Newts stand in the way of Bedford pub re-opening

Newts – the rare protected reptilians, not the drunken variety – stand in the way of a pub being brought back to life.

Tuesday, 25th February 2020, 1:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th February 2020, 1:42 pm

Councillors were itching to give the closed down Chequers Inn, at High Street, Yielden, a new lease of life until planning officers warned them that they had a legal duty to look after the little critters.

A meeting at Bedford Borough Council this week was told that the local community supports a scheme to build four brand new homes on the pub site.

The plan is to generate a £480,000 investment to plough into the pub to bring its living areas up to modern standards, so they can attract a tenant.

Bedford Borough Council's planning committee

Agent Jon Sidey, the managing director of Sidey Design told Monday’s planning committee that without the investment the pub would be unviable.

“There is a very strong case for a successful pub without having to borrow,” he said.

Planning officers had recommended refusing the scheme because residential development was unacceptable, there would be harm to Yielden Castle, and they were not convinced by the plan to save the pub.

And they added that there needed to be a survey of Great Crested Newts, which are a protected rare animal.

The council’s head of planning Janine Laver said: “We are not fundamentally opposed to keeping the pub open.

“What we fear, in the light of the business plan, is that in two or three years’ time we will have an application to convert it into a house. We are just being very, very cautious, based on the business plan.”

And after councillors began to move towards proposing to give the application their consent, she added that the council has a legal duty to see that the newts are protected.

“We are in a red zone for great crested newts,” she said, adding that the issue was likely to crop up more.

And despite two years’ of talks between developer F&L Group and the council, a legally required survey of newts had not been presented.

Cllr Martin Towler (Cons, Riseley) asked whether deferring the item until the committee’s next meeting was an option.

After being told that putting it on hold was an option, the committee voted by seven to one to put off a decision to allow a survey to be carried out.

Mr Sidey, the agent, was asked by the committee whether this was acceptable, and he agreed to carrying out a newt survey.