Sunday, 3 August 2014

Priory a local priority

Picture from campaign website
The Priory Hotel in Litherland is a pub I occasionally went into when I had a temporary job in social services in Bootle a long time ago; I think it was a Tetley house in those days. I recall on one occasion a disgruntled social worker who had lost his brief case earlier in the day arriving in the pub with it in pieces. Someone had reported finding a suspicious object and it had been blown up. Apparently the Beatles drank in there on the 20+ occasions they played at Litherland Town Hall, just 150 yards away.

The pub closed last year and was bought by Adactus Housing, but the council refused planning permission for its conversion into flats after a successful campaign by a community action group which plans to make the Priory the first community-run pub in Merseyside. They need £400,000 to buy the pub, having raised £170,000 so far and applied for grants to help bridge the gap.

CAMRA keeps on encouraging local branches and members to oppose pub closures by having them declared as assets of community value under Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011. That's all very well, but such applications cannot really succeed unless there is evidence that the community actually values its pub, as in Litherland. Here in Southport, Mike Perkins of local CAMRA has done sterling work in applying for ACVs but in each case the council has refused; this is the same council that has said yes in Litherland, so our failure is not a result of municipal stonewalling.

Opposing a pub closure is an uphill battle. The owner can easily produce accounts to demonstrate how the use, and therefore profitability, of a pub has been in decline, which tends to pull the rug from under any argument that the community values it. There are many reasons why pubs decline, and I don't intend to list them here, except for one: deliberate neglect of a pub by its owner to discourage custom and thus provide an excuse to close it - in other words, a process of managed decline. Some closed pubs around here certainly hadn't had a penny spent upon them for years, other than for essential maintenance. Pub owners know that, with the price of pub drinks nowadays, customers won't want to spend their hard-earned cash in a dingy room that hasn't seen a lick of paint this side of the millennium.

My view is that CAMRA centrally is being oversimplistic with its exhortation simply to get a threatened pub declared an ACV. There is the risk that, if local people keep on trying this and get knocked back too often, they will lose heart. With the best will in the world, CAMRA can't do this alone: genuine community support is needed, and that is the really hard bit. If you can't show you've got that, your chances of stopping a pub being redeveloped are slim.

1 comment:

  1. You are right to sound a note of caution here. If a local community is genuinely prepared to put its money where its mouth is and stump up to save a pub, then all power to their elbow.

    But a lot of people seem to regard the presence of a pub as a valuable community asset even though they never visit it themselves.

    And even if you do save it, it still has to be run as a viable business.

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