New ‘pubco’ NewRiver Retail submitted 48 planning applications to develop so-called ‘surplus’ pub land last month — typically meaning a convenience store will be built in the car park.
Some licensees argue their parking spaces are vital, making the land far from ‘surplus’, while others worry the shop’s cheap beer prices will hit sales. But many are happy with the prospect of a convenience store, and appreciate the potential benefits.
The firm now owns 360 pubs and claims there is a “clear synergy” between pubs and convenience stores because pubs are busy at night while shops are during the day. Plus, there are footfall benefits, the new pubco argues, with more people attracted to the area.
A spokesman told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser: “A neighbourhood or community hub is created where the majority of trips are by foot. Footfall is critical to any retail or hospitality business and potential customers will be brought right to the doorstep.”
NewRiver admits it is aware licensed stores may take a share of alcohol sales away from the pubs.
“But the reality is that there is already widespread access to and availability of cheap alcohol,” the spokesman argued. “Pubs are valued in many communities because of the social experience that they offer as gathering places for clubs and activities not available at home.”
So what do publicans think? An application has been accepted for a Co-op in the car park of Ty Fry Inn in Rhyl, Wales. Tenant John Locke said he had “mixed feelings” about the deal.
Ty Fry Inn’s 30 car park spaces are often full, but the development will leave it with just 11. “It may bring more footfall, but the site is going to be very crowded now,” he said. “It’s a traditional building, we can’t visualise what it’s going to be like. And we’re going to look like a building site for months, which will damage trade,” he said.
Locke also expressed concern at the long-term intentions of NewRiver. “The danger is if they decide it’s not viable as a pub any more and close us if trade is down. It would be a disaster for the community because we’re the only pub in the village,” he said.
But other licensees appreciate the potential benefits because reducing the size of land owned by the pub can also reduce its business rates.
One of those affected told the PMA the deal would make his pub more profitable and that his customers understood it was necessary to secure the pub’s long-term future.
And at the Goodrest Tavern in Worcester, which has a large car park, licensee Bill Salmon said he was happy to lose space. The deal was a sign of the “future” for pubs, and he is hopeful of a boost in business. However, the pub’s local Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) branch argues that with cheaper alcohol available from the shop, “there probably won’t be much pub trade”.
Co-op counters those concerns with claims that building a store on adjacent land actually supports the pub. Rob Bignold, the company’s head of acquisitions and new store development, said: “Increasingly, publicans are seeing the benefits of trading alongside convenience stores, and we are confident that these developments will be beneficial to both the pub and residents.”
But the arguments put forward by Co-op and NewRiver fall on deaf ears with many licensees.
An application at the Vine Inn, Cheshire, got the go-ahead despite opposition from licensee Julie Bailey. She objected due to its size because she felt the store would take up too many car spaces.
Similarly at the Crown, Netherton, West Midlands, an application was accepted despite opposition from publican Robin Wall. He said the application could mean the end of the pub because it will have space for just 11 cars, down from 50.
A similar proposal at the Haden Cross, Shropshire, sparked the formation of a community group amid fears it would lead to the pub’s closure. The group applied for asset of community value status, which was approved.
Chairman Tim Haskey said: “The Co-operative is a swearword in this area. It’s forcing itself on the community. If it was an empty, boarded-up pub we’d understand but this is a viable business.”
Who is NewRiver?
NewRiver Retail is a specialist real estate investment trust (REIT) focused on the UK food and value retail sector.
It bought 202 pubs from Marston’s for £90m in November 2013, and a further 158 pubs from Punch Taverns for £53.5m in August this year.
The firm has now submitted 48 planning applications to develop surplus land across its pub estate.
NewRiver’s property director Allan Lockhart has said it is committed to the tied model and is willing to look at longer leases for existing tenants.