The Portland occupies a noble building that overlooks the peace and tranquillity of Mitchams Corner gyratory system. It’s surrounded by a motley collection of former garage and showroom premises which are ripe for redevelopment. Sadly, Farnswood Ltd, who want to do just that, also want to include the Portland in their development scheme, knocking down the existing pub and providing a new one “integrated” into a block of flats.

When we initially contacted Greene King, they seemed amenable to this proposal stating “Your observations regarding the development are correct although we are far from any deal being concluded. The proposal does allow for a replacement pub which we intend to own. We will be ensuring that it provides a much higher level of modern facilities for our customers, in addition we are proposing to keep the music focus with a new music room that is appropriately sound insulated to avoid nuisance to neighbours.”

They went on to talk about how the new building would need to be of a “high standard” and that “whilst the development takes place” the Boat House would offer an alternative outlet for their “cast ales” (sic).

News of the proposals led to both ourselves and concerned locals mounting a campaign to save the pub. One reason why it’s precious is its architecture, it being the work of the renowned architect Basil Oliver (1882-1948) who designed a number of “Improved Public Houses” for Barclay Perkins in the neo-Georgian style during the 1930s. The soon-to-be-demolished Rose and Crown on Newmarket Road is another in that style – we aren’t aware of any others, at least locally, which still survive. Oliver also wrote “The Renaissance of the English Public House” in 1947 (anyone got a copy? – ed). The Portland is a very handsome building whose loss would be seriously detrimental to the local streetscape. Inside, the former multi-roomed layout had been opened out somewhat though the public bar is largely unaltered whilst fine panelling and original fireplaces survive in the lounge.

Unfortunately, as the law stands, there is nothing to prevent whoever owns the pub simply knocking it down. You only need planning permission to demolish a building if it’s in a Conservation area (which the Portland isn’t) or it’s a Listed Building. Accordingly we’ve applied to English Heritage to have the building Listed which would at least afford it a degree of protection.

The other key issue around all of this, of course, is that the Portland is an excellent, thriving community pub and also one of the few live music venues in the city. Hayley and Steve, who have run it for the last five years, serve great beer (including the rare Greene King XX Mild) in characterful surroundings – which a new-build couldn’t possibly replicate. They recently demonstrated their commitment to the pub by spending a considerable sum on redecorating the public bar which now looks splendid.

The campaign included a facebook page and an online petition which soon attracted over 2000 signatures.

Then came the joyful news that Greene King had pulled out of deal. Their press release reads:

“Greene King said today that they were disappointed with developers, Farnswood, announcing publicly their proposed plans for the land on which the Portland Arms pub is located. Greene King was in very early talks with the developer to try and understand the viability of their proposals. No agreement had been reached on any proposal to sell the Portland or any new development. Greene King has taken the decision to not continue with talks relating to the re-development of the area.

Speaking about the pub, David Elliott, managing director for Greene King Pub Partners said, “We have looked at the scheme put forward by the developers. Having spoken to our licensees, Hayley and Steve and other interested parties, we have decided not to support this application at this current time. The Portland Arms is a vibrant and valuable pub and will remain open for the foreseeable future”.

“We’d like to thank everyone who has been in touch in relation to the Portland, both for and against the proposals. It shows that, contrary to media interest, pubs are still very much in the hearts and minds of the British public”.

This hints that a falling out with the developer was the main reason for the decision but let’s not worry about that so long as the pub is safe (for now at least – and the Listing application goes on).