Otley pub row escalates as Heineken removes beer pumps from historic alehouse

A group campaigning to preserve the character of Otley's historic pubs have expressed concerns at the latest plans by a brewery chain to convert two traditional inns into modern gastropubs.

The Black Bull in Otley will become a steakhouse under Heineken's plans
The Black Bull in Otley will become a steakhouse under Heineken's plans

Otley Pub Club held meetings with Star Pubs and Bars - a subsidiary of Heineken - earlier this year and were given assurances that the company would revise their controversial plans for The White Swan and The Black Bull.

Kirkstall Brewery have bought a pub in Otley and saved it from closureHowever, the group now claim that the owners are pressing ahead with modern alterations for the 250-year-old White Swan.

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Pub Club members have also discovered that another Star-run venue, The Junction Inn, has replaced its handpumps with a keg, and there are fears that it will no longer sell the extensive selection of real ale that it is renowned for.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Otley Pub Club said they were 'dismayed' on hearing that Star still intend to demolish internal walls at The White Swan and that landlord Chris Shippey's tenancy would not be renewed. Star had also rejected a suggestion by OPC that local caterers Otley Burger Company were given an opportunity to run a food service inside the pub.

Star plan to turn The White Swan - traditionally known as a drinkers' local - into a dining pub with open-plan seating and industrial-style furniture to give it a 'city centre' feel.

The campaigners are convinced that the gastropub business model will fail and risks the venue's closure.

"We are dismayed that, despite what seemed like positive engagement with Otley Pub Club and the sitting landlord, you are instead continuing with plans that in our view will ruin the character of this traditional and much-loved pub.

"Chris Shippey and his team have done a good job to turn the pub round after a disastrous period, attracting a loyal clientele and running an excellent, community wet-led pub with a £250,000 annual turnover.

This is what it's like to run one of the most traditional pubs in the Yorkshire Dales"The Star and Heineken are now intent on destroying this, in pursuit of unrealistic turnover figures through an offer that will not work in The White Swan. We explained to you what kind of pub it is and what custom it serves. We were told that Star would not be demolishing walls, yet we have now heard that you intend to do this, so Star have gone back on their word to us, which is disappointing.

"We believed that you shared our desire to make a fair and sensible offer to the sitting tenant and to incorporate the highly successful Otley Burger Company into the plans. So the fact that this has not happened means the opportunity has been lost, in pursuit of trying to make The White Swan into a dining pub. "

In regards to The Junction Inn, local drinkers have contacted the group to complain that it is no longer serving a range of quality real ales. It is traditionally known as an alehouse with the largest beer selection in the town, but a Heineken keg has now been installed in the bar to replace the handpumps.

Otley Pub Club believe that removing the ales will turn The Junction into a 'run of the mill' pub.

No further concerns have been expressed about The Black Bull, which Star want to turn into a steakhouse.

However, Star Pubs and Bars appeared to deny the accusations, claiming that The Junction still offers a large choice of ales and that The White Swan will remain a 'traditional community pub'

A spokesperson for Star Pubs and Bars said:-

"We always listen to local residents’ views when developing plans for a pub and met with the Otley Pub Club earlier in the year. In line with their feedback, The White Swan will remain a traditional community pub. We will be responding to their letter in detail to clarify this. At The Junction, we introduced a small choice of craft beers three months ago to reflect growing consumer demand. The pub continues to offer a fantastic selection of cask ales and we have no intention of changing this.”

Historic assets

The White Swan and Black Bull were purchased by Heineken's pub company, Star Pubs and Bars, in 2017. The Grade II-listed buildings are both inside the boundaries of the Otley Conservation Area.

The Black Bull was where Oliver Cromwell's soldiers are said to have drunk just before fighting in the Battle of Marston Moor during the English Civil War. Over the years a wealth of historic finds have been made there, including an 18th-century well and water pump which were discovered in 2003, a 16th-century stone fireplace uncovered during building work in 1971, and what is thought to have been the original door from the Market Place to the building dating from before it became a hostelry.

In 2006, the Kay Mellor TV drama The Chase, which was set in a family-run veterinary practice, was filmed in The Black Bull.

AA Pub Guide 2020 reveals Yorkshire's top pubsThe 250-year-old White Swan's interior will undergo a major refurbishment that will see its traditional, cosy multi-room layout replaced with a more open-plan arrangement. The plans reveal proposals to introduce 'industrial-style furniture contrasted with softer with softer botanical features and finishes to turn the pub into an attractive space with a trendy, city-centre feel'.

Otley Pub Club wrote to Heineken/Star in March asking to meet with them in Otley and agree to either come up with appropriate plans to retain the historic character of both pubs or sell them. After a meeting in April, the beer giant initially agreed to review their proposals and pursue more 'sympathetic' renovations.

The campaigners also alerted Otley Town Council, Otley Conservation Task Force, Historic England and CAMRA.

The pub revolution which has divided a town

In 2015, Otley became the first town in England to have all 19 of its pubs listed as community assets following a campaign by the Otley Pub Club. The protected status means the buildings cannot be sold to be turned into offices or supermarkets.

However, the decision was not welcomed by all landlords, some of whom feared they would not be able to sell their freehold businesses or alter their use if trading conditions became tougher.

Lee Pullan, who runs The Old Cock with his wife Linda, lodged an appeal against the listing.

“We’ve been open for four years in a building which was cottages for 200 years before that. We went to two planning appeals to fight Leeds City Council, who tried to stop us turning this into a pub.

“Now we face the prospect of having to fight them to remove the ACV status in case we ever want to do something else.

“I think this has been rushed through before the big pub companies can react but in doing that they have ridden roughshod over the small independents. We’ve been open four years and while it’s a viable business we will run it as a pub but I believe we are the best people to decide that - if the business falls off, we should be allowed to sell it.

“The ACV affects how banks lend you money. If I wanted to borrow against the building, for example, the bank would take the ACV into account, it makes it less appealing to them.

“If a pub is failing and it has ACV status and you cannot change the use, there’s a danger of it falling into dereliction.

“I fully understand keeping the historical buildings but you cannot argue with market forces, the old supply and demand argument still holds. Something like 6,000 pubs have closed in the UK in the last ten years, you cannot blame all that on the pubcos.”

Tony Grey, the former landlord of The Junction, said the first he knew about the change was when he received a letter from Leeds City Council.

“It would have been courteous for someone from the pub club to come and speak to the people whose livelihoods are affected by this first. My take on the legislation was this was to protect the last pub in the village - well, Otley has plenty of pubs so that doesn’t really fit.

“The problem is, if an independent landlord has sunk all his money into it and the only thing he has is the building, if the business fails and Tesco offers him some money, he might not be able to take it, so he faces losing his home, his livelihood, whereas if he can sell to Tesco, he’s safe and Otley loses one pub.

“A business is only a business if it makes money. There were far better ways to benefit the pub industry in my view and bringing in minimum pricing on alcohol would have been one. I appreciate what the pub club do but I think they should have talked to us all first.”