Pub company hits back at ‘categorically untrue’ claims after four Norwich landlords step down in a week

Landlord Oscar Gerdes and Dottie at the Garden House in Pembroke Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Landlord Oscar Gerdes and Dottie at the Garden House in Pembroke Road. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

A pub company which faced criticism after four Norwich landlords stood down in one week has hit back - branding accusations they are forcing out publicans as 'categorically untrue'.

The York Tavern in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The York Tavern in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Over the last fortnight, four Norwich pubs have said they will not be renewing their leases with Ei Publican Partnerships because of failed talks over rent and leases.

The York Tavern has said their rent would have doubled in size, while Gibraltar Gardens landlord Dean Bath said his rent would have risen from roughly £2,200 a month to near £5,000.

The Garden House said it was not offered a lease renewal when it was announced the pub would move to Craft Union Company, a branch of Ei, while the Brickmakers said they were facing a 12pc increase, which would make the business untenable.

But Ei has today defended itself, describing reports of the company imposing high rents as 'categorically untrue'.

MORE: 'I've had enough' - pub company under fire after four Norwich landlords stand down over lease talks

Simon Townsend, chief executive of Ei Group, said: 'As the UK's largest pub company, we are dedicated and passionate about providing quality local pubs at the heart of their communities and Norwich is no different. A string of recent reports stating that we are shutting sites in the Norwich area or forcing our publicans to leave their pubs through imposing high rents is categorically untrue.

'To set the record straight, in three of the pubs referenced in recent articles, the publicans have chosen to hand in their notice or requested to be released early from their agreement, without any rent negotiation taking place. We do not impose rent increases on any of our publicans and all rents are agreed via negotiation with them.

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'To be clear, we have not doubled the rent in these pubs. In other sites, we are working extremely closely with the publicans to reach agreement on the best way forward, including transferring one site to our Craft Union Pub Company business unit, investing substantially in the venue and creating a number of new jobs.'

He said they were 'constantly seeking new ways to support our publicans and their businesses', as well as investing pubs to deliver 'memorable experiences' for customers around the country.

'To suggest we are attempting to force out publicans and shut pubs is simply not the case and we'd like to reassure local pub-goers that we remain committed to running great pubs in Norwich,' he said.

The Brickmakers has announced it will not be renewing its lease. Photo: Simon Finlay

The Brickmakers has announced it will not be renewing its lease. Photo: Simon Finlay - Credit: EDP pics © 2011(01603) 772434

The company has said all the buildings will remain as pubs, with hopes that new tenants can be found soon.

They have also said they are exploring 'every opportunity' to find an option which would allow the Brickmakers to keep trading.

What do the pubs say?

Dean Bath at the Gibraltar Gardens said he had been on a discounted rent scheme, and had worked with Ei to keep it discounted when trade was not strong.

But he said Ei had removed the discounted element, which would have seen his rent rocket.

For Oscar Gerdes, at the Garden House, he said there had been difficulties over his years at the pub, but that he'd stayed because he loved the pub, and the community.

They said: 'We fought for well over a year to keep the pub, exhausting every legal avenue to renew the lease, we even offered a higher rent. We did not agree for Craft Union to take on the pub, nor do we support them.'

He questioned how the venue could provide more jobs, and said he feared the move would take the 'independence and atmosphere' away from the pub.

He said he supported other Ei publicans having the same difficulties, and said it had been an 'utterly heartbreaking' time.

Russell Evans, director at Atlantic Inns, which ran the York Tavern, said they had tried to negotiate a market rent only (MRO) option with Ei, releasing them from the commitment to buy beer only from the company.

He said that Ei agreed, but the deal had a significantly higher rent. He said the figure would have increased from roughly £50,000 a year to nearer £100,000.

Mr Evans said: 'We signed up to a deal with Ei and we can't moan about the thing we signed up to. It was our commitment.

'They haven't done anything wrong. But it isn't particularly supportive of what we were trying to do.'