Should Norwich drinkers take over their local pubs?
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
With communities in Norwich being encouraged by the government to take over their own pubs, Love your Local reporter DAVID BALE asked publicans and real ale campaigners in the city whether it was the shot in the arm the industry has been looking for.
A new government bill gives people new rights to take over pubs to save them from closure – but industry figures in Norwich today questioned whether it would work.
New powers under the Localism Bill will give communities enough time to put together a plan and raise funds to run pubs if they are threatened with closure or sale.
Pubs can be nominated and put on a ‘local assets’ list under a new community rights measure in the bill. As the Evening News Love your Local campaign has highlighted, pubs are struggling to survive, and face potentially more misery when the rate of VAT goes up by 2.5pc on January 4.
Norwich publicans and campaigners for real ale in the city said that if the new bill helped just one pub survive, it was good news.
But Norwich and Norfolk Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) pub preservation officer Mike Spivey queried how it would work in practice. He said: “It seems like a good idea, but how is it going to work in reality?
“And where is the money going to come from for it in the current financial climate?
“You would also like to know what help the community would be given to run a pub?
“Running a pub is also a heck of a commitment. It’s the whole of your life, so your friends would have to be the people on the other side of the bar. Whoever took it on would have to have the time to run it, plus the money, and the social skills to get on with people.”
Dave Turnbull, who owns the Blue Boar pub in Wroxham Road, Sprowston, was also sceptical. He said: “Anything that would keep a single pub open is great, and it’s a great idea that a community keeps a pub open. But I’m sceptical how a pub run by committee would work. The problem with committees is that decisions never get made, so I don’t think a pub run by one would be anywhere near as good as one run by a landlord and his wife.
“The problem with post offices, village shops, whatever, is that if people don’t use them, then they will close because they are not economical.
“I hate to say it but that’s the same thing about pubs. I know of pubs that are running rent-free at present but are still losing money. I know I’m sounding negative, but the real problem is that people’s habits have changed.
“I went to the Blue Boar Lane Tesco and there are stacks of beer being sold at incredibly cheap prices.
“We worry about children spending all their time on Xbox, but their role models, their parents, are not helping by watching stuff like Strictly Come Dancing and swigging booze at home, rather than going to an institution that once made Britain the envy of the world.”
As reported, a Broads community tried but failed earlier this year to run their village pub, the White Horse at Upton, near Acle.
Frank Robinson, who works at the pub, said: “The pub was in a bad position and was going to close down.
“The village people did not want this, so they organised a committee and rallied round to help contribute towards buying it.
“They were successful in raising about £110000, which was going to be the first payment. But the landlord said it was not enough for them to leave. The pub is still trading but only struggling by.
“I think the Localism Bill is a great idea though, because too many pubs are closing. What is going to happen in the future?”
Norwich pub historian Derek McDonald also welcomed the bill.
He said: “I think it’s a good idea. If the community takes over a pub then maybe it will be used. Communities have already introduced post offices and stores into local pubs, so anything that boosts trade in pubs has got to be good.”
Introducing the bill, Local Government and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “For too long people have been powerless to intervene when resources like local pubs and post offices – often the heartbeat of communities – disappear from their areas.
“The community rights measures will put control back where it belongs – with the people at the heart of our villages, towns and cities.”
The Evening News has been urging punters to return to pubs in our Love your Local campaign.
To see more stories from the campaign visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/loveyourlocal.
What’s happening at your local? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.