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Old White Bear reopening could face further delays as school carries on upstairs

School’s plans may mean fresh setback for hopes of pub reopening after seven years

25 July, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

The Old White Bear [Ewan Munro]

THE long-awaited reopening of an historic pub that has been closed for seven years could be ­further delayed, after a ­private school said it had no plans to leave the building.

Campaigners have fought to save the Old White Bear in Well Road, Hampstead, since it closed in February 2014.

Since shutting, an application to build a six-bedroom house on the site has been rejected, and it later became home to neighbouring Heathside School after being bought by a group that included its former headteacher Melissa Remus.

Pub hopes were raised last year when it was put up for sale, after Heathside went into administration owing parents £2million.

Land Registry documents show that the Max Barney Pub Company bought its freehold for £2.2m in September.

The school’s lease on the first and second floor is also due to expire at the end of August.

But Duke’s Education, which now owns and runs Heathside School Hampstead, revealed yesterday (Wednesday) it was in advanced talks to extend its lease for the upper floors.

Guy Wingate, one of the heads of the Save the White Bear campaign, said: “It’s a bummer. Everyone’s rooting for them to reopen it [the pub], and we’ve always had such love and support for it. But it is a worry that if renting it out to Heathside brings in more money, it’s not going to reopen anytime soon.”

He added that former part-owner David Crook had confirmed to him that finding a buyer who would reopen it as a pub had been a priority when negotiating its sale. False dawns for the pub have appeared before. It last looked likely to re­open in 2018, when pub landlord Dan Brod was poised to step in and run it.

Ms Remus had said she would do her best to find an operator – but nothing was resolved. Last week, the High Court ordered her to pay damages to two parents that it ruled she had mis­led, with costs totalling a further £380,000.

Today the pub lies empty, with tables stacked on top of each other, and with unopened post lying around in one of the bars.

Mr Wingate called for the freehold owners of the building, the Max Barney Pub Company to meet locals and work with them on the reopening, adding: “We’ve approached to meet them but heard nothing back. I’d love to sit down with them and talk about how we can help them reopen, hopefully over a pint and hopefully in the Bear.”

Campaigners have twice managed to get the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value.

A statement from Duke’s Education said: “Heathside School is in advanced negotiations with the Max Barney Pub Company to extend the lease on the Old White Bear. We expect to continue to use the space on the first and second floors in the new school year.

“Our commitment to our students, their education and wellbeing is our highest priority at every stage of our planning.”

Ms Remus is no longer connected to the school.

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