Why I Don’t Drink at Belushis

It wasn’t the greatest pub in the world – well, not for the Phantom demographic, anyway. But I did used to go there on a reasonably regular basis.

This was mainly on the occasions I used to visit the tiny Greenwich Playhouse upstairs. I’d have a drink (or three, if the curtain was late – which sometimes had disastrous results- I still remember the Walk of Shame across the stage when a late-kick off/several drinks resulted in an emergency loo-break in between scenes…) and I was okay with the place.

Belushis was what it was.

And, actually, Galleon Theatre was what it was too. The resident producing company didn’t always hit the mark for me, but I admired their dedication to creating theatre that wasn’t particularly commercial, but never took the easy route. In many ways they reminded me of the sort of work you used to get in the good/bad old days of subsidised theatre, before The Glory of the Garden, the swingeing cuts of the 90s and 2000s and the even more swingeing ‘temporary’ cuts to the arts that paying for the Olympics brought.

I’m not sure that Galleon were/are subsidised at all, but they still managed to keep going. The one thing they couldn’t have dealt with was the other Olympic effect – greed.

When the contract on their little attic theatre above Belushis wasn’t renewed, the excuse they were given at the time was that the landlord, Beds and Bars, wanted to run it as a venue themselves, and I, gullible Phantom as I was, actually believed it. In fact I was almost encouraged by that – I rather liked the idea of an independent venue that would present an even wider range of shows.

Galleon Theatre had much darker suspicions – that Beds and Bars wanted to cram as many bunk beds as possible into the space to cash in on the Olympics as a low-budget backpacker-type hostel.

Of course – the clue was in the name. It wasn’t ‘Beds and Bars and Challenging Contemporary Theatre…’

But I read this article in the Wharf and was mollified. The poor landlord was outraged that he was being so clearly maligned…

I find it hard to believe that I was that naive, but hey, I was. Of course B&B (see what I mean about the name..?) turned it into a flop house, with not so much as an open mic night as a nod to producing shows. And they did it illegally – they didn’t have permission for this change of use.

The council issued a ‘stop’ notice.

It was ignored.

By the time the news was out and the scales fell from Phantom eyes, it was too late, the deed was done, the Games were upon us and the backpackers were bowling up. The letters, emails and petitions were pointless, the cash was already rolling in.

I still had a bit of hope – after all – this was an illegal change of use. Surely the council would stamp all over that?

More letters, more petitions.

On 3rd July 2013, the council voted unanimously to grant retrospective change of use planning permission. There will be no opportunity to take it the Planning Inspectorate, that’s that. Beds & Bars have been rewarded for acting illegally and Galleon Theatre are once again packing their worldly goods into a little spotted hanky on a stick and looking for somewhere to live.*

The councillors who voted for this were (and there are some shockers in here, among others who don’t surprise me):

Cllr. Ray Walker
Cllr. Hadley Fletcher
Cllr. Dick Quibell
Cllr. Miranda Williams
Cllr. Geoffrey Brighty
Cllr. Neil Dickinson
Cllr. Matthew Pennycook
Cllr. Maureen O’Mara

I name them and shame them here because this brings up a much bigger issue. If Beds & Bars can get away with this, we have a precedent. A company has built illegally, been told to stop by the council, ignored that order then been rewarded for flouting rules by being granted planning permission anyway. What message does this send out to other unscrupulous developers?

In many ways I can’t blame B&B for cashing in – after all it was their building and they saw the opportunity for a massive profit. Not everyone values Art over the laughing lettuce of hard cash. What I hate is the way they did it – the outraged innocence, the protests of being unfairly daubed with false accusation.

Which is why I won’t be setting foot in any of B&B’s pubs again – wherever the location.

Hooray for the Greenwich Olympic Legacy – a budget hostel, one less theatre and a licence to build wherever you damn please…

*I have no idea whether the plan to get a brand new studio theatre in the bowels of a new build up the road has come to anything or not.


31 Comments to “Why I Don’t Drink at Belushis”

  1. Rob Baker says:

    Rarely go there, but now I won’t go again at all.

  2. Jack says:

    Very interesting, thanks. I had no idea this had happened – I don’t drink in Belushis because it looks like a generic bar and I’m never impressed when I walk past from the station. This gives me a firmer reason to ignore it, too – but very disappointed in the councillors.

  3. Fatty Fatty BumBum says:

    Went once and it was the filthiest place with the worst service. Will certainly NEVER be back in the kip.

    These mediocre night-time establishments are all too common in Greenwich. There is barely anywhere decent to go for a drink in the evenings around here. Another reason to protect our rail links to the West End so we can actually go somewhere decent of a weekend!

  4. Brenda says:

    Nowhere decent to drink? Richard 1st, The Union, The Old Brewery, The Pelton, The Cutty Sark, The Plume? All very good drinking venues in my book.

    Belushis was somewhere I never liked and wont be going in. Great article. I look forward to reading the Councillors’ reasons on here.

  5. Matthew Pennycook says:

    Like many other residents of West Greenwich I’m disappointed that Galleons Theatre Group will no longer reside at 189 Greenwich High Road.

    However, it’s important to distinguish between the reasons behind the theatre’s closure and the planning application that I and other elected members were asked to determine on 3rd July.

    It’s my understanding that the Theatre Group vacated the unit in question sometime before their lease came to an end (April 2012) following a dispute with the landlord (Beds & Bars). The committee heard differing accounts of the nature of that dispute on the night from the owners and objectors but what was clear to all was that the two parties had not been able to agree terms of a new lease. However, as important as the details of that dispute are they were not in themselves a material planning consideration that the committee could take account when making their decision.

    What we had to determine – acting in our quasi-judicial role – was whether the change of use from a Theatre Space to Hostel Accommodation was legitimate on planning grounds (the actual internal works to convert the theatre space to four rooms did not itself require planning permission) and in line with the Borough’s planning policy.

    The recommendation of the Council’s expert planning officers on the night was that there were no legitimate planning grounds on which to refuse the application, that the change of use was in line with the relevant part of policy C2 in our Unitary Development Policy and that it should therefore be approved.

    The Phantom and others are rightly angered by the retrospective nature of this proposal. I share their anger and I and other Cllrs made our own disapproval abundantly clear during the public meeting on 3rd. However, we regularly have to determine retrospective applications and the national planning framework does not enable us to refuse applications purely on the grounds that they are retrospective – the emphasis being, for good or ill, on negotiation and accommodation with the applicant.

    It is never easy to make these kinds of decisions but on the night we all felt that there were no strong material planning grounds on which to refuse the change of use and, always bearing in mind the costs for local ratepayers of having our decisions overturned at appeal, we reluctantly voted to approve.

    I don’t expect residents to be happy about that decision but I hope they can at least appreciate the constraints and context in which we made it.

    p.s. I’ve also never frequented Belushis and certainly have no intention of starting now

  6. Thank you for your comments, Matthew. So, as far as I see it, there is no point in any developer going through the planning permission process in advance, if there is no redress if they just build illegally and then get dragged, kicking and screaming to actually ask for permission. There is something very wrong with a system that has no punative teeth whatsoever.

  7. Matthew Pennycook says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that our planning system needs to be amended to more effectively deter unauthorised development/retrospective applications.

    However, I think it’s wrong to assert that there are no means of redress where this occurs. It all depends on the application in question. Any application judged to be unacceptable and at odds with relevant UDP and Core Strategy Policies can be refused. In cases where retrospective applications are refused the Borough can take enforcement action to redress the unauthorised development.

  8. Paul says:

    Too late now, but for the sake of history, it’s worth pointing out how mendacious the application was.

    The Wharf, January 2010: ‘Beds and Bars said it had no plans to change the entertainment venue and merely wanted to run it itself…. “it’s been hinted we plan to put more beds in there but that’s not the case.”‘

    Application, March 2013: “Following the departure of the theatre
    group that once used to rent the space,
    the applicant attempted to find a replacement group.”

    Obviously, one of those claims is a lie.

  9. Just one of the claims, Paul?

  10. Craig Oaks says:

    It is all rather a disgrace. The Greenwich Playhouse and whatever The Phantom thinks, the in-house company ‘Galleon Theatre Company’ always gave us fantastic productions worthy of West End standards. It WAS the best producing theatre in Greenwich. The poor excuse for a ‘Theatre’that stands on Crooms Hill offers nothing but Z grade rubbish, that we as Greenwich residents pay for!!!! Everything within the 84 seat Playhouse belonged to Galleon Theatre Company and not Beds and Bars, Belushis or whatever they are, so how could they have run their own venue considering they cannot even supply the ladies toilet with running water???
    The lack of cultural events within this borough of ours is appalling and rather than keep funding the useless Greenwich Theatre all efforts should be made to get the Playhouse a new home. What about the Dance Agency? A massive building that has massive staff and a little clique of users. Two halls always a mystery for the public. Greenwich Theatre – chop it in 2 and have the big space for the Panto (which gets more than the usual 5 punters a night) and build a studio. Good God, there must be some Civic Hall or Community Hall sitting empty? Oh yes, there is! Jubilee Hall, five minutes from where I live, and two minutes from the old Playhouse site. Why cant anyone do anything?
    In respect of Belushis,(the most ghastly pub and ethos on offer in Greenwich) this useless council should put their foot in their neck, as well as a few others in the High Road and curb the trouble they give us at weekends and late at night.

  11. Bruce Jamieson says:

    There are a few curious assumptions made by Councillor Pennycook about ‘a dispute’ with the Landlords ‘Beds and Bars’. I can only assume he has listened to their floundering stories, of which there are many.
    I can categorically deny and dispute. They refused to renew the lease, wanted the space back for their own use during the Olympics and asked for vacant possession. We obliged as per our terms. What ensued was the speedy building of a hostel extension without obtaining ‘change of use’ permission.
    Sneaky, backdoor dalliance, pure and simple.

  12. Fatty Fatty BumBum says:

    @Brenda

    We have a few nice-enough but sleepy pubs you are right, many with poor service and smelly bogs. But none of the places you mention have music, late licences, DJs, a young crowd, FUN etc…

    There are no late bars left since Bar Du Musee closed apart from the horrendous Desperados (a Mexican restaurant which turns into a late bar) North Pole (dodgy) and Belushis (see above). That Inc place has reopened I believe but I wouldn’t step foot in an Inc establishment given their dreadful service in Admiral Hardy, Gipsy Moth etc…

    How can a popular suburb of London not have anywhere decent to go for a drink and a boogie after midnight? Where are all the young people going, into London or even New Cross/Deptford I would imagine, anywhere other than Greenwich.

    Such a shame as the potential is there for Greenwich to be more like Richmond, or Battersea or Balham, with some funky independent restaurants and trendy little bars but nobody is maximizing it.

    Some day I will take them all on ;)

  13. Wendy says:

    @ Fatty Fatty Bum Bum

    Have you tried Little Nan’s Bar just over the border on Deptford Broadway? A couple of doors down from them is the Bunker Club open until 3.00

  14. Nathan says:

    Phantom, thanks for posting about this and I’m glad Bruce has been able to clarify what actually happened. We went to see what I think was the penultimate performance of the Duchess of Malfi. I’m glad to say that was the last time I’ve been to Belushis.
    I am afraid I don’t agree with Mr Pennycock. If a stop notice was issued why were enforcement proceedings not issued? It simply isn’t good enough. Some of the recent planning decisions made by the council and what the developers have been able to get away with is frankly disgraceful(the Promenade, the Thames Path which was closed for ages and now the new GMV towers which will threaten the ecology park for example – not to mention all of the other bland concrete boxes being thrown up everywhere).
    Wendy, thoroughly agree – Little Nan’s is great and Big Red/Bird’s Nest are open late at the weekends too. Oliver’s is another favourite too for a post 11 drink. It would be good to have some more decent bars but one of the reasons I chose to live here is it isn’t Balham, Battersea or Clapham!

  15. Mike Reaves says:

    This is all a disgrace as far as the useless local council is concerned. It also infuriates me that when you come home after an evening in the city you have Belushis trading in the street outside the station, and have to run the whole gamut of trouble down the High Road to escape all the louts that drink there. Why are they allowed to do this? THERE ARE SIGNS UP SAYING THIS IS A FREE ZONE = which means = NO ALCOHOL???
    These places are allowed to run roughshod over all laws. HAVE THE COUNCILLORS BEEN GIVEN A BACKHANDER???

  16. Brenda says:

    @FattyBumBum

    Sadly, Im of an age where I’m just happy with a pub. But The Pelton has live music every single weekend and Im sure its open later than 11.

  17. Bruce Jamieson says:

    Some great comments here. I will e-mail the councillors and get them to read these. I hope they will bother. They should take note of the anger that people feel about them going against what they want and the general feeling about how shoddy the High Road is becoming with all the ‘trouble’ bars.
    There is also an intersting article in The Wharf which states the council in passing permission to Belushis to convert The Playhouse into a Bunkover, that there are other theatrical facilities nearby????? Do they mean Greenwich Theatre?????? What they offer the community and visitors to this borough is seriously questionable – and costs us all.

  18. Hayley Fletcher says:

    Hello,

    Thank you to Bruce for pointing me to these comments.

    I concur with Matt. If I were able to vote on that night for what I want to personally see in Greenwich and the vision I have for it I would have voted against. However, I am bound to only consider matters of planning so however so objectionable some of the circumstances of the application (and I share the anger), if we had voted on those grounds we would have lost at appeal, lost the ability to secure some planning conditions and cost the Council and taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    Retrospective planning applications are the most infuriating and objectionable things I ever come across when on planning. They show sheer contempt for people, the Council and planning law and I hope there is serious reform (along with the planning inspectorate!). However, again, I am able to express my disdain for applicants who show such blatant disregard for the system, I am unable to vote against it on those grounds for the reasons outlined above. I do fear what message this gives to other developers but we’re quite powerless to do anything at an area committee; it requires change to the law. I searched for a planning ground on which to refuse the application but found none.

    I totally accept that people are angry, as am I, but I feel I voted on that night in accordance with my all too narrow role on the quasi-judicial planning committee to only consider planning grounds as a reason for refusal.

  19. Darryl says:

    “or even New Cross/Deptford I would imagine”

    …perish the thought!

  20. Alf Eegee says:

    So what’s new? The fact I’ve stood outside & listened in on the planning quorum who’ve decided the outcome of applications prior to the public hearing or representations? The councillors who clearly hold a ‘prior opinion’ about some applicants? The companies to use ‘on appeal who tend to obtain, as Private Eye might say, a ‘reverse ferret’ re planning consent. The planning department who takes no action when illegal developments are pointed out to them & who provide delegated authority on retrospective applications , or who conclude in their report that the sun doesn’t set in the West?
    This dreadful boozer is the least of this Borough’s worries.

  21. Chris says:

    What if there had been a fatal fire at the hostel during the Olympics?

    I’m sure these same councillors who have now voted for it would have condemned the construction as illegal and washed their hands of it.

    Can someone explain why companies are allowed to piss all over us like this?

  22. Mr H says:

    Chris:

    They are allowed to get away with it because of money!!! I can’t believe how property developers are getting away with the size and shear ugliness and changing of the designs of their developments mid way through construction.
    A lot of the property is not fit for the original purpose of good value homes for local people. They are way too small, have too tiny or no garden at all, inadequet parking and no family can have a decent quality of life in. Plus have you seen how much they cost?!!!
    Also the part rent part buy scheme is pretty much a rip-off!

    My guess there are some people in the council who pass through the revolving door of the council/government and to the the businesses that benefit from the council/government contracts afterwards!

  23. Darryl says:

    Two issues here…

    - on theatres

    This corner of SE London’s not quite a theatrical wasteland – The London Theatre on New Cross Road and the Albany in Deptford are both within walking distance and there’s also the Brockley Jack. There isn’t a Berlin Wall around SE10′s western boundary, nor is there around the borough’s borders.

    That’s not to damn the Greenwich Playhouse’s efforts – and small theatres do need backing (there’s an interesting London Assembly report on this) but some of the shrieking doesn’t help the theatre’s cause. The press release I had from the Playhouse implied Greenwich High Road was some kind of binge-drinking, vomit-covered Valhalla, for example.

    Greenwich’s nightlife/ cultural life has been underwhelming for as long as I remember – I don’t see this changing any time soon, but there’s little local gems if you look hard enough, and we are part of a bigger thing called “London”. I just wish the council had a more coherent policy on culture/nightlife rather than throwing cash at big set-piece events which don’t leave much legacy for the other 50/51 weeks of the year.

    - on planning

    If something good is to come out of this, then it really needs councillors like Hayley and Matt (and it’s great they’re commenting as most of their colleagues wouldn’t dare lower themselves to communicate here) to start campaigning for planning reform.

    We’ve had too many crap developments forced through by planning inspectors, or sneaking through because councillors are worried about appeals.

    This isn’t a Greenwich-specific problem – there’s crap developments across London – but we do feel it badly here.

    It doesn’t help that the council’s rotten and is far too close to developers – but the old guard won’t be around forever, and we need our politicians to be brave and speak out to reform this mess.

  24. Paul says:

    I share a lot of the frustrations about planning, and the dreadful quality of building we’re subjected to in Greenwich. I also share the cynicism about some of the council planning officers – they might well be overworked, but they often see themselves as responsible to developers rather than residents. I’ve had dealings with a fair few developments, and on two of them I’ve seen council officers take the developer’s word on issues, over those of residents, even if they supply evidence. sometimes this is blatant misrepresentation of dimensions. However, in both cases, the councillors on the committee, when informed, rejected the applications.

    I’ve disagreed with Matthew Pennycook on occasion, particularly the demolition of a block of Victorian Houses on the bottom of the High Street, which has now lost a lot of its soul. But his reasoning here, that the committee can only reject an application on planning grounds, is entirely fair. Otherwise the case would indeed be overturned on appeal. The law as it is is biased in favour of developers.

    Having defended Matthew, though, I would like to get his comments on the new planning website. Why has it been made so much harder for residents to object ? The site has been rejecting applications for objectors to register, which is now a condition, for months. This will make it far easier for nasty developments, like the one by The Book PLace on Creek Road, to ruin our beloved Greenwich.

  25. parkkeeper says:

    Hello Hayley Fletcher
    “…..what I want to personally see in Greenwich and the vision I have for it…”

    Would really like to hear more about your vision?

  26. Matthew Pennycook says:

    Paul,

    Sorry to hear about the issues with the planning website. I’ll take this up with officers.

    Always worth emailing your ward Councillors directly with any objections you might have so that they’re aware.

  27. stephen tyner says:

    Greenwich is the only borough I know in London with hardly any cultural events of a theatrical nature. Bizarre! We have such a lot of history around here, magnificent buildings, great outdoor spaces etc. Surely the offer of a resident company like the Greenwich Playhouse must be attractive rather than what we get at the Greenwich Theatre.One thing you can ve sure of here and that is lots of poor bars.

  28. bruce jamieson says:

    All the venues listed by Darryl are in the borough of Lewisham.
    We did try at the Greenwich Playhouse to offer the best quality theatre at affordable prices and personally feel that the London Theatre and the Brockley Jack do not offer the comfort, professionalism of production and standards we tried to create in our in-house productions at least. As for The Albany, I think it is bogged down in semi-politico artistic stuff as to what to ‘present for the community’ blah. So you more than often end up with a creche during the day and a space that is never used to its potential.

  29. Franklin says:

    Matt Pennycook and Hayley Fletcher:

    I’m sorry, but you are simply wrong to claim that the planning board was powerless to do anything other than approve this application.

    The advice (both legal and regulatory) that you are receiving from the planning officers is routinely flawed.

    For example, in the several cases of the Greenwich Pier restaurant signage, planning officers recommended approval of the applications and threatened the planning board that rejection would be overturned at appeal.

    The planning board (unusually) went against the recommendations of the officers and refused the applications.

    The applicants appealed to the planning inspectorate, citing, inter alia, the planning officers’ recommendation of approval.

    The planning inspectorate has now REJECTED all the appeals and condemned the signage in unusually critical terms.

    Meanwhile, in the intervening eighteen months, the planning department has failed to enforce the planning board’s decision or take action against the proprietors.

    Likewise, the planning department utterly failed to take effective action against Beds and Bars when it was in clear legal breach.

    And now the planning board has rewarded Beds and Bars for its flagrant violation.

    The upshot is this: Greenwich’s planning department is not fit for purpose. Officers routinely err on the side of extreme risk-aversion, and recommend approval of applications that are in direct contravention of Greenwich planning and conservation policies.

    Planning boards then approve these recommendations out of their own misguided fear that the Council will have to bear the costs of a successful appeal.

    As Councillors, you need to be more critical, questioning and indeed sceptical of your planning officers’ recommendations.

    It simply isn’t good enough to claim that “I didn’t want to approve it, but I had no choice…”

    After all, if you have “no choice” in these matters, there really isn’t any point in having a planning board, is there?

  30. Franklin says:

    Further to my comment of 31 July:

    Matt Pennycook’s “expert” planning officer’s advice that there were no grounds to refuse the application refers to section C2 of the UDP.

    That section reads:

    “Planning permission which would result in the loss of community facilities through change of use or redevelopment, will only be granted where:

    (i) alternative community facilities of a similar nature are provided locally in the area within which that facility serves; or

    (ii) it would enable the implementation of a strategy for the provision of a community service in the Borough; or

    (iii) the site is either demonstrably unsuitable for continued use as a community facility or is vacant and no community use is forthcoming despite active site marketing on realistic terms”

    None of these conditions were met in this case: Greenwich Theatre provides a very different type of community facility to Galleons Theatre.

    The Councillors had the discretion to make this interpretation and thus refuse the application. There might have been an appeal, but the Council could have defended its stance robustly. The Councillors have failed us all in choosing instead to adopt a zero-risk, do-nothing stance.

  31. bruce jamieson says:

    Fantastic points made here by Franklin.
    Glad that somebody else has voiced the frustrations at the planning department.