Don’t blame the brewery!

by Steve Renshaw

Saving pubs from closure. Yes, I’ve written on the subject before, but it has hit the headlines again.

Across the country, the net rate of pub closures is currently 29 per week. “So what?”, you might ask. Well if you say that to the campaigners trying to save the Monson Arms or the Ivy Tavern, you might get a robust response. Recent research suggests that 75% of pub-goers believe that a well-run pub is as important to community life as a post office, local shop or community centre.

I was recently asked to comment on the radio about the proposed sale of the Nags Head in Helpringham near Sleaford. A group of villagers is campaigning to keep the Nags open and run it as a co-operative pub. It’s a very worthy aim and but it’s not a project to be taken lightly.

Organisations such as the Plunkett Foundation and Pub is the Hub can give advice on setting up a co-operative pub and sign-post sources of financial assistance. Outright purchase of a pub may not be the only option. As with the Cherry Tree at Cherry Willingham, locals may be able to lease the pub from the owner.

One misconception that is perpetuated by the media (including this esteemed publication) is that these pubs are being sold off by “the brewery”. These days, the vast majority of the UK’s 1,300 breweries do not own pubs. And the few that do are proud to have their logos prominently displayed. For example, it’s hard to miss the bright red livery of a Batemans’ pub. So, if a brewery-owned pub fails, this reflects badly on the parent company.

The Nags is one of over 5,000 pubs owned by Enterprise Inns. This giant pubco was founded in 1991, initially with 368 pubs from Bass. At its height, Enterprise owned over 9,000 pubs. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find any mention of the company in any of their pubs. The decline of the pub trade has left Enterprise with billions of pounds of debt, so tenants are squeezed and pubs in desirable locations are sold off.

When a pub is sold, it can be demolished or converted to a shop or restaurant without planning permission. So you might find that your treasured local disappears overnight, with no opportunity to register your objection.

However, a recent change to regulations means that any pub listed as an Asset of Community Value cannot be demolished or changed to any other use without planning permission. If the owner decides to sell a listed pub, a 6-month moratorium on the sale is triggered, giving the community time to put together a bid.

CAMRA has lots of information on applying to list pubs as Assets of Community Value. If you love your local, contact us and we’ll help you to get it listed.

And what about the beer? Well, the Nags Head is closed, so I can’t try their beer. No pubs means no real ale!