Landlady Pauline pulls victory pint to save The George Tavern in legal ruling

PUBLISHED: 00:41 09 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:11 10 May 2017

Cheers... Landlady Pauline Forster wins fight to save The George. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

Cheers... Landlady Pauline Forster wins fight to save The George. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

Mike Brooke

Victory in the nine-year war to save east London’s historic George Tavern music venue from “encroaching” developers next door has finally been claimed this week by pub landlady Pauline Forster.

The George, even older than Commercial Road itself, seen next to blue hoarding where Swan Housing wants luxury flats. Picture: MIKE BROOKEThe George, even older than Commercial Road itself, seen next to blue hoarding where Swan Housing wants luxury flats. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

The 67-Year-old grandmother has seen off Swan Housing in a ‘David and Goliath’ struggle after the Secretary of State’s ruling to stop a luxury block of flats being built on her doorstep.

An appeal by the housing body against Pauline’s High Court victory last summer has finally been rejected, after a three-day hearing by senior government planning inspector Christina Downes in March against the scheme to site a block of six luxury flats next to the 400-year-old watering hole in the Commercial Road.

The scheme was ruled “incompatible” next to a music venue with a 3am licence and would also have blotted out natural light in the listed Georgian building used by film and TV organisations.

“This is a signal for all music venues who fear they can be bullied and bought out by developers,” Pauline told the East London Advertiser tonight.

Pauline Forster outside her listed George Tavern in the Commercial Road. Picture: MIKE BROOKEPauline Forster outside her listed George Tavern in the Commercial Road. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

“The planning system will protect live music venues from inappropriate housing development, against those who would push out places steeped in historical and cultural significance just for profit.”

The George is on the site of the Halfway House tavern that is recorded in the 17th century—even before the Commercial Road was built. Cromwell was said to have stabled his cavalry there during the English Civil War.

But the 21st century tavern war could break out again. Swan Housing, which bought the former Stepney’s nightclub site next to The George in a £1 million deal in 2007, still owns the land and has the option to go back to the High Court.

But all legal arguments now seem to have been exhausted—in Pauline’s favour.

Pauline has put her savings into the legal struggle and the campaign she launched with the late Amy Whitehouse and a host of A-List celebrity stars a decade ago in defence of her business.

Her lawyer Harry Campbell of Harrison Grant solicitors said: “It has been a long fight, but the Secretary of State has ruled that it’s not appropriate to prejudice the survival of the music venue by placing housing on its doorstep which would have led to complaints and restrictions on its license.

“It’s a cornerstone of the planning system that you should not place incompatible development next to each other, such as a live music venue and residential housing.”

He added: “Developers can’t continue threatening these music venues—the heartbeat of London—with inappropriately-located development.”

Swan Housing admitted it was “disappointed” at planning permission being refused for the derelict Stepney’s nightclub site it wanted to turn “into much needed homes to meeting housing demand and regenerating the area”. But it respected the decision by the Planning Inspectorate.

The authentic interior of The George makes it a popular location to film period dramas such as Sherlock Holmes with Sir Ian McKeller. A documentary on The Krays was also shot on the premises. The proposed block would have encroached on its natural daylight, the Town Hall planning hearing in March was told.

But The George is best known as a top London music attraction.

Music Heritage UK’s James Ketchell said: “Common sense has prevailed. This is a musical ‘oasis’ in a cultural desert—it should be protected to provide east London with an eclectic and diverse musical menu.”

The Secretary of State’s final ruling is now thought likely to kick the building scheme into touch permanently, giving The George a reprieve and setting a precedent that now limits encroachment by developers into London’s music and nightlife scene.

But Swan Housing hinted it would “now look at a new scheme” for this site.

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