Monday, 31 August 2015

Two cheers - Liverpool's Roscoe Head saved

The Roscoe Head's entry in the 1974 Good Beer Guide.
Descriptions were very brief in those days!
While I was in Whitby, I learnt that the Roscoe Head in Roscoe Street, Liverpool, had been sold by Punch Taverns to property company New River and was at risk of redevelopment. It is an attractive little local near the city centre with a tiny snug on the left as you enter, two lounges and a drinking area by the bar. There are six hand pumps serving five changing guest beers mostly from small breweries, plus Tetley Bitter. It is also one of only five pubs that have been in every edition of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.

New River's response is that existing leases are legally binding, and the Roscoe's runs to 2021. The licensee, Carol Ross, is obviously relieved that in the short term she is okay, but is worried what may happen when the lease expires. She had hoped to benefit from the Market Rent Only option that was recently agreed by parliament, but in order to qualify, the pub has to be part of an estate of at least 500 pubs, and New River has fewer than 300. As she says, she will now have to keep on paying over the odds. The sale was particularly upsetting as she had offered to buy the pub on several occasions, but was refused, and she wasn't offered first refusal when this sale took place. She is particularly bitter because, although her family have run the pub since 1983, she feels she has no rights.

The Roscoe Head (picture borrowed
from pub website)
She is right to be concerned: New River is primarily involved in the retail sector, and although it has bought quite a few pubs, if the potential proceeds of redevelopment exceed the profitability of any pub, the days of that pub would almost certainly be numbered. If the economy improves sufficiently to push up the price of land and make redevelopment and construction more profitable, then ironically the upturn, which might otherwise help pubs survive, may put some of them at risk. This is one of the unforseen long-term consequences of the Beer Orders that led to whole pub estates being bought by the property companies that we call pubcos.

I understand that the CAMRA Liverpool Branch is applying to have the Roscoe Head registered as an Asset of Community Value (AVC), whereby planning permission is required to change a building's use or to demolish it. Let's hope they succeed.

P.S. 1 September: here is a petition calling on Liverpool City Council to list the pub as an AVC.


  1. One of the triggers for Market Rent Option being available at lessee request is a sale of the freehold. So this licensee can demand it from New River immediately when the sale from Punch goes through. I'm surprised the journalist at the MA who took quotes from her didn't tell her this. She is not stuck in the tie - on the contrary she now has the opportunity to be free. However the market rent needs to be agreed and the starting offer from New River might not be to her liking and she may prefer to stick with the lower risk tied option if she believes going free of tie won't grow her business (it probably won't as I'd imagine a pub with such a well established reputation is already maxed out in terms of potential volume).

  2. PS. When you say she "has no rights" it just isn't true. She has all the rights in her lease and in statute accruing to a leaseholder. She doesn't have the right to first refusal to buy her freehold. To grant that to all sitting lessees of pubco-owned pubs would require a legislative change which, I would submit, would end up being a disaster for the British pub industry and would, perversely, result in us having far less beer choice in pubs. Look at Ireland where pubs are almost all owner-operated, and the big breweries rule because they bankroll them in exchange for exclusive supply contracts.

  3. Thanks for your clarifications; I wasn't aware of most of that. As for having no rights and not being given first refusal, I was quoting Carol.

  4. According to this page, the MRO doesn't actually come into operation until May next year.

    While obviously the sale of this pub does give cause for concern, I think there was a bit of an overreaction, with people suggesting that the landlady would be out on her ear within weeks and the pub then converted to a convenience store.

    In a back street just off the city centre, it's not really a suitable location for a convenience store and there's plenty of time to apply for an ACV, look into listed building status and clarify New River's intentions.

    1. You're right about the location: it isn't on a road that people would walk down unless they had specific business there. There'd be very little passing trade.

    2. I was a bit nervous 'cos I think they're building an Enourmous student halls / prison / cardboard box just behind the Roscoe.

      May even be good for the pub - bit more trade, but I'm sure 'corner shop full of pizza and vodka' would also do good business.


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