A cannabis farm has been discovered in a closed pub in Charlton Village, with locals fearing for the future of the abandoned building.
Locks had been broken and people seen coming in and out of the White Swan on Monday and Tuesday. Photos from inside the building, taken on Wednesday, show bags of fertiliser and attempts to ventilate the cellar as well as dead plants on the floor.
A source who looked inside on Wednesday and discovered the cannabis farm said: “The place stinks of weed and is in a terrible state. Someone needs to get a grip on this now before something horrible happens.”
Locals had called the police on Monday about the pub being broken into, and Greenwich Council’s planning enforcement team were also made aware. But no action appears to have been taken until Thursday afternoon, when the front of the pub was boarded up.
The building, which dates back to 1889, was placed on Greenwich’s heritage list earlier this year. A group hoping to obtain grant funding to buy the building and use it as a community arts hub recently appealed for volunteers.
The pub has been closed since March 2020 and the Isle of Man-based property developer Mendoza has applied to build a supermarket and flats in the building, claiming that Tesco had shown interest in the site. An updated planning application was published on Thursday, giving locals a new chance to comment on the plans.
While the pub had struggled for many years it had found a new lease of life as a sister pub to the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, but high rent demands are believed to be behind the decision to hand the keys back just before the first coronavirus lockdown.
The building was bought by Mendoza from Punch Taverns in April 2015, although in December that year the building was sold again, to Associate Properties Ltd for £1.2 million. Both Associate Properties and Mendoza are registered to the same office in Douglas, the Manx capital.
Mendoza was refused permission to build flats above the closed pub earlier this year, but “manager’s accommodation” had already been constructed and this was squatted for a time.
Mendoza also has permission to build a house at the rear of the Swan, after the planning chair at the time, former Labour councillor Stephen Brain, broke a tied vote to back the plan in 2020.
Locals first raised concerns on Monday when it was noticed that the locks had been broken. A small padlock was later placed on one door but that was soon broken.
Men were seen leaving the building on Tuesday evening, under the noses of police officers attending an assault at the Co-op opposite, according to one local, who did not wish to be named. They told The Greenwich Wire that the officers ignored their request to investigate what was happening with the Swan.
Another neighbour, who reported the pub being left open to police on Monday evening, said they would “hate to see a repeat of the wobbly pub fire” – the blaze at the Crooked House pub in Himley, south Staffordshire, which had just been sold to a developer.
“I don’t know whether a vigil would be overkill,” they added.
Councils have a range of enforcement powers to deal with abandoned buildings, but Greenwich was reluctant to address the issue when asked what it was doing.
A council spokesperson told The Greenwich Wire on Wednesday, before photos of the cannabis farm emerged: “We expect all owners to take the appropriate measure to secure their buildings. As the building is privately owned, all questions regarding security of the site should be directed to them.”
After being asked for an updated statement, the council said on Friday morning: “We expect all owners to take responsibility of their buildings to the highest regard including taking the appropriate measure to secure their sites. As the building is privately owned, all questions regarding security of the site should be directed to them.
“Following reports of potential criminal activity onsite, we have passed information onto the police. If residents have further information, we would urge them to contact the police.”
Representatives of Mendoza have not responded to two requests for comment. The company’s revised planning application, which was compiled last month but published by Greenwich Council on Thursday, includes a claim that the pub is unviable because it would cost £125,000 to refurbish and the business would lose an estimated £10,000 per week.
The Metropolitan Police has not responded to a request for confirmation on whether officers attended the Swan earlier in the week.
To view and comment on the revised planning application for The White Swan, visit the Greenwich Council planning website.
Updated at 7.30pm on Thursday to include the updated planning application for the site. Updated again at 11.40am on Friday to include the new council statement and details of the revised planning application.