Campaign to save Harpenden pub which teamed up with Wheathampstead Indian restaurant

The Malta, in Harpenden's Lower Luton Road, has joined forces with the Cherry Tree offering Indian meals.

The Malta, in Harpenden's Lower Luton Road, has joined forces with the team from the now defunct Cherry Tree of Wheathampsted, offering Indian meals to eat-in or takeaway. - Credit: Peter Close

A community pub struggling to survive in the wake of Covid lockdowns has made a last ditch attempt to keep going by teaming up with a local Indian restaurant.

The Malta, in Harpenden's Lower Luton Road, has joined forces with Shahan Uddin from the now-defunct The Cherry Trees of Wheathampsted, offering Indian meals to eat-in or takeaway.

But they now have to apply for planning consent to sell food to takeaway, even though the pub has been there for 120 years and cooking and selling food for decades.

This has cost them £5,000 in planning consultant fees, specialist reports and architectural input - cash the owners cannot afford to spare.

A petition in support of the pub has gained 197 signatures, and landlord Peter Close said: "The neighbours are complaining about the smell, the chimney at the back of the pub is an eyesore, more traffic. These people bought their houses right next to a pub.

"We have tried to work with them and there is just no resolving it. If this does not work this will be the end of the pub."

Neighbour Ian Maudsley said: "I have been a customer of the Malta for more than 25 years and was gutted to hear that the council made the chefs apply for planning consent for selling food to takeaway and to fix a new flue on the back of the pub.

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"Fifteen people depend on this building for their jobs. Pubs that prepare fish and chips smell more than curry because there is more deep-fat frying. There’s one near me on Pickford Hill but I don’t grumble as it is part of the place I call home.

"The Malta is a lovely sociable pub, but it has really struggled over the last few years and Covid has made a bad situation worse. I would encourage anyone to come in and try this place. It has got great beer and wines and a lovely friendly atmosphere, but I can see that it needs to diversify to survive."

Customer Richard East said: "The Cherry Trees is the best Indian restaurant/take away for miles around. Hope the planning permission will be granted and the business will carry on serving the community."

However, Southview Road residents James and Sarah Bedingfield are unhappy with the takeaway plan, claiming The Malta is known throughout Harpenden as a drinkers pub with regular clientele, and is not a family friendly environment.

"We are concerned that after consent for a formal change of use, the takeaway business may move on to larger more suitable premises similar to its previous home, leaving The Malta open for a another takeaway business to move in.

"This permanent change of use will mean that the use of the pub building and the lower part of Southview Road could be forever adversely changed."

Rebecca and Philip Tolson are also objecting to the appeal, citing food waste and parking concerns: "We already have a large commercial waste bin on a public highway but now we have an additional commercial waste bin with rotting food to contend with and all the problems that this comes with: rodents, smells and noise.

"The lack of parking at the corner where the takeaway is now located has resulted in an increment of cars parking, stopping to collect and delivery drivers, making it hard to manoeuvre the junction, a definitive hazard pulling onto a super busy road."

Cllr Mary Maynard has called in the plans to be determined by a committee of councillors: "I think it is a finely balanced decision. The combined Malta pub/Cherry Trees Indian restaurant operation gives the Indian restaurant/takeaway a home and clearly the combined operation gives a better offering to customers.  I know that many local people are pleased the Indian takeaway service will survive.

"However the new takeaway operation has an impact on immediate residents in terms of traffic and parking, noise, fumes, smell and general disturbance and they are concerned about these and about the visibility and impact of the new flue.

"The Malta has offered to address some of these concerns, for example, installing air conditioning and keeping the doors and windows of the kitchen closed to ensure the flue works effectively.

"I think that the immediate residents and the pub/restaurant are all sensible, reasonable people and would urge them to identify and agree compromises (for example, not delivering from the back of the building) that satisfy everyone and enable the businesses to survive. If the planning committee were then minded to agree to give planning permission, these could be included as conditions."

Comment on the planning application on the St Albans district council website using the reference 5/2021/2441.