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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Pubs do not "further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community" - says who?

It's bad form to post two blogs in the same day, especially if they're about the same topic, especially if you normally struggle to blog once a week, like I do. But a tidbit has just fallen into my lap that I can't wait to share.

One of the practices for which PubCos are taking a significant amount of stick for is selling pubs off to become shops or flats. Fair enough - perhaps - if the pub has failed and closed and there's no real call for it any more. But when the people running the pub really want to stay there and continue running it as a pub, and when there is a dedicated bunch of regulars happily spending money there, turfing them out against their will looks a bit mean, to say the least.

The Sir John Barleycorn is thought to be the oldest pub in Hitchin, having served the community for about 150 years. It's the perfect model of a community boozer, with darts on Monday, a pub quiz on Tuesday, and crib or dominoes on Thursday. It hosts various local sports teams and a steady diet of live bands from the area. It's currently owned by Punch Taverns.

Following the closure and conversion of other nearby pubs, a group of concerned regulars got together this autumn and applied to have the pub listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This makes it much harder to change the use of the premises, helping preserve it as a pub for a five year period. ACV status was introduced by the 2011 Localism Act, and was brought into effect on 21st September 2012. Since then, around twenty pubs have successfully achieved ACV status.

When the Sir John Barleycorn applied for ACV status, there was an objection. This objection claimed that there was no need for the pub to be protected because there were plenty of other pubs nearby. And anyway, many of the valuable community activities listed in the application - the bands, quizzes and sports teams and so on - didn't necessarily have to happen in a pub - they could happen in other community venues, such as, er... well, anyway, they didn't need to happen in pubs. Even though that's where they normally do.

But out of three objections, point two was perhaps the most vociferous:

"2. The various activities mentioned by the nominee in the application are ancillary to the use of the premises as a public house. They do not therefore comply with the purposes set out in Section 88 (1) of the Localism Act 2011. With regard to Section 88 (2), the current use of the premises as a public house i.e. a place where alcohol is consumed and sold, does not itself further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and therefore is not land of community value." 
[my emphasis]


It's sad but not entirely surprising to see such an objection. We do after all live in an age of neo-prohibitionism, where various groups are only too happy to see the decline of the pub, and where alternative means of buying alcohol for home consumption are proliferating.

So who was it who objected to the attempt to preserve a fine old pub in its traditional use? Who believes so strongly that pubs do not further the social wellbeing or social interests of the community? Alcohol Concern? A local church group or nearby school? A big supermarket chain?

Nope.

These are the words of Punch Taverns, the owners of the Sir John Barleycorn. A company that owns over 4,300 pubs believes those pubs are not good for local communities.

On its website, Punch Taverns says:

"At its core the Community Pub should always provide a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for customers living in the neighbourhood. To excel, Community Pubs need to be at the hub of their neighbourhood, a focal point for locals. Supporting the many and varied interest groups of the community; darts, pool, fund raising, local schools, business networking, whatever they may be, is key."

And yet here they are, vociferously protesting against one of their own pubs which is doing exactly that, actively opposing attempts to keep one of their oldest pubs trading as a pub.

Happily, the local council disagreed with the UK's second-largest pub landlord, and decided that pubs such as the Sir John Barleycorn do in fact perform an important social function in the community. They awarded the pub its community asset status.

21 comments:

Jeffrey said...

If that is true and not taken out of context, that is terrible and really surprises me. The fact Punch are objecting to ACV status in itself could, I suppose, be justified in this or in other cases, but not on the basis of an objection like that. I will raise this with people at Punch and see what they have to say.

Pete Brown said...

Jeff, I can send you the full document if you like - it's so outrageous I didn't want to repeat the story without being absolutely sure.

Jeffrey said...

Please do!

Neil Walker said...

Hi Pete,

brilliant piece.

One thing though, by CAMRA's count there are now over 250 pubs with ACV status around the UK. Much more than the 20 you quote!

Cheers

Neil

William Avery said...

Next thing you know they'll be putting clauses into tenancy agreements to prevent tenants from allowing any activities on the premises that might lead to the pub becoming an ACV.

In so far as they are attempting to protect shareholders' interests by preventing a restriction on the way the company's assets can be exploited, the lodging of objections is hardly a surprise.

Cotswolds landlady said...

so they secretly hate pubs and simply act as a property conglomerate. and then they treat their own staff worse than they would their enemies. so bored of them not being taken to task over it all.

Anonymous said...

ACV status doesn't preserve the pub use, it prevents the owner selling its freehold or a long lease of 25 years or more to anyone other than someone who wants to keep the asset (pub, community hall, car park, police station...) in its present use.
Can I also draw to your attention the words of the then Sec of State in his introduction to the ACV Regulations, which begins "From local pubs..." Government certainly intended pubs first and foremost to be protected by registration. Punch needs better informed lawyers. Thete were 172 pubs ACV registered by the end of October. I wouldn't be surprised if it were as many as 220. Wonder if CAMRA will hit their 300 target by year end? I've got three in the pipe to be decided by Christmas, including the Alma Islington and Golden Lion Camden. Fingers crossed! Dale Ingram, planning consultant.

Tandleman said...

You couldn't make it up could you? Of course, as your earlier blog it would seem likely that someone hasn't done their homework properly.

Martyn Cornell said...

Something about this statement suggests to me it's been drafted some dimwit in the Punch legal department/the firm of lawyers employed by Punch to object to ACV applications (whichever) thrashing around to find any old argument that might stand up, without thinking through to how bad the argument is going to sound in the wider world, and how much it plays into the hands of those with no reason to love pubcos. I shall be interested to hear what you find out, Jeffrey.But if Punch don't distance themselves from it asap, they'll deserve all the opprobrium.

J Mark Dodds said...

Good on you Pete for picking up on this clear evidence of pubco shenanigans.

When you know pubco's for what they really are what becomes surprising is that anyone's at all surprised by what they do. What's genuinely surprising here is that Punch's colossal arrogance actually exceeds their generally appalling underhandedness to the extent they're blind to the fact that by publishing such unambiguous statements in the public realm they blatantly expose their true nature and purpose in what already is a climate of scepticism that's beginning to turn hard against them and the Great British Pubco Scam.

Read any pubco's lessee recruitment pages with the sober filter on and you'll begin to see pubco's for what they are: A front designed to convince people to invest in their own businesses (i.e. the pubco's failed pubs) to give the pubs a new lease of life which the pubco's then use to rapidly process other people's money into their own coffers through a combination of over charging rent on premises and supplying them with over priced goods offered from a restricted product list.

Pubco's don't exist to develop pubs or to make pubs work better or to sell beer or to promote social wellbeing or community cohesion but solely to extract profit and maximise return on investment while conning other people (their hard working publicans) to make all that investment in the first place. Once you understand that then you begin to see through the language of deception and deliberate obfuscation pubco's use to promote their activities. At base it really is a rather sinister situation and the evidence for it is a landscape littered with broken, failed and boarded up pubs.

Pubco's scurrilous and casually underhand 'business' practices are at last being widely identified and understood for what they are - a scam - and the white collar crooks behind them being fingered for what they are: Spivs who get away with selling damaged goods as fit for purpose and supplying them with new products at double their true value.

Cooking Lager said...

Come on, if any of you lot owned a property and some beardy weirdies decided they would take your ownership rights off you and transfer them to the "community" you would object?

If they got away with it, you would at least not be daft enough to invest more in that sector.

Pete Brown said...

Jeff I don't have your email. Do you have mine?

Rob Nicholson said...

Another piece in Punch practises

http://www.sheffieldcamra.org.uk/saving-the-spinkhill-angel/

StringersBeer said...

IANAL, but it strikes me someone doesn't know what "ancillary" means. Looks like they're trying to suggest that these community activities are secondary to the use of the property as a mere beer shop, rather than providing necessary support to the primary activity. Given that you could imagine a pub without them, they're clearly not ancillary, i.e. not necessary support. In reality, as anyone who actually goes into pubs will realise, community activities are often part of the "actual current use" of the place. Lame.

Craig Langan said...

Maybe all pub-co owned pubs need to form customer based groups to apply for ACV status. This would surely force the pub-co's hand on their intentions for each property. More importantly it might just show them that the pubs are valued by the community in which they serve. The pub-co's fingers are so far removed from the pulse they are almost flat lining.

I'm lucky, the pub I run is a previously Punch owned one but now a free-house. We ran it for 3 months whilst still under Punch rule and it was awful. No money had been invested for many years only to bring into fire reg complacency (but was well short of new current regs). It's barrelage was in a steady sharp decline as was it's custom base but with massive potential. After dropping the prices and making a difference, in a short time we have a great little community that use the pub. People who regale us with tales and memories of how the pub used to be. They are to be the base of it's resurgence and happy they are with their role.

The way in which the pub-co's work is disgusting and the contempt they offer to tenants and customers alike, two parties that pay into their business is incomprehensible.

It makes me laugh though the thought of darts leagues playing out of community centres and Scouts huts, drinking jugs of dilute orange and plates of biscuits for supper. If only they would get past the risk assements!

Liz Crew said...

It completely demonstrates the nature of pubcos, as far as I can see. They have only the welfare of their balance sheets in mind and use whatever rhetoric illustrates any point they happen to want to make at the time.

I'm involved in trying to save another pub which is owned by Punch. The pub has been listed on the local ACV register, Punch haven't yet notified the council of their continued intention to sell and yet they have builders in ripping out the interior fittings.

I don't know about everyone else, it makes me even more determined to do everything I can to keep these pubs.

Matt Perry said...

punch/spirit are estate agents running pubs till they close and sell the land for building,a local hub pub redlion greenford was run into the ground and knocked down , building plot benn empty for 18 months as company who bought it dont want to build a pub under the flats to stay in line with the local buildings,PS did anyone see the interview with marstons taverns head on bbc breakfast shocking!

BarnsleyHistorian said...

Very difficult to read your post because of the background image. Shame, but but unless zi try cutting and pasting to something plain I think I must give it a miss.

Alan said...

If you look at the words of the law cited, it is even perhaps creepier:

(1) For the purposes of this Chapter but subject to regulations under subsection (3), a building or other land in a local authority’s area is land of community value if in the opinion of the authority—
(a) an actual current use of the building or other land that is not an ancillary use furthers the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community, and...


They appear to be arguing that activities like quiz night and darts are ancillary to the actual current use - boozing. It is not just that they are anti-preservationist but anti-social is the argument were accepted. They also open themselves up to an implication that they accept drinking in itself does not further social well being. So buy dividing the activities in the pub in this way between actual and ancillary use they can be taken to be admitting that their core business model is antagonistic to the local community.

Weird argument.

Gary Gillman said...

Pete, surely there is a difference between social benefit in a general sense of meeting demand and social benefit in this specific statutory sense which would have the effect of tying up the land in the way described. My sympathies are with Punch here and if this law is affecting numerous pub properties in a similar way I think that is unfortunate.

On the point of ancillary: you can have a pub with just a bar and alcohol but you can't have a pub with a panoply of social activities and no alcohol!

Gary

Anonymous said...

Gary Gillman: buildings offering social activities without a bar are probably best described as community centres or village halls. Plenty of planning inspectors, most recently at the Golden Lion Camden, have agreed that these are not substitutes for community pubs.
Pete, I'm doing battle tomorrow obo of the community with a developer over a resi scheme in Derbyshire (sold as 'non-viable'). Punch are contesting the ACV registration there too. Thank you for this. Keep up the great work. Dale Ingram