No John, No John, No: Council refuses to allow Ely pub to close

The Fountain

Historic Ely pub, The Fountain, has been refused permission to convert to housing. John Borland wanted to retain the upstairs living accommodation and convert the ground floor to a flat. Planners refused but he can appeal that decision. - Credit: The Fountain

Publican John Borland has been refused permission to close The Fountain public house and convert it to housing.  

East Cambridgeshire District Council rejected his application which would have seen the ground floor bar of the Silver Street pub turned into a flat. 

He proposed few internal structural changes but the bar was one of the items that would have gone. A separate application to remove that was also refused.  

The Fountain has been a pub for more than 180 years but Mr Borland believes the time has come to call it a day, describing the “unprecedented crisis” facing his industry 

Of 34 responses to the application, all but two approved.  

Planners say objections included a loss of a community asset.  

"The Fountain should be offered for sale on the open market,” said one respondent.  

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Others claims a new buyer “could run the business profitably as a pub/restaurant” and that with "more flair, imagination and hospitality, it could do even better" than it currently is. 

One felt it “permitted, the loss of the pub would set a precedent for others to follow suit; The Fountain is important to local history and character”. 

It was recognized by CAMRA for its beer keeping “and the Fountain is a free house, which should offer a competitive advantage”. 

Concerns were also expressed that “effort was not put in to make the pub successful, and despite a working kitchen, there is no food provision”.  

However the council was also told that some objectors were not from Ely “and no direct neighbours to the pub have objected”. 

And one argued that if a pub was proposed in this area today “it would not be approved”.  

The City of Ely Council say they were concerned about the loss of the community facility. 

Heritage issues have also been raised. 

The Fountain, a Grade II listed early C19 public house is within the Ely conservation area.  

The council was told that “a building which was built as a pub, has operated as a pub for 180 years and whose very architectural and public identity is bound up with being a pub, will be diminished to some extent without that role.  

“A building's character is more than the sum of its brick-and-mortar components.” 

Ely branch of CAMRA agreed that Covid 19 has had a “devastating impact” on all pubs and hospitality venues nationwide. 

“It is likely that it will result in some businesses, that were struggling to survive before lockdown, being unable to continue,” it says. 

“However, a roadmap has now emerged to allow others to plan ahead and, hopefully, provide the opportunity for a profitable future." 

Closure “would be a loss to the city’s heritage and, in our view, would contribute to the gradual erosion of our national culture”.  

CAMRA added that “prior to the pandemic, we were not aware that The Fountain had become unviable as a pub. 

“It is our understanding that it has been under the same ownership for many years and, during that time, we have not heard of any attempt to sell the establishment as a pub.  

“If so, it cannot be claimed that everything has been done to try and secure its future”.   

Council planners say they recognise the efforts of Mr Borland to first build his business. 

And they appreciate the “very real impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had upon public houses and retail in general”.  

But they say he has offered no viability evidence to suggest the pub is no longer viable.  

Nor has Mr Borland produced documents to show “’all reasonable efforts’ have been made to sell or let The Fountain for community purposes at a realistic price as required”. 

They add that “should financial viability concerns be a real threat to the continued and future operation of The Fountain, it is considered that with a working kitchen, greater efforts could be made to diversity the provision of the public house.  

“Alternatively, the proper marketing of the property could provide a new landlord with the opportunity to continue the running of The Fountain as a public house”.