Otley’s pub revolution

In April Otley became the first town in England to have all its pubs listed as assets of community value – the move came about following a change in the law, which allowed individuals or groups to apply to their local council for the status.

Members of the Otley Pub Club, which succeeded in having all the towns pubs listed as community assets.

It has been hailed as a victory for local people, because it prevents the owners of pubs selling them to developers who want to turn them into supermarkets or offices.

Leeds North West Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland spearheaded the change in the law after he tabled an amendment to the Localism Act in the House of Commons – it drew cross-party support and led to a concession from Ministers.

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That concession effectively removes so-called “permitted development rights” from pubs which have ACV status and it also means they may not be sold for up to six months if the community expresses an interest to buy them.

Members of Otley Pub Club, which was formed in 2008 by Mr Mulholland following the sale of a popular and profitable pub, The Summercross, to developers, succeeded in convincing Leeds City Council that all 19 of Otley’s pubs should have ACV status and while they are jubilant about the news, the move has not gone down well with everyone, including some landlords.

Lee Pullan, who runs The Old Cock with wife Linda, is far from enamoured with the new status and plans to challenge it in July.

He said: “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.”

The owners of at least two other pubs in the town are also said to have concerns, with two appeals pending.

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

He said: “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.”

Responding to the criticisms, Mr Mulholland said the ACV status was not intended to prevent the sale of an unsuccessful pub.

“If you are the owner of a pub, you can sell it as a going concern and it does not trigger the ACV process. Likewise, if there is a pub which is failing and the community can see that, we are not wanting to prevent the sale of it. All this does is give the community a say. The initial delay is just six weeks and that is a very short time which would not affect a sale. It is only if the community feels they want to make a bid that the period is extended to six months.”

Landlord of the Manor House, David Stephan, said he broadly backed the plans but sympathised with freehold landlords.

He said: “The ACV protects the landlords as well as the community. I think its a fantastic idea personally. Even if I owned the walls to the pub and wanted to sell it in years to come, I think with all the custom you would build up, the last thing you would want to do is to eradicate that entirely. The idea of leaving something behind has benefit.”

The blanket ACV listing has once again put Otley on the map, which is something the pub club has become accustom to doing. Prior to the Tour de France, they succeeded in getting two empty pubs reopened and they also garnered media coverage as far afield as The New York Times after changing all the names of pubs in the town to their French equivalents.

Pub Club media officer Andrew McKeon, a former PR consultant who moved to Otley four years ago: “It cost us £600 for banners and it got us about £600,000 of publicity. We were in every national paper, even in the Washington Post. If we can create a good reputation that this is a good, lively, buzzing place, then people are going to invest here.

“When legislation came through, it was natural for us to think about it and we decided rather than do a one-off, to do them all together. It was the first successful multiple listing.”

Club secretary Bob Brook, a retired civil servant who moved to Leeds when the DSS moved into Quarry House in 1992, said: “Do we think we are the start of something? We could definitely sell the idea of community and landlords coming together.”

Indeed, Leeds Camra has already had two pubs in the city listed with ACV status – the Templar on Vicar Lane and the Cardigan Arms, Kirkstall and it is in the process of preparing 12 more, including the Chemic Tavern, The Adelphi and The Rising Sun, near Kirkstall Viaduct, which was gutted by fire some years ago and has been empty ever since.

Sam Parker, publicity officer for Leeds Camra, said: “I think it’s something you have to think very 
hard about, not least because it costs the council about £1,000 per application.”

He added: “I think what Otley Pub Club has done is fantastic, although that said not everyone is in agreement with it.”