Pub in Salem centre of attention in tug-of-war between owner and local group

THE owner of a loss-making village pub has criticised a local group which wants to take it over, saying they “couldn’t even be bothered” to call in for a drink when it was open.

Paul James said he had refurbished The Angel Inn, Salem, Carmarthenshire, to a high standard when he bought it after a period of closure but that several tenants had been unable to make it work due to a lack of custom. “I tried it twice myself with my wife,” he said.

Mr James was addressing the council’s planning committee in support of his application to cease the building’s use as a pub and convert it into two homes.
Campaigners from a group called Salem Gar, which wants to buy the building and operate it as a community-run pub, urged councillors to reject the application.

A planning officer said Salem – north of Llandeilo – has around 60 houses, a chapel and community hall, and that while The Angel Inn was regarded as a community facility there had been “extensive attempts” to keep it running. There were periods when it was busy, she said, but ultimately it was unviable to carry on.

She said Salem Gar was set up in 2022, but it was her understanding that an approach hadn’t been made to the owner until this year. She added that a grant application made by the group had been unsuccessful. The officer said the pub had been marketed for sale “for a considerable period of time” with no realistic offers, and that the planning department had on balance recommended the application to convert it into two two-bedroom homes for approval.

Salem resident Sally Newell said The Angel Inn was a big draw when she moved there in 2020 and that it had played a valuable role as a hub during Covid – a time when she was being treatred for cancer. “I was able to get a home-made, nutritious meal when I didn’t feel able to cook myself,” she said. Mrs Newell backed the buyout proposal, and said the community hall could not provide a similar service as it didn’t have an alcohol licence and wouldn’t apply for one.

Another resident, Kevin Nutt, said he didn’t believe Mr James had complied with the marketing requirements of the council’s planning policy as it had involved a for sale sign outside and social media posts. He added that the sale of the pub’s fixtures and fittings had made the premises a less attractive proposition.

Mr Nutt said Salem Gar was applying for two further grants, had raised £15,000 in pledges in just three days, and had first engaged with Mr James in 2022 not 2024.

Mr James, however, said the group hadn’t contacted him until “the eleventh hour” and that it “couldn’t really answer” why it hadn’t been in touch sooner when he asked. “I think they have let themselves down there,” he said.

Mr James said the pub was only open on Thursday evenings to Sundays before it closed and that it was depressing to have no customers but two chefs and two barmaids “twiddling their thumbs” and “wiping clean tables”. One previous tenant, he said, told him he wouldn’t having a second go at running it “for all the rea in China”.

Mr James described Salem Gar as a small group which wouldn’t be able to maintain a pub like The Angel Inn even if they could afford to buy it. He said he understood their feelings, but added: “They couldn’t even be bothered to call down there and buy a drink.”

Ward councillor Fiona Walters addressed the committee to say Salem Gar was a committed group which was working with two foundations with expertise in community-run pubs, and that there was an opportunity to bring back The Angel Inn as a pub, shop, cafe and internet hub.

The committee was told that Salem Gar could still potentially purchase the pub if planning permission for its conversion into two homes was approved.
Cllr Russell Sparks said he sympathised with the group and also the pub’s owner, and proposed that the committee support the officers’ recommendation of approval. His proposal was carried, with two abstentions.

Salem Gar consulted last summer about the future of The Angel Inn, with the overwhelming majority of respondents saying they wanted it to reopen and be run by and for the community. Respondents were keen for a place to work, socialise, learn, with locally-sourced food and drink on the menu, plus coffee and cake, wi-fi, and a small community shop.

Speaking after the meeting a spokesman for Salem Gar said it intended to push on with its plans. “It (the decision) has knocked the wind out of our sails a bit, but you either do it or you don’t, and other communities have done this,” he said. “It’s so much better when there is a pub.”

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