Author Topic: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel  (Read 11778 times)

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Offline OTTed

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Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« on: May 17, 2013, 05:15:47 PM »
It has suddenly come to attention that the owners of Bell in Old Town have asked for a change of use. i.e. it will no longer be a pub.

That may be good news to some who live in the Pinnacle and maybe do not like the music noise. It may be of no immediate regard to you as a place to buy a pint, but take a little while to consider the wider significance. I am concerned that by early June this decision may be made by delegated planning. No malice there from SBC - I am not complaining of that - but a natural progression of a process if few questions are raised. Only a few homes and businesses in the short length of High St will know about this matter and I am questioning if that is the best way to make this decision.

What do the owners want to do? It is difficult to see online because many of the documents are barred, or unavailable, however it seems that the plan is to keep the top as irregular, casual accommodation as per now, whilst the downstairs turns into a small commercial/retail corridor - not dissimilar to that at the Devizes Rd end of Wood St. Really small units of different uses.

Why does this matter? Well the building claims to have traded as a pub since before 1515. Yes it is fast approaching 500 years and must surely be Swindon's oldest business [or do you know better?] The building is an historic landmark. And surely it is a key element of support for the fantastic plans that we have been seeing that may happen across at The Corn Exchange.

The key thing is - when did you last remember an ex-pub, turning back into a pub. When it is gone, this piece of Swindon history is gone. We need to be sure that is an appropriate decision.

A bigger question is that there is a regeneration plan for the area. Hence this is not a decision that deserves to be made in isolation or in haste. Do we not need to consider this possibility very carefully and beyond the immediate confines of the economic wishes of the site owners. 'Owners' - I wonder if you take on a building or a business as important as this, perhaps you should define yourself as a 'custodian' not an owner?

If you wish to inform yourself more about this, then you may check out the link or contact Helen McCabe at SBC

http://pa.swindon.gov.uk/publicaccess/propertyDetails.do?activeTab=relatedCases&keyVal=001QFKPTLI000

you have until 13 June I believe.

Do others believe this is a wider community issue?  I hope I can encourage a community wide discussion.



Offline Mickraker

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Pubs
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2013, 06:08:31 PM »
I found this one http://pa.swindon.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MMFLWBPT0EE00.

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Offline Mickraker

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Pubs
« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2013, 06:10:51 PM »
Found another the ale house http://pa.swindon.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=MMIU9XPT97000  :-\ 
My non aggresive posts are my own opinion and represent me, myself and I only!

Offline OTTed

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2013, 06:16:54 PM »
Mick. That is indeed interesting, and I know each of those pubs, but can we discuss elsewhere on another thread all the possible or recent pub closures in Swindon. Check out some of Barry Leighton's work for the Adver - he has documented so many. All please can we not just post pub after pub on here but keep to the Bell initially.

I really want this thread initially to discuss.

As a Swindon landmark and piece of history, is he Bell perhaps a standout [amongst a sad story of dying pubs]

Is the usual 4 week flyer through neighbours' doors an appropriate way to make this decision - surely it is a community wide decision.

Final is this business not a cornerstone for regeneration in Old Town.

Offline Tobes

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2013, 06:43:14 PM »
To my mind, the Bell hasn't been a 'pub' for a long while: the last time I visited it, it was a kind of pseudo wine bar a-la McKenzies or Longs. Going head-to-head with the lager/alcopop joints with DJ and music might have appealed for a short while to the 20 something crowd, but its a pretty hackneyed and, ultimately rather boring approach. Perhaps it means that the owner has stopped looking at the property as a pub: To them its a roofed series of rooms to make money from.

I don't suppose we can blame them from pursuing a plan to try and make money from the building, can we? (After all, a building without a financially viable purpose soon becomes derelict) But like you say, its a very sad situation if the heritage and original function is completely ignored. Its a double whammy for me, as I always rather liked Poms Thai restaurant out the back there. How the owner thinks a 'retail corridor' is going to be financially viable when there are so many cheap retail properties available across town, Lord only knows...?

I'd love to know more about the history of the building - 500 years is something special in any town's history.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2013, 07:17:27 PM by Tobes »
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Tobes

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2013, 07:22:37 PM »
Taken from - http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/31/31925/Bell/Swindon (note, a few years old)

Quote
The Bell was a regular haunt for me in the late 80s/early 90s, used to be a real spit and sawdust pub, great jukebox, populated by bikers, metal fans and punks, I wept when it turned into the awful Fusion bar in the mid 90s, after a lot of rumours it was taken over last Autumn and has become a pub again, whilst it will never be the same as it was before It's nice to have it back

MarkEMoon - 20 Apr 2008 14:58
Went there last month and was pleasantly surprised. It now has 3 real ales on draught and live music at the weekends. The new owner seemed a nice chap. Certainly an improvement from it's characterless Fusion days.

start - 19 Mar 2008 16:54
This place will never be as good as it was in the early late '70s early '80s to those that were there.

I am told the new bosses are trying to make it a pub again, I will review again when I have formed an opinion.


... and more recently this (what went so disastrously wrong in a mere few months?!)

Quote
Historic Bell Hotel in Swindon's Old Town given a new lease of life

7:30pm Friday 23rd November 2012 in News By Matthew Edwards
Ross Daniells at the re-opened Bell Hotel Ross Daniells at the re-opened Bell Hotel

THE new owner of an Old Town pub is hoping for success after ringing in the changes.

Terry Wight, 55, has taken over the Bell Hotel which closed last year, and after a refurbishment is hoping it will be returned to its former glory.

The pub, in The High Street, is the oldest licensed premises in Old Town and Terry has tried to restore some of its old character in a bid to attract drinkers.

In a time when many pubs are feeling the pinch and closing, Terry, who also owns the Great Western Hotel opposite the train station, and the Fox and Hounds, in Wroughton, is confident it can buck the trend.

He has been in the pub trade for 35 years and said he was looking forward to the new challenge.

“The Bell pub has been empty for nearly a year, and it is such a fine building and it was a shame it was just left,” he said.

“We’ve been in there for 14 weeks redecorating the pub and bringing it back up to scratch.

“We can open another pub because we are confident about the business and we have the right product and the pricing right.

“Real ales are one of our main draws, –we have six real on at the moment, which will change and because we aren’t tied to a brewery we can pick beers that we want.

“We also believe that having good value for money is key. It is hard for pubs but we can offer pints from as low as £2.40. They’re not opening offers either, we will try and keep those prices as long as they are not put up by the brewery or taxes go up.”

The venue hit trouble last August when its licence to sell alcohol was suspended temporarily and the manager stood down after alcohol was sold to children.

The licence was suspended for five days with the hotel unable to serve alcohol, put on regulated entertainment, or serve hot food after 11pm. It was shortly after the ban was imposed that the pub was forced to close.
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Terry said that locals had been pleased to see it re-open.

“The reaction has been very good and we are really pleased to be up and running,” he said.

“We’ve restored all the original features of the hotel, which is the oldest licensed premises in Old Town.

“We have also refurbished all 19 of the letting rooms.

“We want it to be a bar for all ages.”
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Tea Boy

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2013, 10:26:25 PM »
To my mind, the Bell hasn't been a 'pub' for a long while: the last time I visited it, it was a kind of pseudo wine bar a-la McKenzies or Longs. Going head-to-head with the lager/alcopop joints with DJ and music might have appealed for a short while to the 20 something crowd, but its a pretty hackneyed and, ultimately rather boring approach. Perhaps it means that the owner has stopped looking at the property as a pub: To them its a roofed series of rooms to make money from.

And it used to have by far the best jukbox in town... and the worst functioning gents toilet, narrowly beating the V cut in the concrete at the rear of the Victoria (before it was modernised)

Beer was always good though, although the clientele could be a bit excitable at times
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Offline Muggins

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2013, 09:10:58 AM »
I thought that usually when pubs are refurbished these days a written history was either a requirement or a fashion. If that its so, it looks like it's change hands often enough for someone to have commissioned on, and surely it must be listed? 

As OTT said, it must be Swindon oldest building let alone pub/tavern/inn.  So yes, it should have some recognition and respect given to it.

Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Spunkymonkey

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2013, 08:49:32 PM »
I'm not really surprised to hear that it is closing. In the Adver article, the manager says that he was aiming to sell beer at £2.40 a pint when MacKenzies, Longs etc are charging £3.00+. The Old Town crowd seem happy to pay the higher prices, whilst the bottom of the town is full of cheap deals for those that want to drink cheaply and round the evening off with a fight. Sounds like they targeted the wrong audience.

It's a shame that the traditional pubs are dying out in Old Town in favour of the Wine Bar and DJ scene. The Bell hasn't been a real pub for ages as Fusion was a less successful MacKenzies style clone. I think the owners also tried turning it into a gamers pub at one time by offering free Playstation, Wii games etc.

I have fond memories of several drunken office parties in the Frogs restaurant back in the day though.

Offline Tobes

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2013, 09:55:59 AM »
http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10433564.Outcry_at_plan_to_turn_historic_pub_into_shops/?ref=mmsp

Quote
Outcry at plan to turn historic pub into shops

7:00am Wednesday 22nd May 2013 in News
Hans Hoffbauer outside The Bell Hans Hoffbauer outside The Bell

IT has reputedly been operating since Henry VIII was on the throne but now the shutters may finally come down on what is largely regarded as Swindon’s oldest business.

The Bell pub and hotel in Old Town – one of Swindon’s three surviving ancient inns – will be transformed into an arcade of small, independent shops if a new £500,000 scheme gets the go-ahead.

The High Street tavern, which bears the inscription “1515” over the front door, closed earlier this year following a failed attempt to revive its flagging fortunes with a makeover.

Now hundreds of years of tradition will come to an end at the site in the heart of Old Town if Swindon councillors approve plans to convert the prominent Grade II listed stone structure.

Swindon real ale campaigners yesterday called on councillors to carefully consider the heritage of The Bell, which they would like to see preserved as a pub, before consigning it to the history books.

Chairman of the Swindon and North Wiltshire branch of the Campaign to Save Real Ale (CAMRA) Hans Hoffbauer said: “The Bell is an important part of the historic fabric of Old Town.

“We want to see it preserved in the function in which it has been operating for as far back as 500 years.

“I feel it would take quite a bit of imagination to make this a viable, going concern. But it can be done.

“It is a large building with a lot of potential which could be utilised in many ways.”

Mr Hoffbauer said that Swindon Council had been sympathetic in the past towards pubs threatened with closure.

The case of The Bell, he felt, was especially important owing to its history.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline the gorgon

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2013, 06:31:19 PM »
What exactly do they mean by "hostel" and why do words like dossers and junkies spring to mind?

Shops sound nice but what will the rents be like? Plus there are plenty of empty units in Old Town anyway.

Offline OTTed

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2013, 08:42:20 PM »
Gorgon very good point.  I cannot really understand why Old Town desperately needs such an establishment on the first floor - how might it juxtapose with the high quality hotel which is being discussed across the road.

And do we hear success stories for the arcade of little shops in Wood St, are they continually leased and all doing good business with high quality desirable businesses.......?

And over many years there have been continuous complaints about obscuring or removing features in the courtyard of this listed building. Won't these little shops obscure, nay, remove the courtyard for good?

It is nice to hear that some folks are being creative in trying to solve this problem though:

One idea that is doing the rounds and has hit the residents assoc is as a place for the Art Collection. In fact perhaps a bar and Art Museum could co-mingle quite well. Personally I wonder if it is big enough, but the idea is worth consideration...........

What else has anyone thought of to protect this Swindon landmark?


Offline Tobes

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2013, 10:38:43 AM »
Well, protecting the fabric of the building and preserving its remaining features is one thing, establishing its ongoing viability another, and continuing its usage as a pub, a third!

Not an easy circle to square.

Like Gorgon, I question the viability of what Adver commentards are calling a 'boutique' style arcade of shops. As we all know, Swindon's now chock solid of small to medium retail units - and as I know from my own inquiries, these are available at extremely low prices to any entrepreneur wanting to set up shop tomorrow. Why any of these people would be attracted to shop units which would need to recoup the costs of conversion in The Bell, lord only knows. A cynic might wonder if the developer, if having managed to get a concession to convert the upstairs into residential accommodation, has an eye on the future - either gambling on ecenomic recovery, or hoping to convert shop units into more residential at a later date. Branching out into retail in the current climate, with the host of other cheap retail properties lying empty seems rather strange to me.

It also seems rather peculiar that the upstairs is being described as 'hostel style'. What on earth does that actually mean? Is it going to be a hostel? And if its not, then it'll definitely be aimed at the lower end of the housing market, as young professionals prefer self contained flats. Obviously, people need cheap housing - but I wonder if its the best location or use of the building. I'd suggest the only financially lucrative use of hostel 'style' accommodation would be if is IS actually a full-on hostel. Personally speaking, I think Old Town already has more than its fair share of these kind of institutions and another would seriously unbalance the local community. Thats nothing to do with snobbery - just a simple observation that a hugely disproportional amount of crime in the local area is already focused around hostel type accommodation.

I don't have any easy answers.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Muggins

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2013, 03:59:50 PM »
Tobes Quote: As we all know, Swindon's now chock solid of small to medium retail units.

Well that's a turn up for the books. At many of those planning meetings I used to go to, the call was for more small to medium size shop units to bring a bit of 'difference' to the town shopping.

I'm wondering of what they are thinking is like that 'arcade' at Lechlade, on the corner on the left, just over the Halfpenny Bridge, were one building has been split up into much smaller 'lets', no one really had a door of their own, but every bit of it was let to different tenants, some as small as  under the stairs or a set of shelves. Mostly it was antique and collectors, but one of the family had his own war book cupboard there for a while - all the tenants took it in turns to take care of the shop. 

So long as the upstairs was a WMCA type of hostel (or did they leave the RY off the end of that) i.e. where people book a bed ahead sort of thing. It could work well. 

Course it wouldn't be a pub :'( :'( it would be something much more exciting and interesting.
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Offline the gorgon

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2013, 06:00:29 PM »
If they made the arcade go all the way through from High St to Hoopers Pl then it might not be too bad. 

BUT, didn't an article say they're only spending £500,000 (for everything) which to me seems like a pretty small amount for work on such an old building - unless you're doing something really cheap and nasty?

Offline Muggins

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #15 on: May 23, 2013, 06:16:52 PM »
With that amount of money all the more reason to think it might be like the Lechlade one.  That's one thing about not much money it usually means much less damage.
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline OTTed

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #16 on: May 23, 2013, 10:03:37 PM »
I popped into the similar arcade in Wood St today for a nosey....the rear entrance is a tatty carpark. Half the units are empty.  None of the businesses attracted me specifically.  Although I cannot specially criticise any business on a cursory look.

Offline Muggins

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #17 on: May 24, 2013, 08:50:02 AM »
The one at Lechlade, bears no resemblance to the Wood Street arcade, it's years since I've been to the Wood street one but back then it was not very inviting.

Even longer back, I used to have a table at a craft fair and remember the regular stall holders (into it deeper than I) be-moaning the fact that there was no decent craft or for that matter antique market/arcade in Swindon.  Perhaps after all these years, there might be some mileage in this idea?

Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Tobes

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #18 on: May 24, 2013, 10:59:03 AM »
Muggins, aren't we maybe in danger of missing the point about whats proposed?

Unless the hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in converting the pub is being provided by a philanthropist, the developer will require a return on their money through a reasonable rent. The business simply won't work otherwise.

Having sat on many tables at craft fairs over the years, I reckon folks selling crocheted loo roll covers, crystals and lathed barometers aren't going to make a meaningful return. I agree that it would be lovely to have a proper craft fair type of venue, in town - maybe somewhere like The Shambles in Devizes - but I don't think thats what's being proposed (and like I say, that sort of thing would never return the investment anyway).

Someone on the Adver comments section who seems *remarkably well informed* (probably close to, if not the developer in my opinion) is saying that they've seen the plans and that its for a 'boutique' style arcade. I'm guessing that means small but well appointed units. Normally I think that would be great, but I wonder what sort of business is likely to pay for one of these when there are so many other regular sized ones which have been empty for so long and are being rented out at a song? I think the timing is very strange indeed. It makes me wonder if the change of use, divvying up of the building and providing services to all these units isn't being made with a weather-eye to the potential to turn them in to self contained flats at a later date?

Quote
Well that's a turn up for the books. At many of those planning meetings I used to go to, the call was for more small to medium size shop units to bring a bit of 'difference' to the town shopping.

And I'd still say it would be a good idea for the future, because the independents have weathered the storm pretty well - but the fact remains that there are still a whole bunch empty or now being let out on peppercorn rents. But economically, until most of them are full, it makes building new ones look like an odd decision by someone if they want their business to thrive.

Maybe the developer has a load of businesses already signed-up under his wing - or he has the finances to take a punt at this in order to be set up and ready when the other units have filled or the economic situation has picked up a bit? If he's got deep pockets, maybe he's gambling on being in a good position for when the Locarno/Town Hall is redeveloped.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Muggins

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Re: Potential Change of Use for Bell Hotel
« Reply #19 on: May 24, 2013, 02:30:44 PM »
Maybe I've missed the point, I did not realise that it was developer as such, surely they would be paying out more that has been printed here?

I got the impression that it was a much more ad hoc sort of thing.   Crocheted toilet roll holders aye? my goodness it's a long time since I've seen one of those for sale.

Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)