A COUNTRY pub north of Basingstoke is facing an uncertain future after a conservation officer objected to its plan for renovation.

The Royal Oak, a historic pub in Ecchinswell near Newbury, has secured funding for a £1m renovation and extension to create one staff flat, new toilets and six guest rooms.

Alex Gooch, owner of the Royal Oak, argues that the pub, like many others in the area, is no longer viable in its current state due to its small size and rural location.

He said the extension would generate employment, boost local businesses and secure the pub's future at the heart of the community.

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Basingstoke Gazette: Alex Gooch (left) with his staff in front of The Royal Oak in Ecchinswell near NewburyAlex Gooch (left) with his staff in front of The Royal Oak in Ecchinswell near Newbury (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Gooch, who bought the pub last year, applied for planning permission for expansion in December.

His application has so far received 27 letters of support and nine objections from neighbours.

Ecchinswell Parish Council has also supported the plan despite its concerns about potential parking problems, details of the external look of the accommodation block, and access to the garden toilets.

However, Mr Gooch says Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council planning officers are now threatening to refuse consent due to a strong objection from the conservation officers who said the extensions would cause “visual harm” to the countryside.

"The officers think it's more important that a conservation area never changes. This means that if they can't expand and be renovated then every small pub in the countryside will inevitably be forced to close," Mr Gooch said.

"For the officers, conservation is more important than the economy. And that in my opinion is totally wrong. Pubs closing will stop the local community from enjoying an asset. It stops employment. We employ eight full and part-time staff. It stops the local economy because we buy all our supplies locally, for example, our meat from a local butcher near Kingsclere. 

"The conservation officer objects to building because that's their job. But if the planning officer thinks that visual harm is more important than the local community's needs and businesses, it's just totally wrong.

"Our pub has a big garden and car park. It's in the conservation area and they say I can't build on part of the car park. The conservation area gives nobody any employment. It doesn't help any local businesses. If you want rural pub to survive, you have to be able to upgrade old pubs to evolve with consumer requirements and build on a tiny part of the conservation area."

Mr Gooch, 59, said The Royal Oak has had five different tenants in the past 15 years, and all the previous tenants have gone bust.

"I’m the first owner for about 20 years who has invested money improving the pub, and we have funding to try and build it up. But the planning officers are very, very negative," he added.

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Mr Gooch said a pub cannot survive with just seating for 30 to 40 people.

"It doesn't pay the bills. You still have to pay your rates, staff wages, suppliers, drinks licence, rent, insurance, electricity, maintenance etc.

"You need guest rooms to boost local tourism and rural businesses that's what I'm applying to build. So if we do not get permission for this application, this pub will die. And that will be another loss to the community. We have to move with the times or otherwise all these pubs will be converted to residential which is no good for the community."