Pub landlord holds village referendum over whether or not to close
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.
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.
"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.
“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.
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.”
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.
"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.