NewRiver Retail buys 158 Punch pubs

'Gobsmacked' licensee questions Punch motives after £53m sale

By Oli Gross contact

- Last updated on GMT

Liverpool licensee questions Punch Taverns' motives to sell 158 pubs
An award-winning licensee of 20 years is questioning Punch Taverns’ motives for selling 158 “non-core” sites after her family pub was discarded by the pubco as a "going concern".

The Roscoe Head in Liverpool has been in Carol Ross’ family for 30 years, 20 of which has seen her in charge winning a number of awards. Speaking to the PMA after receiving the news by post that her pub would be sold to New River Retail, she said she was “gobsmacked and upset” and now fears her pub was at risk of being redeveloped into a retail outlet.

Ross said she had been trying to buy the pub’s freehold, and had informed Punch she wished to opt for Market Rent Only (MRO) next year.

“From next year I have to be offered Market Rent Only, and I told them I would be taking it, that’s why they’re selling my pub - because I won’t be making them as much money. NewRiver Retail will own less pubs [under 500], so they won’t have to offer it,” she speculated.

Reduce debt

Punch which described the 158 pubs as “non-core” struck a deal for £53.5m with New River Retail, at an average of £340k per pub, as part of its moves to reduce its debt.

The agreement is unconditional and expected to complete on 11 September.

A spokesman for Punch Taverns said: "We are currently in discussions with the individual tenants affected but confirm that all pubs have been sold as going concerns with the existing agreements remaining in place.

“Commercial confidentiality restricts us talking about any of the individual pubs to any third party."

Successful pub

Ross wonders why the Roscoe Head does not qualify as “core”, due to its success.

“It’s a great pub, I make them a lot of money. We’ve been in the Good Pub Guide every year, and we’re award winning,” she said.

“They don’t care that it’s a successful pub for 30 years. It’s all about the money, not about people or pubs.”

The Roscoe has appeared in every edition of the Good Beer Guide since it first published in 1974.

Her lease runs until 2021, and she fears her family pub will be converted.

“NewRiver has turned loads of Marston’s pubs into Co-ops and convenience stores, that’s what could happen here” she said.

Ross is contemplating attempting to list the Roscoe Head as an Asset of Community Value, but doesn’t expect the status to save her beloved pub in the long run.

NewRiver will "work with tenants"

NewRiver Retail acquired 202 pubs from Marston’s for £90m in 2013, with the group announcing last month that good progress had been made in converting a number to convenience stores.

But NewRiver’s property director Allan Lockhart said the company would work with Punch tenants affected to grow sales while looking for additional opportunities to redevelop surplus land.

He said the company is committed to the tied model and was willing to look at longer leases for existing tenants.

The Punch portfolio offers fewer opportunities for convenience stores but a greater potential for residential development, Lockhart added.

Related topics: Punch Taverns

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