A group of campaigners are determined to save the last pub standing in their neighbourhood from being turned into flats.
The Rhubarb Tavern is the only pub left in Barton Hill after The Lord Nelson, The Swan and The Russell Arms all pulled their final pints – but it’s clinging on by a thread.
The long-serving local closed in August last year after the landlord moved on because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the disused building soon attracted the attention of developers.
London-based Natan Ltd has submitted plans to Bristol City Council to convert the Queen Ann Road pub into six flats, along with eight additional apartments in a new three-storey building in its garden.
Architect Chris Goodsall, writing on behalf of the applicant, said a number of neighbouring residents were approached about the potential of development and “none of those responding was against the loss of the pub” because it was “found to be a source of noise and antisocial behaviour”.
But campaigners argue this is not the case, telling Bristol Live that they were not consulted on the plans before submission.
“We weren’t asked about the plans before they were submitted,” said lead campaigner Alexander Smith, aged 25, who lives a stone’s throw from the pub.
“I personally didn’t receive a letter and I know that nobody else on my street did. If they had asked us, we would have told them that nobody wants to see the pub turned into flats.”
The Rhubarb Tavern is reported to be in a fairly dilapidated state inside and any prospective tenant would need to carry out a major renovation project, but regulars say the investment would be worth it as the pub has “huge potential” with hundreds of new homes set to built as part of the nearby Silverthorne Lane development.
A Facebook campaign group has been set up which has more than 200 members, while the proposals have received over 20 letters of objection on the council’s website.
‘Focal point’ for the community
The Rhubarb Tavern, has long provided a meeting point not only for friends and families but various community groups active in Barton Hill.
Campaigners fear that with no pub remaining in the area, there would be nowhere for people to get together, further eroding the community spirit of the area.
“The Rhubarb has always been the go-to focal point when it comes to getting the community together around here,” added Alexander, a mental health charity worker.
“Different wellbeing groups have historically held their meetings there and St Luke’s Church has staged plenty of outreach events there.
“It has also been used by various pool and darts teams for practice and matches over the decades. There’s a huge amount of support in the community for it to be retained as a public house.”
As well as encouraging people to pen letters of objection on the council’s website, the fast-growing campaign group is lobbying local councillors and MPs to call on their support.
The planning application, which is due to be decided by Bristol City Council, includes information about a marketing campaign carried out by Burston Cook, which tried to find a new leaseholder for the pub to no avail, it says.
The commercial property consultant said the location is “not suitable for many interested parties” because there are “relatively low levels of pedestrian footfall” and “low levels of passing vehicular traffic”.
It added interested leaseholders were “concerned that they could not guarantee that the public house would be financially viable”.
But campaigners argue the pub will be able to generate considerable turnover in future as it’s situated near to the Silverthorne Lane development, which will bring thousands of new residents to the area.
“Developers say the pub isn’t financially viable, and of course that was true in lockdown, but with the planned redevelopment just down the road there will be a huge number of new residents and a massive increase in footfall over the coming years,” said Alexander.
“Having a pub on the doorstep of where so many new houses are set to be built seems like a no-brainer to us.”
Pub is ‘integral’ part of Barton Hill
Annie McGann, who heads up campaign group Save Bristol Nightlife, said: “People are fed up with their local pubs being turned into flats.
“Pubs are an easy target for land speculators, especially if they’ve got a nice garden or a car park and especially now when so many pubs have been closed because of coronavirus.
“The Rhubarb is a historical building and an integral part of the story of the neighbourhood. It would be very short sighted to get rid of it when the area is about to welcome thousands of new places of work and residents and a huge new university campus built.
“It would be a great place for locals old and new to congregate and get to know each other.”