Croydon Council puts homeless families in abandoned Greenwich pub that was used as cannabis factory

Homeless people in South London have reportedly been given emergency accommodation at an abandoned pub in Charlton where a cannabis factory was found by police last year. Croydon Council has reportedly placed individuals in rooms at the White Swan pub in Charlton, which has sat empty since March 2020, though the authority has said it is investigating this and is 'reviewing its property procurement processes'.

The pub now appears to have a house number painted on the side of the building and wheelie bins outside the front, though it's unclear if Croydon Council was aware it was placing people in a derelict pub. An individual living on the site confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) this week that they had been placed in emergency accommodation there by Croydon Council.

The pub closed just before the pandemic, with council documents stating the building dates back to the 19th century when it was reconstructed to be used as a hotel. Local resident Bridget Duffy, 55, claimed neighbours noticed squatters occupying the pub for a period of time since its closure, which has 'wrecked' the structure.

She told the LDRS: "It's a nice family pub and it had been done up really nice. But I think they put the rent up so high that people can't afford to run a business." She called the pub 'a real asset to the village' but said it had been run down.

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Ms Duffy said the dilapidated state of the building has made her worried about the behaviour it may attract. She said the bottom portion of the building was used as a cannabis factory last year.

She said: "There was a weed farm set up in it that was there for ages. It was reported to the police, but nothing happened. I walked past it one morning and I saw people actually taking huge plants and stuff over to it and I reported it. I think it was about five weeks until anything was done."

The White Swan pub building, Charlton, Greenwich, London, UK
The pub building has become damaged from squatting and being used as a cannabis factory -Credit:Joe Coughlan

She added: "It obviously must have been there for a long time as it was well established… A few days later I saw people coming out and taking their equipment with them in broad daylight."

A Met Police spokesperson told the LDRS that officers were called to the pub in September 2023 and found a disused cannabis factory including electrical equipment, plant pots and soil left behind. They said no arrests were made and there were no ongoing investigations into the matter.

A Croydon Council spokesperson told the LDRS: "This matter is being investigated and we will work closely with our local authority partner and take actions as needed." They added: "We are reviewing our property procurement processes to ensure that we continue to offer our residents properties that are good quality and compliant with current standards and legal requirements."

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said the authority wants to ensure that everyone living in Greenwich has a safe and secure home. They said the authority is investigating to ensure the use of the building complies with planning and environmental health legislation.

'One of Charlton's big hindrances'

Bardan Pradhan, 41, opened the local greengrocer seven years ago, shortly after he moved to Charlton. He said he and other local businesses used to supply goods to the White Swan while it was still open.

He told the LDRS: "It's had a very severe impact on the local economy for sure. We're still surviving but having said that, it is one of the big hindrances stopping this local area from thriving."

He added: "I have found there's a lot of potential business owners that wanted to set up a business in Charlton, but then a derelict building like the White Swan is a big deterrent."

Bardan Pradhan, 41, the White Swan, Charlton, London, UK
Bardan Pradhan, 41, said the closed pub is a 'big hindrance' stopping the local area from thriving -Credit:Joe Coughlan

A petition asking Greenwich Council to restore the White Swan into a working pub with function rooms was presented to the authority this year, after being signed by over 1,200 residents. Labour Councillor Jo van den Broek said at a meeting last December that the building's first-floor function rooms had been previously destroyed by workmen without the council's permission.

The request followed an application last year from the pub's owner, Mendoza Limited, to convert the building into a set of seven flats with space for a shop on the ground floor. Planning documents from Jenkins Law, on behalf of the applicant, said that it was 'unrealistic' for the property to continue as a pub due to the 'poor level of interest' locally, and said that Tesco had sent a proposal to use the ground floor space after viewing the site in December 2022.

The conversion is to be decided by a planning inspector after the applicant made an appeal due to the council taking too long to make a decision on the scheme. The authority claimed this was because the applicant and agent had delayed providing the appropriate information for the proposal.

Greenwich Council maintained that it would have rejected the proposal based on the 'unsympathetic design' and lack of sufficient evidence to support the loss of the pub. The authority also claimed the internal works on the function rooms in the building did not require planning permission and it was aware of the damage done to the structure from squatting and the cannabis farm.

The White Swan pub, Charlton, Greenwich, London, UK
The White Swan pub closed in March 2020 -Credit:Joe Coughlan

The Greenwich Council spokesperson added: "We sympathise with residents that have been affected by the White Swan's closure, but as this is a live investigation, it's not possible to comment further. We're also in communication with officers from Croydon Council to discuss this. If neighbours have any concerns about the site, they can be reported to planning-enforcement@royalgreenwich.gov.uk."

Mendoza Limited and Jenkins Law were approached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication.

Have a story that you want to share? Email joseph.coughlan@reachplc.com.

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