Sell-off threatens 200 pubs

The Old Pear Tree

The Old Pear Tree

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ALE lovers want to call time on a controversial new threat to community pubs.

Massive pub and brewery company Marston’s has shocked the licensed trade by selling the leases to 202 premises to a developer which specialises in converting them into shops and supermarkets.

Bosses confirmed the deal to the Evening Post. Marston’s has dozens of pubs spread across the borough including The Old Pear Tree in Wigan and Standish’s The Shamrock – but are refusing to divulge “for commercial reasons” which houses are affected.

The sell-off will still leave the Midlands-based independent beer giant, which makes of prestige beers like Bank’s, Jennings, Wychwood, Ringwood Mansfield and Brakespear, with more than 1,850 premises.

Marston’s said it wanted to reduce its debt exposure to the banks and will concentrate instead in investing in its pub food estate while moving away from “wet-only” pubs.

The £90m deal with NewRiver Retail is expected to have gone through by the New Year.

Chief executive of Marston’s Ralph Findlay said that the “disposal” was consistent with the company’s strategy to “target growth through investment in higher turnover pub-restaurants, improve the quality of its estate and reduce expose to smaller wet-led pubs”.

The sell-off comprises 158 community pubs from Marston’s Taverns estates and 44 leased pubs. Under the terms of the deal Marston’s will continue to manage the pubs for five years in return for a management fee, providing a minimum income guarantee for the first four of them.

He said: “This disposal will enable us to reduce the cost of servicing our securitised debt, is consistent with our strategy and improves the quality of our estate. It will assist with financing the accelerating rollout of our new-build pub-restaurants which are achieving good returns.”

But Chairman of Wigan Campaign for Real Ale branch Peter Marsh said that this pub sell-off was “very bad news” for communities across the borough which may lose their locals.

He confirmed that Marstons had a “biggish” estate of pubs across Wigan and Leigh and blamed the nation’s current development rules which allow pubs to be converted into shops without the need of “change of use” approval from councillors.

The long-time campaigner for traditional pubs and cask conditioned beer also believes that the commercial development company who are buying the leases could well have seriously underestimated the level of opposition that they will face in trying to sell profitable community pubs.

Mr Marsh, pictured top right, said: “I’m sure regulars will join with CAMRA to mount sustained opposition to prevent their locals being converted into a supermarket or a store.

“With so many high street shops empty and struggling it makes no sense that retailers are now targeting pubs which are such an important part of our community.

“This retail company should be focussing on reviving existing retail spaces rather than seeking to destroy valued locals and CAMRA will be calling on them to take every step to sell pubs as going concerns.”

Mr Marsh said that CAMRA believed that the sale had come about specifically to NewRiver Retail because of the “dysfunctional” planning system which means pubs were regarded as “easy pickings” by developers who had no interest in continuing in the pub business, but were only eyeing the building and pub car park instead.

He said that no-one could convincingly argue that supermarkets provided a similar community amenity to a much loved local.