Businessman forced to close popular St Albans bar following pressures from surrounding residents
PUBLISHED: 06:00 15 September 2016
An embattled businessman fed up with constant complaints from his “NIMBY” neighbours has blamed them for forcing him to close his cocktail bar in St Albans.
James Hanning, who runs the Brickyard in Verulam Road, announced yesterday (Wednesday) that he had permanently closed the venue last Saturday.
The sudden closure comes after he spent half a million pounds restoring and expanding the former derelict Spotted Bull pub, including installing expensive sound insulation.
James said: “It is with great regret that I must close the Brickyard. I simply cannot continue the struggle against the neighbours and St Albans district council (SADC) regulatory services.
“There are too many obstacles to running a successful hospitality business in St Albans.
“Our immediate neighbours continue to file spurious and vexatious complaints resulting in SADC licensing enforcement officers continually visiting the premises while we are trying to trade.
“I am bitterly disappointed. I did not receive a single complaint in my 20 years in the hospitality industry before refurbishing this dilapidated eyesore.”
Ever since opening the modernised bar in 2014, there have been various battles over licensing conditions, some of which went to appeal stage, as well as a lengthy campaign against the bar with his neighbours filing complaints about noise from patrons, particularly when they have been in the rear garden and patio area.
James explained: “Neighbours realised that the wording of the Licensing Act 2003 is such that if they logged enough allegations the business would be harmed, even if those allegations are without foundation.
“Their campaign started before we had even opened. No-one seems to be prepared to remind them that they chose to live next door to a pub, where there will be the noise of people socialising.”
He alleged that last month he was “physically assaulted in the street outside the Brickyard, by a neighbour who was shouting ‘we don’t want you’ and ‘you’ve been told’. I give up.
“The Brickyard will remain closed until SADC indicates that something fundamental is to change and they will be more supportive of this top end hospitality business.”
He believes that the combination of, “animosity from the neighbours” and unsympathetic treatment from the licensing department dealing with their “unfounded allegations means my business is not succeeding”.
James added: “The month we opened my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he died in May 2015.
“My mother had severe osteoporosis and died in May this year. Both were 69 years old and I could not be at either of their bedsides when they died, because I had to be at the Brickyard to protect it from the unrelenting campaign against it.
“I have an MBA from a top international University, a degree in business mathematics and invested my life savings in resurrecting this hospitality business.
“The Brickyard is well run, by a brilliant team. However this has not been enough. We cannot continue trading at a loss, with so many set against us. The only option now is to accede to the neighbours’ desire for us to close.
“The neighbours’ campaign and SADC’s licensing and planning have pushed me too far. I’m closing, selling the Brickyard and my home to pay off the debts and going to move somewhere else that supports entrepreneurs and innovators.”
James told the Herts Advertiser that the conservation area building was on the market and he assumed it would be turned into housing because “no one wants to take over a place which has such problems with NIMBYs”.
Two full-time staff have lost their jobs as a consequence, but some employees will join him at his other business, a public house in Hitchin - a place which, James said, was more conducive to running a business.
One of those complaining about noise from the Brickyard, College Road resident Robert Pankhurst, secretary of the Abbey Precincts Residents Association, said he was pleased to hear of its closure.
However, he denied there had been a campaign against James, adding, “it was an open air party venue all the time; that was why we objected”.