Shocker as award-winning Southsea pub announces closure in row over rent hike

BOSSES at an award-winning pub have told how they are shutting shop this weekend '“ just days after being named the best boozer in the city.

The Leopold public house in Southsea is closing
The Leopold public house in Southsea is closing

The Leopold Tavern made the shock announcement this afternoon, leaving scores of punters in disbelief.

Only last week, the Southsea venue was crowned the best pub in the region by the Portsmouth and south-east branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

But in a statement on their Facebook, the pub’s bosses said they had made the difficult decision to surrender the lease, claiming landlords Ei Group plc – formerly Enterprise Inns – had raised the site’s rent to ‘ridiculous’ levels.

The latest news has prompted anger from Portsmouth South MP, Flick Drummond, who hit out at the national publican firm.

She said: ‘I believe companies like Ei Group plc are getting increasingly greedy and are jeopardising our local community pubs and this needs to be addressed.

‘I will be looking at what more the government and councils can do to help pubs.

‘We do have a new “pub code” in law, but the actions of the national pubco chains are threatening a number of pubs in Portsmouth and it’s not acceptable.’

Stuart Ainsworth has been The Leopold’s landlord for 14 years and was heartbroken by the move – which will see all six of his staff being made redundant. The 46-year-old said he had been negotiating with Ei Group plc for six months after the firm announced a hike in annual rent and fees of £32,000 to £50,000.

He said: ‘We’re being penalised for our success.

‘I believe Ei Group plc is a cartel. They kill the golden goose. Every year we become more and more successful and then it just hikes the prices up. It’s got to a stage where its just unsustainable for us.’

The Leopold will be marking its final day of trading on Sunday.

Mr Ainsworth said he hoped the site would be taken over and continued to be run as a pub.

He added he aimed to look for a new pub in Portsmouth that he could take over.

Jenni Catlow, chairman of Albert Road Traders’ Association, said the pub’s closure was a ‘great shame’

She said: ‘It will be quite devastating really.

‘I know there are several other businesses that are in the same boat – I’m not saying they’re going under but they are struggling.’

A spokesman for Ei Publican Partnerships said the firm is will be meeting with Mr Ainsworth, adding: ‘We hope to agree a mutually acceptable and positive solution for the future as soon as possible.’