Backlash over Star’s plans to modernise historic Yorkshire pubs

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Corporate vandalism: campaigners have called for Star Pubs & Bars to stop its revamp plans (image: Dr Neil Clifton, Geograph)
Corporate vandalism: campaigners have called for Star Pubs & Bars to stop its revamp plans (image: Dr Neil Clifton, Geograph)

Related tags: Yorkshire

Star Pubs & Bars’ plans to refurbish two Grade II-listed pubs have been described as ‘corporate vandalism’ by pub campaigners.

The pubco has plans to transform the Black Bull and the White Swan in Otley, Yorkshire, but campaigners have urged it to halt the refurbishments.

The Otley Pub Club has opposed plans to “reposition” the 16th century Black Bull as a “a modern, stylish pub” because it believes its heritage should be celebrated instead.

Plans to replace historic signage for modern ‘steakhouse’ stencilling were dubbed “ludicrous” by the group.

It has also spoken out against revamp proposals for the 18th century White Swan, which include replacing its interiors with “industrial-style furniture” to give the venue “a trendy, city-centre feel”.

Unrealistic estimates

Campaigners said the estimated turnovers for the two sites were “wholly unrealistic” and would lead to tenant failures.

Star estimated the Black Bull could make £382,878 per year and the White Swan £437,171, but campaigners said this was not feasible owing to the surrounding competition.

The group, which celebrates the market town’s pub heritage, said it felt the refurbishment visions were motivated by a desire to charge high, tied rents rather than to improve the pubs.

Under pubs code legislation, pubcos have an ‘investment exception’ that means tenants must wait a maximum of seven years for the option to go free-of-tie and take on a Market-Rent-Only (MRO) option lease.

There has been outrage at plans to replace some of The Black Bull's historic features (image: Mtaylor848, Wikimedia)
There has been outrage at plans to replace some of The Black Bull's historic features (image: Mtaylor848, Wikimedia)

Otley Pub Club chair Matt Hardin described the plans as “disgraceful” given both pubs were located in conservation areas.

He said: “They are both historic pubs, both centuries old and this character should be preserved and celebrated, not destroyed by being absurdly turned into modern, trendy venues, which just won’t work as well as being architecturally destructive.

“We urge Star/Heineken to put these dreadful plans on hold and meet with the community and the excellent sitting licensee of the White Swan to discuss how they can and should work with him to keep the pub as it is respecting the will of the community and regulars.”

Corporate vandalism

Otley Pub Club president Greg Mulholland and the former Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West added that the White Swan had a loyal customer base that would be alienated by the refurbishment. 

He said: “The plans for these two historic pubs are appalling and akin to the kind of corporate vandalism seen back in the 1970s and ’80s when large brewers ripped the heart and character from so many historic pubs.”

Mulholland urged the pubco to meet with the Otley community and discuss how to retain the pubs’ historic characters.

He added: “It is also deeply revealing that these utterly ill-considered refurbishments not only mean unrealistically higher rent for the licences, but that they lose their legal right to go free-of-tie via the MRO option.

“This is cynical and more so when these crazy plans will do so much damage to the pubs concerned.”

A spokesperson for Star Pubs & Bars said they thanked the Pub Club for its feedback.

“We always take the views of the local community into account when investing in a pub and look forward to meeting the group,” a spokesperson said.

Related topics: Property law, Star Pubs & Bars

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