Minutes From Open Meeting 

November 2021

Draft minutes

Meeting called by Alec Birkbeck (AB) on behalf of West Acre Estate (WE) held at 1830 in West Acre Village Hall

Subject: Ford Cottage/Stag pub development

List of attendees available on request.

AB outlined plans for development of the pub and Ford Cottage. Potentially to include village shop, light workshop, bedrooms, café, and improvements to The Stag.

Questions from the floor and responses from AB

Concern was expressed about the present tenants and the manner in which they were given notice.

AB said that he had to move forwards, however regrettable.

AB was asked to take note of feedback from tonight’s discussion.

AB hoped for enough feedback to tailor the plans. There would always be gains and losses, but he hoped for a way forward. His intention is that The Stag would stay as it is in terms of intimacy and scale. He did not want a soulless gastropub. He would combine Ford Cottage and The Stag as one entity supported by the operation at FC.

Questions were asked about specific changes to The Stag

AB plans to remove the cellar and extend/alter the dining area, dependent on changes to Ford Cottage, where the majority of the dining would be relocated

Would goods at the shop be affordable?

Always tricky with a local shop. AB was thinking about local produce and staples such as milk, bread, eggs.

How would the entity be managed?

One person overseeing the whole, plus some support and part-time seasonal staff

What sort of workshop?

Not metalwork. Possible cycle repair and hire.

Changes to Ford Cottage?

It’s structurally problematic. If it were to be knocked down its replacement would maintain its character. (there followed some discussion about specific items relating to septic tank/drainage/aesthetics of Ford Cottage). AB: renovation will take care of drains and flooding issues

Is this simply a scheme to maximise profits for WE?

AB said he would be delighted just to break even. There are no holiday lets on WE.

There are four licensed premises in West Acre, leading to increased traffic. Would Abbey House on the edge of the village be a better target for development?

AB has no grand vision for long-term development. Ford Cottage and The Stag are at the heart of the village and need action. In any event Highways could scupper the entire scheme, in which case he will think again about Ford Cottage, but he intends to go ahead with development of The Stag.

Suggestion that the scheme is going to change the character of/tear the heart out of the village

AB: the biggest problem is to create something that works against something that is inappropriate. The location of The Stag is great for walkers and cyclists in particular, though help will be needed with traffic. He needs to unite the businesses to make the scheme work

Why was AB not more sure about his plans?

Because Highways and Planning will probably require changes to the physical plans. If AB is allowed to proceed he will find the people to manage the business.

Has he applied for planning permission?

No. AB is waiting to find out what people want. A website is being prepared for comments. This is an early stage.

Has the project been costed?

No yet. AB estimates in the region of £400k. (suggestion from a member of the public that the costs were a private matter for WE)

Has car parking been taken into account?

AB reckons a maximum of 40 cars, 25 of which could be accommodated in the present car park. Some discussion took place about alternatives and possible additional space.

Parking considerations need to be addressed. AB does not want to turn fields into car parks. There are other options, to be discussed with Planning and Highways – for instance, one-way, pedestrianisation

Would Duration take over the pub?

AB: No. And they’re not happy about it. But there should not be any competition between a brewery and a pub. If Duration want a full time tap room they can go to Norwich

Might AB eventually want to develop the field(s) behind Ford Cottage?

AB: No. It’s a scheduled monument, and the vista from the café over the watermeadows would be lovely.

Will the present tenants get compensation?

No comment.

Is this going to lead to more development?

AB: the work at Abbey Farm has been to repurpose buildings that already existed, to give them new life and to prevent West Acre turning into a dead village. It has not been development as such. (some discussion about moving forwards as opposed to standing still)

What is AB’s timescale?

To apply for planning permission for works to Ford Cottage, and simultaneously to renovate The Stag internally, taking care to ensure that it remains similar to its present condition

The Estate has recently applied for a number of retrospective planning permissions, which has led to distrust that it takes consultation with the community seriously

AB apologised. The retrospective applications were entirely his own doing, against the advice of his Buildings Manager. As buildings in the Abbey Yard were repurposed, considerations emerged that hadn’t been anticipated – Sunday openings for the Gallery, for instance – and in the interests of moving quickly he had moved insensitively. He undertook that developments at The Stag and Ford Cottage would follow due process, of which this meeting was a part.

AB undertook to consult fully on any retrospective planning applications. He will attend PC meetings as a matter of course.

Trade at The Stag is booming, and it’s a successful business. AB should work with the existing people at the pub to develop the facilities of this place which is the heart of the community. Has AB spoken recently to them?

Not recently. Relationship is rocky, on a precipice after years of miscommunication and inability to progress discussions. He will try .The Stag will always be a pub, and they are still in the running to operate it after it reopens.

Who will occupy the B&B rooms?

Twitchers, wildlife enthusiasts, some usage via Duration. Necessary to decide about car parks.


Next steps: the PC will create a space on the website for comments, and a special edition of the West Acre News will encompass minutes of this meeting and future ones. The Estate will also take comments.

All comments should be submitted by the end of January 2022, following which there will be another meeting in February 2022 to comment on plans as they develop.

Interested parties from outside the village expressed a wish to be kept informed:

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