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INTERVIEW: Music fans rally around Lancaster pub landlady after council orders her to remove stage

The John O'Gaunt pub in Lancaster

A campaign is under way to back a Lancaster landlady who has been told to remove her pub's popular live music stage.

Around 2,000 people have signed petitions to 'Save Our Stage' at the John O'Gaunt in Lancaster city centre.

Claire Tomlinson, who runs the pub, has been ordered to remove the stage by Lancaster City Council and has been warned that enforcement action will be taken unless she does.

This is because installing the stage needs special consent from the council, as the John O'Gaunt is a listed building - meaning the Market Street pub is of special historical interest and importance.

The stage was installed earlier this year and has proved a big hit with musicians, customers and staff alike.

Claire said: "It's devastating. But with the support I'm truly hoping common sense will prevail and we can keep it."

LISTEN to our interview with Claire Tomlinson from the John O'Gaunt

Ye Olde John O'Gaunt, a Grade II listed building and one of Lancaster's oldest pubs, has been a home for live music for almost a century.

The pub hosts performances seven days a week and will be one of the main venues at the upcoming Lancaster Music Festival, which pulls thousands to the city.

The stage was installed at the front of the pub earlier this year, to create a safer and more comfortable space for music.

Musicians have been raving about the new stage on social media, calling it "long-needed" and "a massive upgrade".

Claire said: "Everyone was loving it.

"But then I got a phone call from the council saying I had to take it out.

"I hadn't applied for planning permission. I didn't know I had to. It's a free-standing structure screwed to the floor.

"I've asked to apply for retrospective planning permission but they've told me they'd decline it.

"Before (the stage was installed) as you came into the pub, where the bands set up, it was quite difficult to get in.

"People were dancing, they might slip, mic stands were getting knocked, drinks going over musicians' equipment.

"It's made the whole experience so much friendlier, safer, so much more comfortable beause there's a defined gap between the band and the crowd.

"There is more room to spread out because you can stand anywhere in the pub and still see the band.

"It feels like they are trying to take away the happiness."

Here is a photo of the new John O'Gaunt stage.

An online petition to Save Our Stage has been set up by musician Sam Frank, who performs regularly at the pub.

It says: "We have tried to work closely with the council to get the stage to stay, and done all we can to fulfil their requests and caveats, but to no avail.

"They want it removed and the only reason that we can't address, being that it isn't in keeping with the character of the pub. So we are turning to you guys, the general public, for help. 

"As well as providing additional seating during day trading, the stage allowed a better view of performances, enabled us to bring bigger acts in from across the globe, and most importantly kept artists and audience separate and safe from accidents, injuries and damage to equipment. 

"If the stage gets removed there will be fewer opportunities to bring the music we want to bring to Lancaster and it will put artists and audience at risk of injury and damage to equipment yet again."

The Change.org petition has had 1300 signatures with a further 700 signatures signed on a paper petition at the pub.

Claire, who has been in charge of the John O'Gaunt for three years and also formerly ran the Three Mariners pub in Lancaster, said the support had been "incredible".

A Lancaster City Council spokesperson said: "The city council received a complaint in April of this year regarding the construction of a stage inside the John O’Gaunt public house on Market Street, Lancaster.

"The property is a Grade II listed building which means that most works to the building would ordinarily require listed building consent.

"Investigations, including site inspections by city council officers confirmed that the work did require listed building consent and that this had not been obtained. 

"Carrying out work without obtaining Listed Building Consent is a criminal offence. However to avoid enforcement action being taken against the occupiers of the building, the city council has given them the opportunity to cease any further works and to remove the stage.

"Whilst the occupiers are within their rights to submit a listed building application for the retention of the works, they have been advised that it is unlikely to be approved owing to the nature of the construction and its impact on the listed building."

Ye Olde John O'Gaunt is owned by Heineken Star Pubs and Bars.

A Star Pubs and Bars spokesperson said: “John O’Gaunt in Lancaster is leased to an independent operator who has been successful in creating a much loved venue with a loyal following in the local community and beyond.  We hope the matter regarding the stage can be resolved quickly so neither the operator, nor its customers, lose out.”

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