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."
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?
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.