Pub landlord holds village referendum over whether or not to close

“You can’t take people’s pubs away without giving an account of yourself.”
The Lobster Pot in Blackness.The Lobster Pot in Blackness.
The Lobster Pot in Blackness.

The tiny village of Blackness at the edge of West Lothian has two eye-catching landmarks: Blackness Castle, a 15th century fortress whose proud figure can be seen for miles along the river Forth, and the Lobster Pot pub, which with its bright yellow, red and blue paintwork can be seen for almost as far.

But the pub now faces closure, and landlord Colm O’Rourke, 70, has staged a referendum among villagers to ask whether or not they want it to remain open.

He has given them a straightforward ultimatum: a choice between the pub and the parking cones which sprung up around the village during lockdown.

Sheena and Colm O'RourkeSheena and Colm O'Rourke
Sheena and Colm O'Rourke
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

These were installed after parking scarcity came to a head one hot July day, as lockdown began to ease and daytrippers, many of them from Edinburgh, flocked to the pretty seaside spot.

The village became gridlocked, with local residents trapped and complaining of noise from horn-honking drivers.

Roadside parking has now been restricted by Falkirk Council to prevent congestion, with plans for double yellow lines to replace the cones.

Mr O’Rourke says the village faces a choice between these cones and keeping their local pub, as he has found customers are cancelling reservations as they have nowhere to park.

The interior of the pubThe interior of the pub
The interior of the pub
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I didn’t want to close the pub without asking the people, I wanted to let them know what was happening and to let them know the dilemma we were in, that we can’t continue the pub and have no parking,” he said.

"You can’t take people’s pubs away without giving an account of yourself.”

Only those who live within the village are eligible to vote, and ballot papers have already been distributed by Mr O’Rourke.

If the village votes in favour of the pub, he will use it as a mandate to approach the council with a plea to remove the cones.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It’s a simple binary choice like Brexit: do you want the pub or the cones?” Mr O’Rourke said.

"We said we would ask the villagers because we can’t cope with both.”

Car parking has also become more scarce after Historic Environment Scotland closed the Blackness Castle car park to non-visitors.

Mr O’Rourke said other factors also caused financial strain on the pub, including the pandemic and an online fraud.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was open for just six months before lockdown, after Mr O’Rourke and his wife Sheena bought and redecorated the former Blackness Inn, which had been closed for the best part of 11 years.

The couple moved to house next door to retire, but Mr O’Rourke, who had previous experience designing and running pubs, said it ‘drove him mad’ having a closed pub at the end of the garden and determined to revitalise it.

"As my children pointed out to me, for 11 years people have looked at that pub and decided not to buy it, and I did,” he said.

“It’s a very sad business altogether, but it’s really a foolish old man doing something very stupid.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A post announcing the proposed vote on Facebook generated a robust debate with hundreds of comments.

"We did not think many people would be interested, and we are very moved by this,” Mr O’Rourke said.

“The villagers are lovely people, we’re not having a go at the villagers at all. It’s just that they have nowhere to park either.”

A spokesperson for Falkirk Council said they are aware of problems in the village over parking.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It is a problematic situation in that there is obviously high demand for visitors to the historic location and balancing that with the needs of the local population,” they said.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.

Subscribe to the Edinburgh Evening News online and enjoy unlimited access to trusted, fact-checked news and sport from Edinburgh and the Lothians. Visit now to sign up.

By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director