OUR community pubs are on the brink of collapse and need urgent help – that’s the plea today from publicans and political leaders to the government.
Beer campaigners say the plight of pubs in this area is reaching a critical stage as figures show around 13 locals across the Portsmouth area have shut their doors since 2013.
Many owned by pub companies are being crippled by the cost of rent and the price they are paying for beer through their bosses before putting it on the pumps.
A vote by MPs in the Commons yesterday ensured tenants under big firms will have the option of buying their own stock – but it is not expected to be rolled out completely for five years.
Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock has written to Stephen Williams, in the department responsible for local government, highlighting the dire situation for pubs in the area.
Mr Hancock stressed the region’s pubs are often the lifeblood of residential areas and drastic changes need to be made in the planning system and the way pub firms treat tenants.
He wrote: ‘Pubs are able to be converted to other uses without requiring planning permission.
‘This means that many healthy and viable pubs can be converted or demolished, despite the social, financial and historical value that many public houses provide.
‘For example, two pubs are converted to mini supermarkets every week, without local people or councils having a say.
‘It is time that the law was changed to ensure that the importance of public houses to heritage, community and culture is taken into consideration.’
Martyn Constable, of the Portsmouth and south-east Hampshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale, said the number of pub closures in the area is reaching a critical point and needs addressing.
‘It’s getting critical, and the interesting thing it’s mainly the pubs operated by pub companies that are closing.
‘The majority of local pubs will end up collapsing if changes are not made and that will be a terrible situation to be in.
‘It’s the small community pubs that suffer.’
Former publicans Tina and David Place say they had no choice but to walk away from The British Queen, in Buckland, Portsmouth, because of issues they had with their owners over repair work that needed doing to the building.
‘We had no choice but to walk away. We lost our home and everything,’ said Mrs Place.
‘Everything that we worked in the last 15 years for has gone.
‘It has taken David’s soul away.
‘Local pubs are going to be lost forever if there are no changes to the way pub companies operate.
‘There needs to be more stringent legislation from the government that keeps a close eye on these people.’
Existing pubs desperate to stay alive have highlighted their struggle.
John Machin, landlord of The Jolly Miller in Fareham, said: ‘Without a doubt, life is a struggle.
‘My wife and I between us are lucky if we get £150 each a week out of the business, money we can have for ourselves. That’s after we work a 40-hour week.
‘We could probably apply for benefits because of what we’re on.’
Stuart Ainsworth, landlord of The Leopold Tavern in Southsea, said: ‘I am not taking anywhere near the profit I should be.
‘I live for nothing, but if you look at the whole process of how we buy beer – if I were to buy beer directly through a local brewer like Irving it would cost me £65, but through a pub company it’s around £130.’
Charlie Jacob-Gray, landlady of The Fox Tavern in Gosport, considered the town’s oldest pub, agreed life was tough.
‘It’s not easy with all the ties that are involved with the pub company and the costs that come with it,’ she said.
Ann Redman, landlady of The Prince of Wales, in Havant, said: ‘We 100 per cent need a fairer deal.
‘There are only one or two pubs that can buy their own beer nearby. It’s tough.’
Changing drinking habits, cheap supermarket deals and the demand for more homes and shops is putting pressure on closed pubs looking to find new tenants.
But Mr Constable thinks pub firms are largely to blame.
He said: ‘They’re charging unfair rent and they charge an awful lot for the product as well.’
MPs highlight ‘crippling’ effect firms have on pubs
MPs have highlighted the serious situation pubs are in and have backed calls for change.
George Hollingbery, MP for the Meon Valley, said pub companies ‘exploit’ tenants who don’t understand entirely what they’re signing up to and end up struggling.
And he believes the amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill that was put forward yesterday was ‘necessary’.
The bill already included plans for a code of conduct pub companies must adhere to, but politicians felt that wasn’t enough.
Mr Hollingbery said: ‘We have had the situation in Denmead where the community has come together to buy out its pub, and that’s a fantastic way forward.
‘But the situation with pubs is still a concern and I think the changes in the bill are necessary.
‘If tenants make a really good go at running a pub, then the pub company gets a fantastic return.
‘But if the tenants don’t, then the pub companies can demonstrate it’s not a viable business and look to turn it into homes.
‘A lot of these pub companies exploit everyday people like taxi drivers who have always wanted to be a pub landlord and they end up signing up to one of these deals without knowing all the facts.’ Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock said: ‘When I was a kid there were close to 400 pubs in Portsmouth, now there’s barely half that.
‘The pub companies are crippling these businesses.
‘Some of these companies are more interested in seeing these sites as housing opportunities. That’s because some of these sites are worth a great deal of money.’
Fareham MP Mark Hoban, said in support of the government’s bill: ‘It’s good for people who run pubs.
‘The government has obviously listened to the amount of lobbying that has gone on behalf of pubs.’
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage added: ‘This is a big step in the right direction to crack down on the slightly irresponsible practices of the big pub companies.’
City landlady speaks of her fears for the future
FEARS have been raised over the future of a Portsmouth pub which is now in the hands of a property developer.
Andrea Best, landlady of The Mother Shipton in Stamshaw, has been trying to buy her community local for the past seven years to protect its future and give her family a permanent home.
Miss Best says former owner Greene King had assured her for a long time she would be able to make an offer once its market price went down.
But she was shocked to find out from the company in a letter in May this year that it had decided to sell the business on to Hawthorn Leisure.
Miss Best then tried to make the new owner an offer – but was thwarted after it decided to sell the pub on to a property developer.
Now there’s concerns the pub will potentially be at risk of redevelopment as the same developer has taken over nearby pubs including The Stamshaw Hotel and The Avenue Hotel and turned them into flats.
Regulars have started a petition calling for the protection of their beloved pub.
Miss Best, who has ran the pub for 16-and-a-half years, said: ‘I do think the future of the pub is uncertain.
‘At the moment the developer has said that as long as I pay the rent, he will keep it going as a pub until he says otherwise.
‘I have been strung along and strung along for the last seven years.
‘The pub companies have shafted me. I am absolutely disgusted with the way I have been treated.
‘This is my home and my children’s home.
‘I have always lived in the area and my grandparents used to drink in the pub.
‘The customers are upset about what’s happened.
Miss Best holds sessions a couple of mornings each week for residents who want to use a laptop to search for jobs.
‘It’s not just a pub, it’s a community hub,’ she said.
‘It’s a meeting place – it’s been here since 1886.
MPs vote for change
MPs rallied round to ensure a clause is added to a bill proposing changes in the way pubs are controlled by big operators.
An amendment to the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill allowing pubs to enter a ‘rent-only’ agreement with their owners was approved by 284 votes to 269 by members of all parties in the Commons yesterday.
The move will allow pubs to buy beer on the open market and not be restricted to a list set by a big firm – a more expensive route. The amendment, put forward by Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, chairman of the Save the Pub Group, was against the government’s preferred option. Business minister Jo Swinson wanted big companies to first come under a new pubs’ code, giving landlords the option of negotiating a better rent deal with their owners.
Mr Mulholland said his plans would come in gradually over five years and only be triggered at key points in the cycle of a lease or tenancy, such as rent reviews or lease renewals.
But Barry Kewell, landlord of The Northcote Hotel, in Southsea, said there was a long way to go.
‘There is a lot more that still needs to be done,’ he said. ‘This is just a small step. It’s not a fair playing field by any stretch.’
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