London Covid: Famous Squirrel pub on Maida Hill to become flats as planners say it’s no longer viable – My London
A community campaign to keep a much-loved but vacant pub which was a watering hole of The Clash frontman Joe Strummer was left disappointed after planners said it was no longer viable as a watering hole because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Westminster Council’s planning committee approved a scheme to transform the Squirrel on Maida Hill into a pharmacy after a specialist report said the pandemic meant it was unlikely to succeed as a pub.
There has been a pub there since 1880 and it was mentioned by Martin Amis in his novel London Fields.
It ran at a loss for the three years before it closed in 2018 and the planning committee heard about efforts to market it since then.
There have been no formal offers but an interested publican was told he could not make an offer as there were plans to turn it into a home, campaigners claimed.
The Squirrel pub in Chippenham Road, Maida Hill. Westminster Council has thrown out a planning application to turn it into flats (Image: Google)
According to the council’s own policy there can be a change of use at pubs if they have been marketed for 18 months in a bid to find another publican.
Resident Brenda Meadows who is 88, told the committee: “It would be a tragedy to lose our local pub for good.”
Her submission which was read to the committee on her behalf by the Reverend Jackie Barry from Harrow Road because she was unable to join digitally, continued: “Loneliness and isolation is getting worse and as we come out of the pandemic it would be even more important having a place like the Squirrel. The community would need it more.”
Campaigner Richard Webster said the community paid for their own independent report into the building’s future prospect as a pub “before the game-changing vaccine news”.
He said the report said it would cost £70,000 to refurbish it compared with £200,000 suggested by the assessment done for the council.
“We really want the pub back and when we are post Covid will need it even more,” he added.
Ajay Walia, who wants to move his pharmacy business there because he’s been told his shop in nearby Elgin Avenue will be turned into flats said without the planning permission it “would be forced to close”.
“I have got to know my customers and feel very much part of the community,” he said.
He has 250 letters support, with 1,000 signatures on a petition whilst 91 wrote with objections.
The 18-year-old Pitchkins and Curran pharmacy is one of London’s most successful independent chemists.
For more news and features about London directly to your inbox sign up to our newsletter here .
Mr Walia said along with filling prescriptions and reviewing patients’ medicines, “we support them, guide them and most importantly give them time to talk”.
Campaigners said it was not a case of either the pub or the pharmacy and offered to help find a new base for the shop.
Committee chairman Robert Rigby said it had to consider if the pub was viable.
He said: “This is a complex case that is pulling on the heartstrings of a lot of people.
“With a heavy heart” he concluded there was no future for a pub there.
Labour councillor Geoff Barraclough was the only committee member to vote against the plan.
He said: “As we speak tonight every pub in Britain is not viable. They are legally prohibited from trading.”
He said the Squirrel “could be a very valuable community asset”, and by paying for their own report the community demonstrated they “are willing to put their hands in their pocket” to support it.
Developers Cowell Group are appealing after the council turned down their plans to transform the pub into flats.
If you have a story from this part of London, please email our Local Democracy Reporter email@example.com