Outrage over Heineken's plans to turn 250-year-old Otley pub into 'industrial-style city centre bar'

The Black Bull
The Black Bull
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Pub preservation campaigners are in shock over 'inappropriate and destructive' plans to modernise two of Otley's oldest inns.

Otley Pub Club have condemned brewer Heineken over their plans to convert the Black Bull and White Swan into trendy, city-style bars with industrial furniture and open plan seating.

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The two historic taverns were purchased by Heineken's pub company, Star Pubs and Bars, in 2017. The Grade II-listed buildings are both inside the boundaries of the Otley Conservation Area.

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The plans for the Black Bull, which dates back to the 16th century, show that the inn's old frontage and heritage signs would be replaced by modern 'steakhouse' stencilling. The company has stated that it wants the Black Bull to become a 'modern, stylish' pub.

The Black Bull was where Oliver Cromwell's soldiers are said to have drunk just before fighting in the Battle of Marston Moor during the English Civil War. Over the years a wealth of historic finds have been made there, including an 18th-century well and water pump which were discovered in 2003, a 16th-century stone fireplace uncovered during building work in 1971, and what is thought to have been the original door from the Market Place to the building dating from before it became a hostelry.

In 2006, the Kay Mellor TV drama The Chase, which was set in a family-run veterinary practice, was filmed in the Black Bull.

The 250-year-old White Swan's interior will undergo a major refurbishment that will see its traditional, cosy multi-room layout replaced with a more open-plan arrangement. The plans reveal proposals to introduce 'industrial-style furniture contrasted with softer with softer botanical features and finishes to turn the pub into an attractive space with a trendy, city-centre feel'.

A statement from the Otley Pub Club's members said:-

"This is an absurd attempt to turn this popular,historic, traditional listed local into a young person’s venue and dining pub, even though experts and the current landlord are adamant this would fail, leaving the pub empty and threatening its future."

The organisation also believes that turnover projections for both pubs are 'wholly unrealistic' taking into account local competition.

Otley Pub Club have written to Heineken/Star asking to meet with them in Otley and agree to either come up with appropriate plans to retain the historic character of both pubs or sell them.

They have also alerted Otley Town Council, Otley Conservation Task Force, Historic England and CAMRA.

Otley Pub Club chair Matt Hardin said:-

“Both the Black Bull and the White Swan are listed and in a conservation area, so it’s just disgraceful that Star Pubs and Bars have come up with such inappropriate plans. They are both historic pubs, both centuries old and this character should be preserved and celebrated, not destroyed by being absurdly turned into modern, trendy venues, which just won’t work as well as being architecturally destructive.

“We urge Star/Heineken to put these plans on hold and meet with the community and the excellent sitting licensee of the White Swan to discuss how they can and should work with him to keep the pub as it is, respecting the will of the community and regulars”.

Greg Mulholland, Otley Pub Club president and a national pub campaigner, added:-

“The plans for these two historic pubs are appalling and akin to the kind of corporate vandalism seen back in the 1970s and 80s, when large brewers ripped the heart and character from so many historic pubs. What’s so disgraceful about Heineken/Star’s plans for the White Swan is that the pub is successful, with a very loyal clientele, all of whom would be alienated by these awful plans”.

A spokesperson for Star Pubs and Bars said:

"We thank the Otley Pub Club for their feedback on these investment plans. We always take the views of the local community into account when investing in a pub, and look forward to meeting the group to talk through the plans in more detail.”