On the evening of Sunday March 1, Catford residents started to hear via twitter that the Catford Bridge Tavern was on fire. As this pub was, for a short time, my much-loved local, I had to go down and take a look for myself. I took some photos and video, although by the time I got there the pub had been burning for around 3 hours and the flames had died down a bit. Eventually the fire was out by about 11:30, but fire fighters from all over south and east London were dousing down the flames through the night.
I cycled past the site on Monday morning on my way into work and it was looking in a sorry state. The roof was completely gone, as was most of the upper floor and the first floor also appeared damaged:
This photo taken from the edge of the police cordon shows that a lot of the back of the pub was also damaged:
@KentStormChaser @EWE_UK @headcornweather found this one lightning strike at about 17:58 area of #Catford pic.twitter.com/SuNVVzvynh
— John Gardiner (@88JohnGardiner) March 1, 2015
Others were a little more speculative based on the recent history of the pub. Briefly, in August 2012, plans were submitted to Lewisham Council to turn it into a supermarket - with a Tesco on the ground floor and housing above.
In November 2012 it briefly closed as Antic, who were running the pub at the time, were ordered out. However, Lewisham council put a temporary article 4 direction on the pub, preventing it from opening as a supermarket without planning permission being granted. This was confirmed in April 2013 and the pub went on to win SE London CAMRA pub of the year. However, at the end of 2013, Tesco threw Antic out and they went on to open the Constitutional Club, just down the road. In August 2013, Tesco sold the lease to Solitaire, who were refurbishing the pub with a view to reopening.
Before opening as the Catford Bridge Tavern in 2012, it had been the Copperfield and had numerous problems with antisocial behaviour, and was closed in December 2011.
So where are we now? Solitaire, the current holders of the lease, say they still intend to press ahead with refurbishment and reopen as a pub. They say they will be carrying on, subject to approval of their planning application for a pub and some flats above.
What protection does the article 4 direction give? Well, the direction is on the pub rather than the site.
@clogsilk @darryl1974 as far as I remember it's on the building, but it would require full planning consent to build something else.
— Alan Smith (@CllrAl) March 2, 2015
However, since all an article 4 does is remove ‘permitted development rights’ for a property - meaning that any proposed change of use has to go through a planning committee - in reality this has no bearing on whether or not the refurbishment will go ahead. If the building is found to be unsafe and has to be demolished, building something else on the site will require full planning consent, just as change of use would do. Whilst Local Planning Authorities have the power to make and confirm their own Article 4 directions and do not require the Secretary of State's approval in this respect, the SoS does retain the power to cancel or modify Article 4 directions. So if Lewisham council refused permission to change the use of the site, the owners could appeal to the Secretary of State. This is unlikely, as Solitaire have said they intend to proceed with their application as planned, although it doesn't appear to have been submitted yet (at least I can't find it on the planning portal...)
So for the moment, we need to wait to see what the outcome of the investigations post-fire are, and whether or not the building is too badly damaged to be refurbished. This is the biggest risk to the future of the site as a pub, and in this respect the article 4 direction doesn't protect it. Watch this space.