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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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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Tackling the thorny topic of the PubCo tie: it just got personal

Yesterday beer writers en masse were accused of ignoring 'the elephant in the room' - the issue of the PubCo tie.

There are three reasons I haven't really written about this topic very much before now:
  • I've been really, really busy, playing catch-up on my recent books since my laptop was nicked two years ago. 
  • The anti-PubCo campaigners can be a bit spiky. When you've lost your job, your life savings and often your home, in circumstances that you feel are grossly unjust, you have every right to be angry. But it can be a bit like trying to deal with a lion with a wounded paw.
  • It's really bloody complicated. The issues very quickly gets into conversations about legal technicalities and contracts, which makes it hard to understand in the first place, and harder still to then break down into short, focused, interesting articles. 
I've now caught up on my work. The PubCo campaigners and I have reached a point where we can chat amicably over a beer. And they've patiently helped increase my understanding of the technicalities. So I'm now ready to jump in.

The impetus for doing so though, is that the whole issue just got personal. 

Sometimes, businesses fail. Sometimes, publicans aren't cut out for the job. Sometimes, people don't understand what they're getting into. Being a publican is a tough job that requires a very broad set of skills, and I know that I would be a disaster if I ever attempted to run my own pub.

That's why the boss of Enterprise Inns, recently dismissed the campaign against the current PubCo model as the work of "failed or failing publicans looking for someone to blame." 

Taken purely literally, these words are correct. But the clear implication of phrasing it in this way is that publicans should in fact accept the blame themselves. The consistent rhetoric from the PubCos is that most tenants and lessees make a decent living, that they help those who are struggling, and that if these publicans fail? Well, it's not our fault - they knew what they were getting into. 

I'll be examining the ways in which this argument falls down in the face of reality a lot more closely, both here and elsewhere, over the coming weeks. And I will be asking the PubCos for their response to the points I raise. I don't want to rant about this issue - I want to present the truth about it.

But first, I want to focus on one pub close to me whose situation doesn't make any sense at all if Enterprise Inns is speaking the truth.

The Alma on Newington Green, North London, is by any reckoning a popular and successful pub. Well-heeled Islington residents consider it a gastropub - the food is excellent, way beyond typical pub fare, locally sourced and seasonal, the ever-changing menu determined by what's fresh and good. The home made sausage rolls on the bar for those who don't want a full meal are awesome. 

The beer is well-kept, and there's a passion for cider - North London CAMRA recently named the Alma its Cider Pub of the Year, which the pub added to a list of other awards it has won. When I was in there on Tuesday night there was a choice of six draft ciders. The place was busy for a Tuesday night, but then it's always ticking over, and it's difficult to get a seat on the weekend.

The Alma is an old Victorian building, full of nooks and crannies, with everything from big, bright tables by the windows for spreading the papers out during Sunday lunch, to shady sofas for intimate late night chats. The decor is stylishly shabby and doesn't try too hard.

The licensee, Kirsty Valentine, is a force of nature. She's an instinctive publican who realises that a great pub is about creating a great atmosphere. She's become a solid fixture in the community, and a major player in the local business association.

Newington Green is now gentrifying rapidly. This wasn't always the case. The Alma used to be a dive, like most other pubs in the area. When I first arrived in Stoke Newington most people wouldn't dream of drinking there - you'd get the bus down to Islington instead, where the pubs were crap chain concepts, but at least they cleaned their lines more than once a year and you didn't run the risk of getting glassed. When Kirsty arrived, the Alma was the first pub that raised the standard. It helped turn Newington Green into a destination, starting ripples that spread. One by one, the other pubs near the Alma have been done up too. Newington Green is now a great place for a pub crawl, with the Snooty Fox, the Dissenting Academy and the Edinburgh Cellars all offering great beer and great food. This is great news for the drinker, less good for Kirsty, who now faces increased competition. Her response? Last year she organised the Newington Green 'Aleympic' pub crawl, which saw pubs in the area working together to create a fun activity, benefiting all the pubs that took part, making the cake bigger rather than fighting over shares of it. 

What I'm saying is, to any rational observer, the Alma looks about as different from the idea of a 'failed or failing pub' as you can possibly imagine.

So how could it possibly be failing? How could Kirsty be facing losing the pub - and how could there be a possibility that the pub itself might not survive?

I have copies of a pile of correspondence between Kirsty and Enterprise Inns that's about three inches high. She's spent most of her time over the last three or four years fighting her PubCo - which claims it only wants to help - on all fronts. 

The basic problem, as she sees it, is that the PubCo model effectively means paying rent twice - wet rent and dry rent. Dry rent is the straightforward rental she pays to the PubCo. Rents are reviewed regularly. They can go down as well as up, but if the profitability of the pub increases, the PubCo will do all they can to take most of it, essentially disincentivising the publican from improving the business the way Kirsty has. 

On top of this, she pays a 'wet rent' by being compelled to buy all her beer through Enterprise, or face stiff penalties for buying 'out of tie'. This limits the range of beers available to her. But more than that, she's paying up to double the price of a cask or keg compared to if she were able to buy it from the brewer direct. This means she has to charge higher prices for a less interesting range of beers than her competitors.

Basically then, it's much harder for a pub to make a profit under this scheme than one that is free of tie. And if you do manage to make a profit despite this, the PubCo will try to take it from you. 

This is the double bind of the PubCo tie that many licensees are complaining about. Enterprise's defence is twofold: firstly, they will offer help to anyone who is struggling. And second, the publican knew what they were getting into when they signed the deal, and Enterprise can't be held to account if new publicans had unrealistic ideas. I'm sure that in some cases this is true. But the number of cases where 'failed and failing licensees' tell how they have been misled, lied to and ripped off by their PubCos means that if they are not being honest, there are an awful lot of them coming up with remarkably consistent and detailed lies. 

Kirsty's battle with Enterprise is happening on so many fronts, it's impossible to go into detail here and still expect you to read to the end. But in summary, the result of her fight is that Enterprise now want her out of the business she has built up, and will shortly be taking legal action in an attempt to make that happen.

Should Enterprise be victorious, apart from a brilliant publican facing financial ruin and losing her home, there are two possible consequences: one is that Enterprise stick in another tenant. The other is that they close the pub down, and sell it for redevelopment, with a change of use stipulation - a fairly common practice. It takes all of ten minutes to walk to the nearest Sainsburys from Newington Green. I'm sure Sainsburys or Tesco would love to turn this beautiful old boozer into yet another supermarket. 

The next battle Kirsty wants to fight is to ensure that, whatever happens to her personally, the Alma remains a pub - given that it's popular and the local community like it that way. To this end, yesterday she launched the 'Battle for the Alma' campaign. She is applying to Islington Council to have the pub declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) under the recent Localism Act. This would prevent Enterprise from initiating a change of use from the property being a pub. This was the first step in a campaign that ultimately saved the Ivy House pub in South London from being redeveloped into flats when the local community were perfectly happy with it as a local pub - which is now doing great business.

If you know the Alma, if you have ever been there and enjoyed it and wish to see it saved, visit the Battle for the Alma website and sign the change.org petition, giving Islington Council the stories and reasons why the Alma deserves to be saved (beyond the simple common sense reason that it is a thriving, successful, popular pub that by any sane reckoning should not even be under threat.) It will make a real difference.

I'll be writing about the lies, bullying and neglect Kirsty has suffered in due course - and asking Enterprise to respond. But this first step is important and urgent - we have until next week. If you know and love the place, please give this campaign your support.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pete thank you for this and for joining in. The Alma and Kirsty deserve far, far better treatment than she has got from Enterprise her so called business partner.
As a "failed publican" with the same business partner I know their tactics only too well. And I have eaten with my family at The Alma and can vouch for what you say :-)

Michael J said...

The change.org link is pointing to the wrong address (to the Ivy House website)

Pete Brown said...

Apologies for the wring link - now fixed.

J Mark Dodds said...

Good job Mr Brown. You are the man.

Curmudgeon said...

Many of the anti-pubco campaigners do themselves no favours by suggesting that pubco mismanagement is the overwhelming cause of the decline of the pub trade in recent years, when in reality the "pub crisis" is essentially a crisis of falling demand, not of supply.

This is not to defend the practices of the pubcos, but to say if things had been run differently pubs would still be doing anything like the business they were in 1997 (or even 2007) is delusional.

And are any of these cause celebres like the Alma and the Chesham Arms outside inner London where there are development pressures completely untypical of the rest of the country?

Pete Brown said...

Fair challenges Mudgie - While I'm throwing my hat in with the anti-pubco campaigners, we don't agree on everything, and I've upset them plenty of times in the past by writing about the many other factors hurting pubs without mentioning structural industry issues. My next columns for the Publican's Morning Advertiser, which I've just written, talks all about the demand side issues you mention.

Are there any examples like this outside inner London? Yes, and there will be many more. The Bittern is a pub on the outskirts of Southampton which is a community local, busy every night, profitable etc. The locals are fighting Punch Taverns who want to sell it so it can be a Tesco Metro. See https://www.facebook.com/SaveTheBittern.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for getting in the ring and for a great article. When you spend most of your life fighting, its hard to stop, we are not prickly but passionate about pubs and your input is most welcomed.

James said...

Nice work Pete. Just one point - you say ACV would prevent a change of use. It does not. The ACV is part of the Community Right to Bid scheme. It allows community interest groups 6 months to put together a bid to buy the pub, if the pub is offered for sale. The Ivy House did this. However the owner is not obliged to sell and there is no "first refusal". Change of use is a separate thing. A developer called Mukund Patel has managed to turn an immensely popular and perfectly viable pub into offices, in spite of it having an ACV. See www.savethechesham.org The Government now need to build on the sound objectives of the Localism Act and remove permitted development rights from pubs full stop, and from all ACV land. This is very easy to do and if you and I could get Eric Pickles into a pub under threat and barricade the doors until he agrees to do it then everyone would be much happier. Keep up the good word.

Ian Cox said...

Thanks Pete, though it was just Bob Sayles who had seen through the BBPA smoke & mirrors.

As a "Failed" Punch tenant who is now a multi award-winning licencee in another pub, I look forward to your next tranche on the PubCo debate

Pete Brown said...

Thanks for the clarification James - like I said, there's a lot of complexity here and it's going to take an awfully long time to completely get to grips with it!

Curmudgeon said...

"remove permitted development rights from pubs full stop"

So anything that is currently a pub has to remain a pub in perpetuity even if it has become totally uneconomic?

Gospel666 said...

Well done Pete for joining the fight to save a great pub and an even better Landlady in Kirsty - she's done an amazing job with the Alma ... which is really loved and appreciated by the local community

Colin Coyne said...

Well done Pete for joining the fight to save a great pub and an even better Landlady in Kirsty - she's done an amazing job with the Alma ... which is really loved and appreciated by the local community

... Colin

Dave said...

Curmudgeon does a good attempt at turning a nuanced debate into a shade of grey. The issue isn't that demand was falling vs crappy supply-side problems. It's that there is a demand challenge that requires agility and flexibility to meet which isn't possible.

I do a lot of work in an around local newspapers. The same problem is there. Yes, there is a challenge from the internet, from more mobile and less rooted populations blah blah blah.

That's a challenge you need to respond imaginatively to, but instead, the owners are working on a rentier model of investment- we've bought the asset, so we'll sweat it for as long as it can by deskilling, lowering quality to a bare minimum, squeezing what profitable lines we have, then when it's a busted flush, flog the fixed assets for whoever can pay (which, if you're in a property hotspot, is always a possibility for cashing out).

The problem for pubs, like local newspapers, is that the people who run the majority of them in large nationwide chains are utterly ambivalent about the decline under their watch, because running loads of pubs/papers and preserving their role in a functioning civic society isn't any part of their remit. The people who drive those companies are driven not by passion for pubs, or beer, but profit, and given the prospects for profit out of beer are reduced, any good capitalist will focus on where better profits are to be made.

Dave said...

Curmudgeon does a good attempt at turning a nuanced debate into a shade of grey. The issue isn't that demand was falling vs crappy supply-side problems. It's that there is a demand challenge that requires agility and flexibility to meet which isn't possible.

I do a lot of work in an around local newspapers. The same problem is there. Yes, there is a challenge from the internet, from more mobile and less rooted populations blah blah blah.

That's a challenge you need to respond imaginatively to, but instead, the owners are working on a rentier model of investment- we've bought the asset, so we'll sweat it for as long as it can by deskilling, lowering quality to a bare minimum, squeezing what profitable lines we have, then when it's a busted flush, flog the fixed assets for whoever can pay (which, if you're in a property hotspot, is always a possibility for cashing out).

The problem for pubs, like local newspapers, is that the people who run the majority of them in large nationwide chains are utterly ambivalent about the decline under their watch, because running loads of pubs/papers and preserving their role in a functioning civic society isn't any part of their remit. The people who drive those companies are driven not by passion for pubs, or beer, but profit, and given the prospects for profit out of beer are reduced, any good capitalist will focus on where better profits are to be made.

Tony Leonard said...

Excellent blog Pete. Kirsty is a brilliant licensee who needs all the support we can muster.

Over the last few years, Dom & I have moved so quickly between award-winning licensees to failed licensees to award winning licensees again, it's hard to keep track. Suffice to say there are enough of us to show Tuppen and his cohorts up for the deceitful asset strippers that they are.

Curmudgeon, you are representing campaigners as holding a position that none of us do. Nobody is suggesting that some pubs won't close, but it should be the market, not desperately overdebted corporate disasters, supermarket chains and property developers which decides.

I've seen some of the most talented licensees spat out of this industry by the pubco churn, and that's bad news for the licensees, customers, communities and the industry at large. You're probably right about declining demand but it's hard to get a proper oversight on an industry that destroys so much of its prime talent.

In my experience, the 'use it or lose it' arguement doesn't hold water. People will only go to their local pub if it offers them an enjoyable experience. That's what Kirsty does at the Alma. But despite all her best efforts her business is fatally compromised, not by any lack of ability on her part but by the greed, malice and incompetence of her 'business partner'. Is that distorted, dysfunctional market really the best way to decide which pubs go and which stay?

And no, tales like that of the Alma are certainly not confined to London. I know Kirsty, she's a wonderful individual, I'm a great fan of what she does and I'm thrilled that she has such a high profile campaigner as Pete on her side. But I'm sure that if you ask around a little and show a little empathy, it won't take long for you to find your very own cause célèbre just as deserving as the Alma.

There's really no shortage of people fighting for their livelihoods against the unreasonable and destructive demands of pubcos out there. And if they were all to win, and finally, be able to focus on running their pubs, unhindered by the daily grind of fighting for their continued financial existence, I promise you would see an extraordinary transformation in the quality of pubs in this country. Not all perhaps, and some might close regardless, but at least the survivors would win through because they genuinely offer something that their customers want, rather than the current lottery of pubco indebtedness.

Curmudgeon said...

Newspapers and pubs is a pretty good comparison. There is a long-term secular decline in the demand for newspapers - that is undeniable. Some respond to it better than others, and it is still possible to make money in a declining market. But it would be equally absurd to claim that, managed differently, much of the circulation decline of the past twenty years could have been avoided.

Some well-run pubs are still very busy and prosperous. But to imagine that many of the beached-whale estate pubs that have been sold off by Punch and Enterprise could still be in business if run in a more agile and flexible manner is wishful thinking. They catered for a society and a way of life that is now gone.

Curmudgeon said...

Also worth reposting this comment from Cooking Lager made on my blog:

What is a good or bad pub is little more than a subjective argument. Any trading pub must be meeting someone’s need, even the blood on the step ragged shite holes.

The price and value of anything changes over time. For many reasons the value of housing in an area can rise or fall, as can the value of other retail space. Some places are desirable places to live, some are less so. Small flats can cost a fortune in some areas and in others the council give away houses for a £1 (google it, it’s in the Liverpool Echo)

This can make a pub unviable overnight for no fault of the hard working people running it. It could be making a decent return on investment for a £300k asset but the same return looks poor once the market values that asset at £600K

You can claim pubs as special sacrosanct places, once a pub it must always be a pub and accuse people of greed should they attempt to utilise an asset at its market value. That has knock on effects to the wider economy and acts as a disincentive to building new pubs. God forbid I use this land as a new pub for then some beardies will try and rob me of my ownership rights by transferring them to “the community”

Likewise it is easy enough to force a hand. Imagine I’m one of these rapricious developers. Don’t want me to change the use of my pub? Fine, I’ll run the roughest pub you’ve ever seen which over the next 2 years will have you, the community and the police begging for it to be closed. Then I’ll let the vandals have a go by not boarding it up properly, and if they don’t a dodgy guy will torch it for me. When I get round to building the new flats, you’ll thank god the shit hole bringing the area down has gone.

If you want a successful pub market, you need to make it easy to set one up, and let the ones that go, go. Either you accept the market does its job of delivering what you want or you ask the government to tax you and give you what it thinks you need. It will be a strange government that thinks you need more pubs.

Tony Leonard said...

Curmudgeon,
Why are you putting up a post by someone else made in response to another discussion on a different blog? Life's too short to get wrapped up in that!

In response to your own post, do you genuinely think that the pubs that have been sold off by Punch & Enterprise are all big estate pubs? That's simply not true. There's no money in them and those pubcos need money to service their debts. Try putting aside your big theory of the pub industry for a moment, drop your preconceptions and have a look at the facts.

I don't have to 'imagine that some of the Punch & Enterprise disposals could still be in business if run in a more agile and flexible manner.' I know so, because I've done it.

Pete wrote a lovely article about us two years ago: http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Opinion/Pete-Brown/A-mighty-drop-of-excellence

The Snowdrop was a Punch disposal in 2009. I'm very proud of what we've done here but we're not the only ones. Increasing numbers of excellent industry-leading pubs are pubco disposals. The frustrating thing is that I know lots of licensees who could perform similar transformations if freed from the binds of their pubcos.

Of course some pubs will close, whatever happens. So really, what is you point? Some businesses fail? Quelle surprise. Such is life. Your argument takes us nowhere useful or interesting.

Far better surely to support those that could actually thrive, given the chance. They won't all make it of course, that's how business works, but at least there's the possibility of some bloody decent pubs along the way.

J Mark Dodds said...

The market, quite evidently, is a braying ass.

Designs of Hope said...

It's good to see such a respected beer writer join the fray. We'll all be looking forward to your further installments viz the Alma and especially your upcoming pieces in the PMA...

Anonymous said...

A Pub Activist writes: I'd like to come back to this discussion again in a day or two (thank you Pete for 'coming out' as it were on the issue of the Tie). As someone who has made a very special study of estate pubs, starting with the Morden Tavern in S London, the freeholds are mostly owned by the local authorities who were responsible for building very nearly all of the suburban InterWar and PostWar housing estates in the country. They let parcels of land to breweries who were responsible for building the pubs themselves, taking a lease of 99 years and these are now down to 10 or 20 years. As such they have little or no value to anyone as an operator but plenty to a developer who can persuade the cash-strapped local authority to part with the freehold for a lump of cash AND grant planning permission for its demolition and redevelopment AS WELL! This leaves some of the poorest communities in the country with nowhere to go and being asset stripped even of the little that they have- or had. The big estate pubs have all the potential in the world to become learning centres, job clubs, amenity-shared with doctor's surgeries, farm shops, cycle-docking for commuters, veterans clubs, adult education classes... the possibilities are immense. It just takes courage and imagination. And that is available from local communities themselves, if you just go and ask. And yes, before anyone points the finger, I have gone out and asked.

Cooking Lager said...

Firstly the quote Mudgie makes of me was related specifically to pubs changing use rather than the pub co business model.

On the issue of pub co’s I think this is a great post, Pete. It deals sensitively with a topic that involves people losing their livelihoods and life savings and as such it would be a hard hearted man that simply said “tough, it’s what you signed up to”

My question has long been whether it is the business model that is broke as the campaigners suggest or the application of it. It is notable that the campaigners were involved with either 1 of 2 companies, Punch and Enterprise. I don’t see many having a problem with a tie to a family or regional brewer. Nor is a similar model of fast food franchising producing numbers of people claiming they were stiffed.

If Punch and Enterprise cannot offer a genuine business partnership where costs are manageable and a product can be offered to consumers at a fair price, then they do appear to be ripping people of their life savings by offering businesses to run which cannot succeed under the terms of the arrangement. You would expect government to step in and regulate those contracts.

From the point of view of a drinker, my observation is that Pub Co pubs offer the worst choice and highest prices. It isn’t just that they are beaten by spoons; it is nicer and cheaper to visit any family brewery pub or local multi beer free house.

I think the message is getting through, I think the pub co’s increasingly find it difficult to find people. Who would take on a business where the regional manager tells you previous years trading figures are unavailable? You'd have to be mad to get into bed with a pub co.

pyo said...

Breweries have a lot more to lose if they grind their landlords so much that the pub goes out of business. They need to be able to sell their beer somewhere. So although they still operate a similar two part dry and wet rent system, they're less predatory in their pricing as its in their best interests to keep decent quality landlords to help the pub flourish and sell plenty of their beer.

Pub Co's have no such qualms. If the pub goes bust, they can just sell it to the developers. So they can carefully calculate the two part tariff that extracts every penny of the landlords profit, and if you don't like it, tough.

Paul Mackenzie Ross said...

Nicely balanced, Pete.

We had a Spirit pub in town, it was called The Tumbledown Dick. When it closed in 2008 it was promised a million pound refit. Over a year rolled by and nothing happened. Many individuals tried to get the pub reopened but it took until 2012 for a campaign to try its hand.

Ultimately we lost our battle and the pub is to become a McDonald's drive-thru with all the litter, traffic and associated problems expected from such outlets.

But on our journey we found that the PubCo was unwilling to talk with concerned members of the public, they were paying an extortionate amount of rent to a tax-avoiding out-of-town landlord and the yarn was always that the pub was not viable, which was untrue because we saw the figures. The place had an incredible amount of potential and could have been a most excellent pub again (It was our town's only music venue too, nothing else in Farnborough can host 200 people and a night of metal bands)

I hope the story of The Alma has a happier next chapter than ours does and I feel that its landlady has had to spend more time fighting than she has focusing on running an obviously successful venture. In situations like this, pubs should be prised from the PubCos' cold dead hands and given to more sensitive and caring parents.

I hope that wasn't too spiky :)

keithpp said...

I do not find this issue to be a difficult one at all, and as Peter Brown explains, it is not.

The problem is simple, the pubcos are screwing pub landlords. They are screwing them twofold, on their over-inflated rents, and on overcharging for drinks compared with the open market.

The net result is, good landlords go under, the pub is then sold for redevelopment.

The reason, apart from greed, is the pubcos are zombie companies, they are bankrupt in all but name. They have borrowed billions, to go on a pub buying sprees, and can now barely afford the interest payments, and only then by screwing pub landlords, then when pubs fail, selling off for redevelopment, be it demolish for flats, a Drive-Thru McDonald's, or conversion to a Tesco.

There are many ways forward, for this pub and pubs in general.

We need a Fair Deal for Locals.

We need to strip pubs from pubcos.

We need in place pub protection policies, take a look at the excellent policies in Cambridge and Islington.

The pub needs listing as an Asset of Community Value. This then means, if up for sale, the local community has first refusal, and has six months to raise the money.

There needs to be a local listing of all buildings of historical and architectural interest. Once listed, and this Victorian building meets the criteria, cannot be demolished.

We need changes in national planning rules, where if there is to be a change of use from a pub, need planning consent for change of use. Do need, to demolish for a block of flats, do not need for a change of use to a Tesco. For example, The Wey Inn in Godalming, has not required planning for change of use to Tesco.

And as shown, the myth demolished, these pubs being closed are not failing pubs.

The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough was not a failing pub. It was closed, then subject to wilful neglect, with the local council refusing to serve enforcement action. The local council against strong local opposition and based upon a pack of lies, granted planning consent for a Drive-Thru McDonald's.

It is nonsense to say the problem is not being caused by pubcos. The Wey Inn, The Tumbledown Dick are not in London, the cause of closure, pubcos and greedy developers. The excellent Cambridge policy was drawn up to safeguard against pubcos and developers, not because there is a problem with failing pubs.

Yes, there are failing pubs, The Keystone in Guildford is an excellent example, of a once well run pub losing its way.

- Pubs screwed by greedy pubcos
- How zombie pubco Punch is destroying pubs

keithpp said...

I love the local newspaper comparison.

Hist the nail on the head for the Farnborough News. It has become a joke. Juvenile scribbles, who have not a clue, who regurgitate uncritical what the local council tells them, without any critical analysis, or even engagement of brain, who think reproducing a press release, is news reporting. iamhno

keithpp said...

The failing pub argument does not wash.

The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough was not a failing pub. It was closed, then subject to wilful neglect, with the local council refusing to serve enforcement action.

The rumour mill cum dirty tricks department went into full time production. It failed because it was not popular, it was drugs den, centre of depravity and antisocial behaviour.

This and more, was drip fed into the minds of councillors by their officials. The councillors then repeated this garbage and more, when the planning committee met. A police van always parked outside, my grandson once had a bad meal, two old ladies in the road said ….

Lies, half truths and personal prejudices.

The truth was, until it was closed, a popular live music venue.

It was appalling. The chairman did nothing to intervene, or correct. But then the chairman and one of the committee had already had a meeting with McDonald's to agree the very scheme the councillors were falling over themselves to approve, demolition of the c 1720s Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald's.

The Council sought planning advice (paid for by the local taxpayer) to ignore that the pub was listed as an Asset of Community Value. And to ignore health as a material planning consideration.

The local council against strong local opposition and based upon a pack of lies, granted planning consent for a Drive-Thru McDonald's.

The fight is not yet over.

- Destruction of The Tumbledown Dick by deliberate neglect

- OBJECT: Demolition of The Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s

- Tragedy for The Tumbledown Dick

- Councillors vote to destroy The Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s

- The Tumbledown Dick: The fight has only just begun

- The Tumbledown Dick: A pack of lies from Rotten Borough of Rushmoor

keithpp said...



I do not find this issue to be a difficult one at all, and as Peter Brown explains, it is not.

The problem is simple, the pubcos are screwing pub landlords. They are screwing them twofold, on their over-inflated rents, and on overcharging for drinks compared with the open market.

The net result is, good landlords go under, the pub is then sold for redevelopment.

The reason, apart from greed, is the pubcos are zombie companies, they are bankrupt in all but name. They have borrowed billions, to go on a pub buying sprees, and can now barely afford the interest payments, and only then by screwing pub landlords, then when pubs fail, selling off for redevelopment, be it demolish for flats, a Drive-Thru McDonald's, or conversion to a Tesco.

There are many ways forward, for this pub and pubs in general.

We need a Fair Deal for Locals.

We need to strip pubs from pubcos.

We need in place pub protection policies, take a look at the excellent policies in Cambridge and Islington.

The pub needs listing as an Asset of Community Value. This then means, if up for sale, the local community has first refusal, and has six months to raise the money.

There needs to be a local listing of all buildings of historical and architectural interest. Once listed, and this Victorian building meets the criteria, cannot be demolished.

We need changes in national planning rules, where if there is to be a change of use from a pub, need planning consent for change of use. Do need, to demolish for a block of flats, do not need for a change of use to a Tesco. For example, The Wey Inn in Godalming, has not required planning for change of use to Tesco.

And as shown, the myth demolished, these pubs being closed are not failing pubs.

The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough was not a failing pub. It was closed, then subject to wilful neglect, with the local council refusing to serve enforcement action. The local council against strong local opposition and based upon a pack of lies, granted planning consent for a Drive-Thru McDonald's.

It is nonsense to say the problem is not being caused by pubcos. The Wey Inn, The Tumbledown Dick are not in London, the cause of closure, pubcos and greedy developers. The excellent Cambridge policy was drawn up to safeguard against pubcos and developers, not because there is a problem with failing pubs.

Yes, there are failing pubs, The Keystone in Guildford is an excellent example, of a once well run pub losing its way.

- Pubs screwed by greedy pubcos
- How zombie pubco Punch is destroying pubs







I love the local newspaper comparison.

Hist the nail on the head for the Farnborough News. It has become a joke. Juvenile scribbles, who have not a clue, who regurgitate uncritical what the local council tells them, without any critical analysis, or even engagement of brain, who think reproducing a press release, is news reporting.

Bradshaw said...

"Once listed, and this Victorian building meets the criteria, cannot be demolished."

What, so no listed building can ever be demolished for any reason whatsoever? Isn't that going to end up preserving the country in aspic?

"And as shown, the myth demolished, these pubs being closed are not failing pubs."

So every pub that was trading in 1997 would still be viable today if it had been run properly? Really?

Ben Viveur said...

I wonder if a better long-term approach might be to stop trying to fight the PubCos and instead let them wither and die by their own hand.

We pretty much all agree that great licensees are hindered unfairly by high rents and PubCo policies - so let's make it easier for them to get out and set up on their own in the free trade where they'll have a greater degree of freedom and be able to make more money.

Making PubCo-owned pubs great is ultimately likely to be a losing battle - rather than changing their ways, it'll encourage them to carry on swimming against the tide until the moment they decide to cash in their assets anyway.

I know sometimes it's like talking to someone who is scared of leaving an abusive relationship, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Pete Brown said...

Bradshaw, do you just roam the internet, looking for arguments to pick with people?

keithpp said...

Interest rates are at a historic low, once they start to rise, the pubcos will go under, as the banks will be forced to move them on their balance sheets from asset to liability. At the moment the are able to maintain the myth the pubcos are an asset.

Once they go under, there will be a fire sale of their assets, ie the pubs.

It is therefore vital, that up and down the country, local communities start registering their pubs as Assets of Community Value (or at least are prepared and understand the proccess), and as a matter of urgency, if they get the faintest whiff they are under threat.

I am seeing far too many pubs lost, and the first anyone seems to know about it, is when they read in the local paper planning consent has been granted, or even worse, it has been demolished.

Local communities must get their act together, to fight the bully-boys, and it is not only the pubcos, too often it is corrupt local councils in bed with developers, as we have seen with the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor and the scandal of The Tumbledown Dick in Farnborough.

keithpp said...

I look forward to reading about the lies and the bullying at The Alma.

You may also wish to write about The Tumbledown Dick: the local council chief executive who could not contain his glee when he heard it was to be acquired by the Fat Clown for a Drive-Thru McDonald's; the bogus architectural report from an agency which brags 'we deliver planning solutions for private industry', whose past clients includes the Fat Clown, whose boss welcomed the relaxation of planning rules; the local councillors and local MP who went behind the backs of the local community and stitched up a dirty little deal wit the Fat Clown to demolish the pub; the £20,000 finders fee paid out out by the Fat Clown (probably to someone within the local council); the council seeking legal advice to ignore health and ACV as planning matters; the one-sided report to the planning committee that read a as McD PR exercise; the extent to which planning officials lied to push the deal through; the ignorance of councillors on the planning committee and arrogant contempt for the local community, and finally, once the dirty deed had been done, a local councillor crowing about it on his blog. And less we should forget, the pack of lies the council then posted on their facebook page.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the bailiffs will be in today (Friday 8 November) or tomorrow. The email via change.org is ambiguous about the date. Understandable given the pressure. I'd tweet this but I'm temporarily un-tweeted! #savethealma @thealmaN1

Subject: URGENT Update The Alma Newington Green Rd
Date: Fri, 08 Nov 2013 02:19:45 +0000
From: Alma N1 Supporters
Reply-To: Change.org
Thank you all so much for all your support. I am sorry to tell you that this afternoon I lost my case against Enterprise Inns and the bailiffs are coming in the morning.
Enterprise Inns have refused to accept funds and a reasonable offer to rectify the situation after the hearing. Eviction is set for 9.30 tomorrow.
COME TONIGHT to have a last drink (or is it??), show your support and to celebrate 11 magnificent years of Kirsty at the Alma, however we do intend to keep fighting this and we hope to bring you news soon of how YOU can help save the Alma.
We hope to have multi-media support from TV and Radio news and we would like to have as many of you there as possible, from 9.15.
If anyone has time to do a couple of placards or a poster or two, so much the better, but your presence there will send the message that the Alma is a Most Valued Community Asset.
Kirsty realises this comes as a shock but hopes to see as many of you tonight and tomorrow and enormously appreciates all the wonderful comments you have posted here and to her personally.
See you soon, or tomorow morning
Much love, the Battle for The Alma campaign CONTINUES!!!

Duncan peanut said...

I am in the most complex and saddening situation with Punch Taverns who have sold 20 core estate pubs behind closed doors to an offshore company. My partner entered into a long free of tie in good faith. Punch as do the offshore property developers refuse to communicate on any level, email, by post, through either parties solicitors. It has caused professional and emotional distress to all his team. Any advice would be welcome. Deeply saddened about the Alma knew it when it was run down and then restored.