Protecting Our Pubs: Assets Of Community Value

Following our return to the UK in 2013, after it became clear that the brewery-centric approach used in Seattle wouldn’t work here, we refocused the blog on CAMRA beer festivals and LocAle accredited pubs. Since that time we have found that except for its focus on cask ale and a different route to market, the UK brewery scene isn’t so different from our experiences in the US. This cannot be said, however, about the pub sector…

chequers-woodley

Who Would Miss This Gem?

As someone who grew up in the UK in the 1960s, when pubs were ever-present, it has come as quite a shock to witness the rate at which they are now closing around the country (27 per week currently). Frankly many of these pubs deserve to close, especially the nasty post-war shopping precinct boozers built in the 50s, 60s and 70s as part of every suburban housing estate.

They might have made sense back then, along with the local newsagent, post office, butcher, baker, greengrocer, chemist, hairdresser, chip shop, off-license, etc. that everyone could walk to. But since people started jumping into their cars and driving five miles to their nearest Tesco Extra or Sainsbury’s Superstore, etc., most of the local service businesses are long gone.

And let’s not forget that at the massive suburban hypermarkets an entire case of industrial fizzy yellow swill can be had for the price of 2 or 3 pints of hand-crafted LocAle at a pub. Meanwhile, any remaining precincts lay derelict and vandalized, and if the pub is still open it is in a sorry state, stuck forever in some bygone era, with only cheap keg lager to offer, and if a cask ale is on at all it’s Doom Bar in poor condition. No wonder pubs like these are closing in such large numbers.

As I concluded back in 2013 in About This Blog: “it is at the CAMRA festivals and LocAle pubs where you have the most direct way to experience a brewery’s products” therefore it follows that there are many pubs that should be saved. These include city center pubs, with or without live music; pre-war urban pubs situated in walkable residential neighborhoods, and rural pubs located in villages and the surrounding countryside. In all cases these pubs need to be community-oriented, clean and well maintained, attractive to all ages and tastes, and non-threatening to female customers.

This means no sticky carpets, no rowdy sports bar atmosphere, no blaring video screens or fruit machines. And above all, they need to be places for simple socializing: conducive to basic pleasures like conversation, books, cards and board games. The growing independent micro-pub sector is particularly well suited to satisfy these criteria in Britain’s changing pub scene.

Fortunately protection is now available under the Localism Act 2011 for pubs in England to be classified as an Asset of Community Value (“ACV”) and CAMRA is playing an important campaigning role by educating and assisting pubs and communities in the process of securing ACV status with local councils. It is worth noting, however, that not all ACV applications are approved.

Take, for example, the Ale House in Reading town center: its application was denied because it didn’t demonstrate unique value as a community asset when compared to all the other pubs in close proximity. Also, ACV status does not guarantee the survival of a pub. In the event that a pub owner wishes to sell, demolish or change use, the ACV simply provides a 6-month window of opportunity for the local community to acquire the pub. If no agreement is reached after 6 months the owner can do whatever they want subject to planning permission.

As of November 2016 applications have been submitted for the following Reading area pubs:

Approved Denied
  • Retreat
  • Nags Head
  • Spread Eagle
  • Foresters Arms
  • Three Tuns
  • Eldon Arms
  • Jolly Anglers
  • Castle Tap
  • Grosvenor (Caversham)
  • Butchers Arms (Tilehurst)
  • Red Cow (Caversham)
  • Red Lion (Theale-WBC)
  • Alehouse (Reading)
  • Wynford Arms (Reading)
  • Maiden Over (Earley-WOK)
  • Thatchers (Woodley-WOK)

localelogo

To view the latest Reading area ACVs registered with the local councils:

Reading Borough Council | West Berkshire Council | Wokingham Borough Council

I don’t know what’s up with Wokingham but out of 10 submitted ACVs only 1 has been approved while 8 were denied (1 withdrawn). Given the identical ‘form letter’ response to all 8 failed applications, a cynic might suggest that Wokingham is not bothering to perform a thorough individual evaluation of nominations to its ACV register. Meanwhile West Berkshire has approved 9 applications and denied just 1.

 

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2 comments

  1. I understand some of the thinking behind this, but disagree with a couple of things.

    Firstly, to summarily dismiss all ‘precinct’ or estate pubs seems pretty snobbish. While nobody would call the Chequers in Woodley a good pub, were it to be wrested from pubco ownership it could easily become a haven of the type you describe, given the largely affluent community it serves. Over the railway the Maiden Over, until it was shut by Britain’s biggest pubco Enterprise Inns while making money because Tesco had dangled a cheque, was the very definition of a good 1950s pub on a precinct, serving an estate: a wide range of community uses as well as a good range of local beers.

    As you rightly say, none of this is picked up by Wokingham Council which thinks no pub serves any community purpose. Its inconsistency is there for all to see (thanks for pasting the link to the register, by the way. It is very hard to find)

    1. Good comments, thank you.

      Part of my goal with this post is to encourage recognition of the emerging ‘new breed’ of pub that stands the best chance of survival under evolving market conditions and changing demographics. It isn’t my intent to write-off estate pubs altogether; only those that are no longer financially viable.

      Using the Chequers to illustrate a typical estate pub is, as us locals know, atypical: the precinct to which it belongs is anchored by Waitrose, Lidl and a host of other retail businesses; plus the local library, school, etc. These draw in large numbers of people from way beyond the local community—more like a town center—so perhaps it is fair to say that the Chequers remains in business thanks to its advantageous location and despite itself. But transplant it to the Meadway, Coley, Whitley or Southcote; places where there were numerous pubs when I was a kid, and it would be long gone.

      Interesting you should bring up the Maiden Over, which I believe is an excellent example to illustrate failed estate pubs even when the precinct remains viable. As I understand it the pub wasn’t making money: despite the best efforts of an exceptionally creative landlord for more than 3 years, it simply wasn’t enough. But just look at what Warwick has achieved using essentially the same business model at the Catherine Wheel, another Enterprise pub by the way; he’s turned it into arguably the best pub in Newbury, and a moneymaker for the pubco I suspect. I guess the lesson here, as with all pubs at the end of the day: use it or lose it.

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