The plight of Whitchurch’s Harvest Home pub was featured on national radio today and discussed by senior government officials.
(update: comments received from our MP Sir George Young after publication have been added at the bottom of this article)
The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘You & Yours’ came to town to hear for themselves about the loss of the Harvest Home pub, and then asked B&DBC their reason for not trying to save it. They then interviewed MP Greg Mulholland and heard from the former owner of the pub, Admiral Taverns.
FAILED TO INVEST
John Buckley, a regional director for the Campaign for Real Ale and local resident, told the programme, “Since it went under the ownership of Admiral Taverns, they did fail to invest in it, and it went through a succession of landlords… The company was basically interested in it as land for property and residential land in this area is extremely valuable.”
He continued, “This is also a social amenity to the town and the area – and when they purchase a building or property like this as a pub CAMRA believes that it should be put on the market as a pub first.”
LOCALISM BILL NOT MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE
Cllr Clive Saunders, the deputy leader of Basingstoke & Deanne Borough Council told the programme, “We cannot stop demolition of any building unless we impose what is called an article 4. If we impose an article 4 there has to be a justification for doing that.”
He continued, “I don’t think the Localism Bill as it stands at the moment is going to make much difference… I don’t think that they’re actually changing [the current situation] very much at all. What we would find much better would be the fact that you didn’t have this financial penalty on us for standing up for our local communities.”
It was argued by campaigner Andrew Reeves-Hall before the demolition took place that B&DBC choose not to stand up for our local community – instead, B&DBC were fearful of developers even though the building had been listed on the council’s register.
ACTING VIRTUALLY AS A CARTEL
The national programme asked MP Greg Mulholland, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, how common our situation was. He said, “What has been very frustrating for the Save the Pub Group and CAMRA and others is that the loophole that allows free standing pubs to be demolished without planning permission hasn’t been closed.”
He continued, “There is very little protection for pubs in planning law and [companies are] buying them under the noses of the community even when they are profitable and doing well simply because they are able to do so.”
PIECES ON MONOPOLY BOARD
Mr Mulholland told the programme, “I don’t think anyone with any qualification in economics could possibly describe the British pub market as a free market in any sense: it is dominated by the huge pub companies who have been accused of acting virtually as a cartel in terms of the leases that they offer tenants… they’re interested in trading the pubs simply as pieces on a Monopoly board.”
The MP concluded, “There needs to be protection because otherwise the interest of shareholders and indeed foreign creditors is being put ahead of loads of local communities.”
Yesterday, our local MP, Sir George Young said in Parliament: “I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work in promoting the interests of those who run pubs and who often face onerous Pubco terms.”
NO OFFERS CAME FORWARD
The former owners of the Harvest Home, Admiral Taverns, told the BBC programme in a statement that the level of competition in the area meant it wasn’t a viable business and they would have willingly sold it to someone committed to reopening it as a pub but no offers came forward.
It is understood that the pub was never listed for sale on the open market, instead a private deal was done in March.
Mr Mulholland said in the programme that “There are pubs opening up and down the country that were deemed unviable by pub companies that have been reopened by local people, by local businesses, indeed by the wonderful local breweries that are popping up, and they are succeeding.”
LOCAL MP RESPONDS
In response to a request by this website, our local MP, Sir George Young issued a statement this evening on his website. In part, he states, “The pub plays a crucial role in community life in North West Hampshire and I want to help them. The Government also recognises that local pubs are part of the fabric of local life and an important source of enterprise, business and community action.”
He lists several initiatives the Government has already taken. He concludes by stating, “You might be interested to know that British Pubs Week will start on 28 October. The event will see hundreds of pubs across the country inviting customers to join them for a week of special events and special offers to celebrate the important role that local pubs play in their community. I would encourage constituents to take part in this initiative and do all that you can to help protect our local pubs.”
The BBC ‘You & Yours’ programme is available on iPlayer to ‘Listen Again’ over the next 7 days HERE.
The article by our MP, Sir George Young is on his website HERE.
The local campaign website is SAVE THE HARVEST HOME.
News items about the campaign is on this site HERE.