Norwich publicans’ support government review

A review of restrictive covenants, which prevent pubs from being used as such once they are sold, has been launched by the government, with support from Norwich landlords.

The 12-week Department for Communities and Local Government consultation, which runs until October 25, also aims to highlight the impact this practice has on local communities.

Norwich, like countless other cities and towns across the country, has been having to contend with alarming numbers of pub closures for the past few years, as highlighted by the Evening News's Love Your Local campaign.

Publicans in the city, which famously once had a pub for every day of the year, have been battling the effects of tax rises, the smoking ban, competition from supermarkets selling cut-price alcohol and the rent and beer prices charged by the pub companies (Pubcos).

Whether or not many, or any, of the countless pubs in Norwich which have closed in recent years were subject to these restrictive covenants is unclear, but a review into this practice has been welcomed.

Brewers and pub chain owners can insert a clause into sale documents preventing a pub they have decided to close from being reopened by a rival.

The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has long argued such covenants are used to stop competition

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Sue Coleman, landlady of the Stanley pub on Magdalen Road and a member of the Norfolk and Norwich Licensed Victuallers' Association (LVA), said: 'None of us really want to see pubs shut down. Sometimes its down to the fact Pubcos have been charging too much rent for them which meant the business hadn't been successful.

'But just because its shut down doesn't mean to say it shouldn't be a successful pub still with the right management and right team behind it.'

Chris Higgins, landlord of the Trafford Arms pub on Grove Road, agreed with the review into restrictive covenants and what it was trying to achieve.

He said it was 'morally wrong' to prevent pubs which close from being reopened for the same use, particularly with the numbers that are closing.

He added: 'There should still be the chance to run it as a pub.'

Derek McDonald, Norwich pub historian, also gave his support to the consultation. He said: 'If a pub is put up for sale and someone buys it then they should be able to reopen it as a pub.'

Mr McDonald said he hoped the review might stop a lot of Pubcos closing pubs 'willy nillie'.

But it is not just among the pub trade that the review has gained support. Norwich South MP Simon Wright, who has been a critic of the use of restrictive covenants, said: 'Hundreds of community pubs have been lost over the last few years as a result of restrictive covenants on their sale.

'These covenants have deprived communities of their pub, and even those communities that try to raise funds to step in to revive the pub have been unable to because of legal restrictions put on the pub.

'Covenants have often been used by large pubcos to limit competition and close pubs in a way that is nothing short of scandalous.

'The Localism Bill introduces a 'Right to Buy' for communities to take over local pubs when they come up for sale, but the use of restrictive covenants in some cases must change for this new right to be fully empowering.'

He added: 'I welcome this review, and I would urge anyone with experience of restrictive covenants in the pub industry to take part in this consultation.'

However, Roger Cawdron, landlord of the Ribs of Beef in Norwich and regional chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), said the review would not be that useful as it was missing the point.

He said: 'It's always been possible to licence a premises without any regard to different covenants. You've been doing your campaign and its all about use it or lose it. If communities don't support pubs they are going to close.'

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