The owners of a historic pub are fighting Waltham Forest Council in court over the future of the building.
The Antelope pub, on the corner of Church Road and Park Road, Leyton, opened in 1879 and traded for more than 140 years before closing in 2014.
Waltham Forest Council argues the owner Tvzi Ltd then illegally converted the building into 14 self-contained flats and a retail unit without planning permission.
It served enforcement notices ordering the work to be reversed and Tvzi appealed both notices to the Planning Inspectorate, which heard the case this week.
The company insists the building is not viable as a pub because it is too small and there is too much competition in the area for it to succeed.
Neighbour Ciaran O’Shea, who created a petition signed by more than 1,500 calling for the pub to reopen, said the issue had “galvanised” the Leyton community.
He said: “Buildings like that are part of the charm of the area. It’s a beautiful, striking building in a prominent location.
“It has a connection to the local working class culture that has been the identity of the area for some time.
“Especially after COVID, the idea of having somewhere safe and close where people can get together is really needed.
“I don’t know what will come of it but it’s been nice to see people coming together.”
On the hearing’s second day (November 18), the owner accepted work done to the first floor of the pub, to create one flat and a retail space, breached planning control.
However, Alvin Ormonde – speaking on Tvzi’s behalf- told the hearing that, after the previous pub operator left in 2014, nobody approached the owner to run it.
He said: “My client would let it as a pub tomorrow if somebody would come along to take it. I don’t believe it’s a viable pub given what’s in the area and what’s available.
“My clients were considering a redevelopment that included a pub and the local authority said they would not get consent.
“They had no interest (when they bought the building) of taking away the pub but it has been proven over the past six years that it’s not wanted.”
Council lawyer Melissa Murphy argued the previous tenant’s inability to pay rent “does not mean that the business was not viable”.
She added: “Your client has been admirably candid about the reason he bought the building… he thought it would be a good opportunity for redevelopment.
“It’s hardly surprising that nobody has contacted the owner (to run it as a pub) when it has not been actively marketed.”
She deemed a report on the pub’s viability, written by Mr Ormonde, a “superficial exercise conducted by someone with no expertise” and based on internet research.
The council asked the planning inspector to order Tvzi to pay part of its court costs, on the grounds it had “abused the right of appeal”, something Tvzi denied.
If Tvzi’s appeal is unsuccessful, it will be forced to reverse redevelopment work done on all floors of the pub and cease unauthorised use of the building.
The planning inspector will visit the pub next week. A decision is due in the following weeks.