Closing legal loophole could save Norwich pubs

Campaigners fighting to prevent pubs from disappearing in Norwich have welcomed a government pledge which could close a legal loophole which allows breweries to sell off pubs and prevent them being reopened by a rival.

Pubs minister Bob Neill has launched a public consultation into the use of 'restrictive covenants', which some large pub companies often used to put limits on future use of buildings.

The consultation will review the use of such covenants, which were described as 'scandalous' by Norwich South MP Simon Wright.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has longed argued that the use of such covenants are used to stop competition and welcomed the review.

Mike Spivey, pub preservation officer for Norwich and Norfolk CAMRA, said: 'Anything which can give the local community the chance to keep their pub is to be welcomed and this is something which is long overdue.

'For breweries to be able to say that a building cannot be used as a pub is completely wrong. Just because they have not been able to make a pub profitable does not mean somebody running it as a free house cannot and they should not be allowed to prevent that competition.'

Liberal Democrat MP for Norwich South Mr Wright agreed.

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He said: 'Pubs play an absolutely vital part in building strong communities, and New Year's Eve will have demonstrated that in pubs across Norfolk. But we're losing pubs at a dreadful rate, and that damages our communities.

'The practice of some pub companies in restricting the use of pubs after sale through covenants is scandalous.

'It deprives communities of assets and denies the opportunity to prospective alternative landlords to develop a thriving business.

'The motivation of using restrictive covenants by large pub companies is to avoid competition, and often results in pubs being demolished and replaced with flats.' Mr Wright welcomed the review, along with the recent Localism Bill, which would give local people the chance to place pubs on a 'most wanted' list and, if they are put up for sale, give them the time to develop a bid and raise the necessary money to take them over.

Mr Wright said: 'Local people must have a greater say over the future of their facilities, including pubs, and that's why I would support the end of restrictive covenants on pub sales.

'The government is introducing powers to allow communities to take over community facilities that would otherwise close, and abolishing anti-competitive red tape would help to achieve this.'

The Evening News has, through its Love Your Local campaign, urged people to make use of their local pubs or risk losing them forever.

Do you have a story about a local pub? Call Evening News reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email