Businessmen speak out about “brutal” battle with MK Council that could have landed them in jail

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A costly David and Goliath battle against Milton Keynes Council has ended in resounding victory for a popular restaurant.

This week, with a council-imposed gagging order finally lifted, the owners of the Smoke Shack revealed the facts behind their incredible two year battle - which started mainly over two 50cm vent holes.

Ruling this was damage to the listed Stony Stratford building, the council ordered that the entire £80,000 worth of renovation work be ripped out of the former derelict pub.

Then they launched a criminal prosecution that could have landed Smoke Shack owners Darren Isaac and Terry Pritchard in jail.

The prosecution was dropped at the very last minute after it was claimed the council planning chief had not even visited the premises.

“That was a year ago, but the council still carried on with civil proceedings,” said Darren. “ Meanwhile we had to sign a gagging order not to talk to the media.”

Last week the government’s Planning Inspectorate finally decided that most the listed building restoration work could remain in place.

“All we have to do is put special lime plaster on a patch of wall upstairs,” said Darren, whose legal costs have topped £100,000.

He estimates the legal bill for MK council, who employed a barrister, would be double that sum.

In a statement to customers via Facebook he and Terry said: “We have been dragged through Crown Court for the last two years. It has been an awful experience that has felt utterly brutal and unnecessary. We stood to lose everything - not just our restaurant but our homes and all we have spent our lives working for. That is how mercenary this process has been.

“We are exceptionally grateful to the Planning Inspectorate for agreeing that we have transformed what was The Foresters Arms and the affirmation that we have benefited the building and the local area.

“Despite efforts to close us down, put us in prison and confiscate our personal assets we have been successful.

“We would like to thank all of our customers, the 5,600 who signed our petition and the local people who have given us so much support. We are truly humbled and it helped us to fight on through the toughest days when so many times we just felt like giving up.

All we set out to do was run a good, independent restaurant.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts - without everyone’s overwhelming support we could not have survived. We are eternally grateful.”

The pair added: “Always stand up for what you believe in. Never give up.”

An MK Council spokesman told the Citizen the legal costs were still being calculated.

He said: “We are disappointed that the inspector has allowed much of the work to remain, despite actually dismissing the appeal. The fact remains that this work was done on a listed building, without the relevant consent.”