Bistro plan for ‘dormitory’ village faces legal obstacle

Bumpy reception: John Thornton's plans to redevelop Pilley's overgrown bowling green face challenges
Bumpy reception: John Thornton's plans to redevelop Pilley's overgrown bowling green face challenges

A public meeting has been organised by a businessman hoping to re-introduce public facilities to a village which has lost both its pub and working men’s club in recent years – but a legal obstacle could stand in his way.

The village of Pilley, and neighbouring Tankersley, in Barnsley have grown massively in recent years, with new executive housing currently under construction and more planned for the years ahead.

But that has not prevented its pub and working men’s club – both sites now occupied by new homes – from closing, leaving the village with no regular meeting places for its growing population.

John Thornton wants to reverse that situation by creating a multi-purpose bistro/bar, with space to also hold social gatherings such as wedding or funeral events.

He has hit a stumbling block however, because the site he believes would be most suitable is the old village bowling green which itself has fallen into disrepair.

The land is in the stewardship of Barnsley Council, after being gifted to the community by the Wharncliffe Silkstone Miners Welfare Scheme in the 1930s and then passing to the NCB and finally the council.

Mr Thornton has approached the local authority to in the hope of securing a long-term lease for the site, with a plan that the business would also provide facilities such as toilets for those who use Pilley Pocket Park children’s play area, alongside.

He has been told that is not possible, because the wording of the original legal agreement states the site must be for public benefit and his proposals are not deemed to fit that criteria.

More than 80 years after the original trust agreement was written, he disputes that and believes his proposals would provide facilities which meet the needs of today’s society.

As such, he has organised a public meeting to explain more about the proposals and is encouraging residents and councillors who represent the area to attend, on Monday evening.

At the same time, his architect is seeking pre-planning advice from Barnsley Council’s planning department – though agreement from planners would be no practical use if access to the site could not be arranged.

Mr Thornton, who has lived in the village for three decades, said he had been told the council had acquired ‘Section 106’ money as a result of housing developments in the area – cash given by developers to improve the area – and intended to spend some on improving the site itself.

That would not provide social facilities for a village which had become a ‘dormitory’ community, with people living there but working and socialising elsewhere, he said.

The object of the public meeting was to gauge support for his scheme, with the intention of persuading Barnsley Council to look again at how flexible it could be over the interpretation of the land’s usage.

He will be getting his own legal opinion on that situation, too.

“We want a comfortable bar, an eating area and an extended eating area/function room. It is about community, if I can get a bow wave of community spirit, enough people involved who think it is a good idea, hopefully the council will look at it seriously,” he said.

“It is a community issue and will be driven, in my opinion, from the community. I have had fantastic feedback,” he said.

The meeting takes place at Tankersley Welfare Hall on Monday January 28 at 7pm.