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Villagers storm Co-op in defence of pub

Dozens of villagers staged a supermarket “booze-in” in protest against plans for a 200-year-old pub to be turned into a Co-op supermarket.

Camra launched its Pubs Matter campaign earlier this year.

The Ship Inn is the only pub left in Whitemans Green in Cuckfield, West Sussex, however developers want to turn it into a Co-operative supermarket which villagers say will threaten village shops and end 200 years of the pub’s history.

To signal their disapproval, up to 40 protestors bought pints from a nearby pub and flooded a nearby Co-op supermarket, as reported by the Mid Sussex Times.

More than 1,200 people have already signed a petition calling for the Co-op to retreat on their plans.

Mr Christian Stevenson, who led the protest, said: “The Co-op has unethically taken over our pub so we are taking over the Co-op. We want to shame the Co-op. They are stealing our local pub. The pub has been there for 200 years, and now it’s being turned into something that will irreparably damage our village life.”

He added: “The pub is the heart and soul of the village, and we don’t have another drinking hole. More importantly, it’s also going to threaten our local shop, Wealden Stores. They source everything from local pieman, butchers, you can’t get more local than them, and it’s got a post office. We want to keep local businesses thriving.”

Currently developers are able to convert pubs to other uses without planning permission, a legal loophole which The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says has contributed to the loss of thousands of UK pubs.

The problem is so widespread that the organisation launched its Pubs Matter campaign earlier this year urging the UK Government to close the loophole, at a time when the number of UK pubs closing each week hit 31.

Speaking at the time, Tom Stainer, CAMRA head of communications, said: “It is utterly perverse that developers are able to demolish or convert a pub into a convenience store or many other uses without any requirement to apply for planning permission. A pub is an entirely different proposition to a convenience store, estate agent or funeral directors and the planning system needs updating to reflect this fact. It is wrong that communities are left powerless when a popular local pub is threatened with demolition or conversion into a Tesco store.”

Despite local opposition, The Co-operative are standing firm in its plans to open a store, meaning there would be two Co-op shops within three-quarters of a mile of each other.

A spokesperson for Co-op said: “Given that the developer has decided to convert the Ship to a convenience store, we – as a long established retailer in Cuckfield – have submitted proposals to open a new food store in a bid to greatly improve the shopping experience for the people of the village. If we were to open the proposed new store it would include a bakery, an excellent fresh food department including meat, fruit and vegetables, and a community information area.”

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