Applications by NewRiver Retail to convert the Summer House in Woodsetton and the Maypole Inn in Hasbury into Co-op convenience stores were originally rejected by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, but an independent planning inspectorate stunned campaigners by reversing the decision.
NewRiver Retail bought the pubs as part of a deal for 202 Marston’s sites three years ago, and the company had claimed it intended to keep the majority of its sites as pubs.
But a spokesman for the pubco told The Morning Advertiser (MA) it had decided to bulldoze the pubs due to the ‘poor historic trading performance’ leading the company to conclude it did not have a ‘sustainable future’.
But campaigners and politicians have rejected the claims that the sites are unviable.
'Confirming worst fears'
Greg Mulholland MP, chair of the British Pub Confederation, said: "NewRiver Retail are confirming pub campaigners’ worst fears, they are now big players in the wholesale sell-off and destruction of pubs to line their pockets, and the pockets of the pubcos they buy from and the supermarkets they sell to.
“This is the 'Great British Pubco Scam' coming home to roost and robbing two more communities of their local pub.”
Co-op told MA the company doesn’t own or buy pubs, and the pubs are both owned by NewRiver Retail, are therefore the responsibility to demolish the venues lies with the pubco.
But that didn’t stop Mulholland from labelling Co-op "the most anti-pub supermarket in the UK".
"The appalling decision to allow NewRiver and Co-op to bulldoze these two viable, wanted pubs in the Black Country is an utter disgrace and is more stark evidence that pubs are not protected in the planning system,” he said.
“The Co-op are deliberately engaged in the destruction of these two local pubs and are imposing supermarkets on these two communities, whether they want them or not.”
There have been calls for further protection to be awarded to pubs in the area following the decision.
One option could be to follow Wandsworth Council’s suit, and introduce a blanket Article 4, meaning a developer must always seek permission from the council before changing the use of a building.
Mulholland continued: "The inspector should hang his head in shame, to waltz into a community and authorise the permanent loss of their pub is just disgraceful and to overturn asset of community value (ACV) status shows just how weak ACVs really are and how limited in protecting pubs.”
“We need urgent changes to the planning system to stop this cynical predatory purchasing and the wilful closure of viable, wanted pubs.”
In the case of the Maypole, an independent planning inspector concluded that although the property was listed as an ACV, this status had no bearing on the planning decision, as it simply afforded a ‘right to bid’ should the pub be put up for sale.
For the Summer House, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council did not support the listing of the property as an ACV, and an independent planning inspector concluded there was little the pub provided an important function that could not be fulfilled by other local facilities.
But the inspector’s ruling has enraged local councillors in the West Midlands borough, including Sedgley councillor Bill Etheridge, who has written to NewRiver Retail chief executive David Lockhart to express his disgust at the decision, and asked for a meeting with the pubco.
“Something has to be done to save profitable, family-friendly pubs, such as the Summer House,” he said.
“While I appreciate NewRiver needs to make profits, surely this can be done by operating successful pubs themselves?
“No one disputes there are unprofitable pubs and I have no issue with the conversion of these. Indeed, I would rather see something done with the buildings than have them left empty and vulnerable to arson.
“I will continue to fight for this cause until some effective legislation or an effective code of practice is introduced.”
A spokesman for NewRiver said: “It is always regrettable when pubs close, but NewRiver does not close them unnecessarily. The company’s approach is to maximise the performance of commercially viable pubs and, where appropriate, introduce complementary uses on surplus land.
“For a small percentage of the estate, there is a need to deliver more economically viable alternatives. Where this has happened to date, most of the pubs affected have remained open, and new community facilities constructed on surplus land.”
A spokesperson for the Co-op added: “Both the Summer House and the Maypole are owned by NewRiver Retail and they, as the pubs’ owner, decided to find an alternative use for the buildings.
"The Co-op doesn’t own or buy pubs, and many of our stores have also been developed in the spaces adjacent to pub car parks to the mutual success of both businesses.”