rely on Mr Sandhu’s willingness to sell. We’re discussing our next steps but want to keep a constructive dialogue going.
“We’re worried about the condition of the site because he has allowed it to become very untidy and we would be happy to help him tidy it up. We aren’t interested in making money from it – we just want that pub back in the community’s hands.”
Peter Dragonetti, the vice-chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “I’m sorry that Mr Sandhu has deprived the community of the chance to enter into negotiations with him.
“However, I am mindful that it’s his right to hang on to it and use it for any lawful purpose, although it adds little value to the neighbourhood in its present condition.”
Mr Sandhu says the campaigners never presented a detailed vision for running the venture sustainably and it would face similar pressures which have forced other rural pubs to shut. He says he offered a rent-free period to anyone willing to take the pub on as a tenant but there were no takers.
He proposed reopening the pub as a business and subsidising its income with bed and breakfast accommodation and family housing, which he says kept pubs in other villages alive so campaigners should have supported this.
But when he sought planning permission, the district council refused to decide his application because he and his family were still living there in breach of an enforcement order.
Mr Sandhu said: “I remain more than happy to speak to local residents or the council and would appreciate any ideas for establishing a successful business to provide a socially inclusive environment for the community.”
He may be contacted at [email protected] while the campaigners are accepting pledges of funding at www.savethewhitelion.com