Closure of The Brickyard bar in St Albans: residents group says neighbours 'blameless'

PUBLISHED: 15:37 22 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:04 22 September 2016

The Brickyard

The Brickyard

Archant

Neighbours who persistently complained about noise from a St Albans cocktail bar are not to blame for its sudden closure, a residents group has asserted.

Reaction to The Brickyard’s closure

David Clarke, president of St Albans Chamber of Commerce, said it was “very disappointing” to learn of the cocktail bar’s recent closure.

He said: “It is particularly concerning that restrictive business operating conditions placed upon The Brickyard have led to [the] decision to close at a time when we are seeking to grow our visitor and night time economy.”

Owner James Hanning said he closed the premises as he was fed up obstacles including complaints from ‘NIMBY’ neighbours and problems with St Albans district council’s regulatory services.

Michael Lovelady, the council’s head of regulatory Services, said: “Five complaints have been made this year about The Brickyard, four about noise and one about a bonfire.

“We have a duty to investigate such concerns and do so in a fair and impartial way.

“As a council, we support local businesses and wish to see them thrive.”

Catherine Morris, the manager of Christopher Place, said that with more people moving in to the city centre, particularly with offices being converted into homes, more thought had to be put in to the local night time economy.

Time was called on The Brickyard in Verulam Road two weekends ago, after the owner, James Hanning, blamed immediate neighbours for filing “spurious and vexatious complaints” about patrons’ noise with St Albans district council.

He accused them of having a campaign to shut down the renovated premises, formerly the closed, dilapidated pub, The Spotted Bull.

But James’s comments have been refuted by the Abbey Precincts Residents Association (APRA), with chairman Peter Trevelyan saying: “Neighbouring residents are not to blame.”

He said that it seemed “much more likely that the business model was flawed in terms of what was sustainable and appropriate on this site”.

St Albans Chamber of Commerce St George's Day lunchSt Albans Chamber of Commerce St George's Day lunch

Peter explained: “The [former] Spotted Bull was a small local pub with a large garden. The Brickyard capacity has been greatly enlarged by building of side and rear extensions that move the focus towards neighbouring residential properties in the Conservation Area.”

James built the extensions without approval from the council, which later issued him with an enforcement notice requiring him to remove the additions.

While a planning inspector later ruled in James’s favour in his appeal against the notice, to keep the extensions, he admitted to the Herts Advertiser at the time – in late 2014 – that he had made a mistake in not waiting for planning permission.

Peter said: “Since The Brickyard opened, neighbours have consistently objected to noise and rowdy behaviour from the outside areas, in part resulting from the conversion of an open grassy pub garden into a fully paved patio courtyard up against their garden boundaries.”

He said the bar had been operated “as an open-air party venue. Some afternoon events, when the noise has been more like that of a country club, have made the use of nearby private gardens impossible without disturbance.”

Peter added: “Raucous late night parties throughout the summer of 2015 led to APRA calling for a licence review.”

At the licensing review hearing in December last year, the committee decided there was no evidence to support APRA’s allegation that The Brickyard had put public safety at risk when customers smoked on the pavement near the entrance.

Council officers visited the bar 26 times in relation to 56 complaints being logged over a nine-month-period. Some residents had made multiple complaints.

When the committee considered audio evidence submitted by APRA, it did, “not share their view that all of these incidents are public nuisance”.

But, committee members agreed that a lack of management of customers in the outside area had “directly contributed to the public nuisance.”

Peter said this suggested that neighbours’ complaints were “evidence-based and not ‘vexatious’”.

Councillors bowed to residents’ wishes and cut the opening hours of the rear patio and garden area, resulting in the bar having the earliest closing garden area in St Albans city, closing by 10pm rather than 11pm.

Peter told the Herts Advertiser: “It is difficult to believe that the business has failed because the rear garden has to be closed one hour earlier.”

James said: ”If the complaining neighbours had any genuine grievances they would have welcomed the opportunity, that I offered them, of having a professional arbiter mediate for us. They rejected this offer saying they had no need to collaborate.”

• On September 5 the planning inspectorate rejected James’s appeal against the council’s refusal to let him replace the front wall along Verulam Road, in the patio area, with a lower wall and black railings.

James said the council’s environmental compliance officer had advised him that having a lower wall and railings would help to disperse noise. But, planning inspector Hayley Butcher dismissed the appeal. Ironically, she said there was “no substantive evidence that the existing business is unviable or that refusing the appeal would directly lead to the closure of the public house.” It closed several days later.

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