Publicans have contacted the Publican’s Morning Ad-vertiser, fearing the sale to NewRiver Retail will lead to many sites being converted into convenience stores.
Discarded Punch licensees, the vast majority of which are classed as “non-core”, also claim the deal aims to avoid pubs taking the Market Rent Only option. Punch is obliged to offer MRO, as it owns more than 500 pubs, but NewRiver Retail will not be.
Paul Brunsdon, lessee at the Wine Bar, Keynshon, Somerset, said: “Who are NewRiver? All I know is they’ve bought Marston’s pubs and turned a bunch into supermarkets.”
Brunsdon said he’s been left in the dark during the deal, and was shocked to receive a letter giving him only 18 days notice.
“It’s absolutely disgusting. There’s been no warnings they’re in negotiations with a possible buyer. We don’t know what’s happening. Are we independent now? Do they sell drinks? Do they sell barrels? We’ve been sold, but we haven’t got a clue what it means,” he said.
“It makes you think — do we still want to be doing this? We signed a partnership with Punch, not NewRiver Retail.”
NewRiver property director Allan Lockhart told the PMA the “vast majority” of the sites will remain as pubs.
NewRiver bought 202 pubs from Marston’s in 2013, and has applied to build 64 convenience stores on the sites. Lockhart told the PMA that only “one or two” of the developments include pub closures, with the vast majority built on surplus land.
The approach will be similar with Punch pubs.
Lockhart said: “In some instances we need to redevelop surplus land into convenience stores or small scale residential developments. The pubs will benefit from the adjacent developments.”
NewRiver believe MRO is “not the answer” for struggling pubs. Lockhart continued: “It increases fixed costs for pub tenants. The most important thing is to increase sales and make the pub profitable. With a tie the more successful they are the more successful we will be.”
Punch said all but eight of the discarded pubs are “non-core”. “They didn’t believe there was a future for the pubs, but we believe in them, and we’re willing to work with the tenants to improve them,” Lockhart added. New-River plans to consult with tenants as soon as possible.
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is encouraging NewRiver to continue running the sites as pubs and consider the effect that re-developing car parks or gardens could have on their future viability.