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Crooked House scandal must be the catalyst for a change to the law to stop the asset-stripping of pubs – Campaign for Pubs write to the Prime Minister Published Date: 17/08/2023

The Campaign for Pubs has written to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, calling on him to wake up and act to change the law to stop the predatory purchasing and asset-stripping of historic pubs, following the appalling case of the Crooked House in Himley, Staffordshire.

The letter from the Campaign for Pubs to the Prime Minister is here.

The unique Crooked House was shut and then put on the market by Marston’s plc for £675,000 a price well above the market value as a pub and it was subsequently bought by the landfill company based next to the pub (with whom the pub and pub tenant had disputes regarding access). Shortly after Marston’s “celebrated” this sale, which sealed the fate of this world-famous pub, it burnt down in what police are regarding as an arson attack and then, before this was investigated and without the necessary permission from the local Council, the current owners demolished it. This case has rightly caused outrage with the Campaign for Pubs being amongst the first to call for the Crooked House to be rebuilt brick-by-brick, something that the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street has called for.

The Campaign for Pubs has highlighted the weakness of the planning system in protecting pubs and has said that the case of the Crooked House must be the catalyst to change, preventing unscrupulous owners from buying pubs to close and redevelop them, without the community having any say and when the pub could be viable in alternative hands.

Many historic pubs up and down the country are being lost as owners seek to cash in on the development value of a pub, even despite the pub being profitable and even when there is a potential owner who wants to buy the pub, as a pub. This must end to stop the endemic asset-stripping of pubs and the cynical predatory purchasing of pubs, with a view to running them down and profiting from conversion to alternative use or development.

The Campaign for Pubs is calling on the Government to introduce it’s Give Pubs Protection policy, which would mean that any historic pub (50 years old or more) couldn’t be sold for alternative use until it had been marketed at the independently assessed value as a pub for at least a year. This would stamp out the way that owners seek to profit from selling pubs at well in excess of their value as a pub for development or conversion.  This simple change would have prevented Marston’s from selling the Crooked House to Oak Farm Quarry Landfill and would have allowed local buyers or the community to buy the pub, as a pub.

Members of the Campaign for Pubs campaigned for the end to ‘permitted development rights’ for pubs, leading to a change in the law in 2017, but more action is needed including the Give Pubs Protection change. The Campaign for Pubs also wants to see penalties for unauthorised demolitions or conversions increased substantially.

Greg Mulholland, Campaign Director of the Campaign for Pubs said:

“What has happened to the historic and unique Crooked House pub is a national scandal, as well as a loss to the local community and its history and heritage.

“As well as a full investigation and appropriate action, this sad and unnecessary destruction of a world-famous pub must be the catalyst for change, to stop cynical and unscrupulous owners buying up pubs to convert and develop them and to stop the endemic asset-stripping of our historic pubs.

“We need a simple change to planning law so that no historic pub can be sold for alternative use, converted or demolished until it has been properly marketed for at least a year at the independently valued price as a pub. This would stop the cynical destruction of pubs and allow licensees, local breweries, entrepreneurs and communities to buy our historic pubs and make a success of them”.

James Watson, Pub Protection Adviser of the Campaign for Pubs said:

“All pub lovers up and down the country are deeply shocked and appalled at what has happened to the iconic Crooked House pub. The Government must act to prevent pubs being lost when there is a buyer as a pub as well as introducing far more serious penalties for unauthorised conversions and demolitions. Many pubs, especially in big cities, are at risk because the value of a pub as a development opportunity is much greater than the list value as a pub, despite the fact the pub plays a key community role and also contributes to the local economy.

“The Government is keen to claim it supports pubs, but without changes to planning law, stricter guidelines for councils and much harsher penalties, we will lose more of our historic pub stock, with a loss to local communities and our history and heritage. If he cares about stopping the unnecessary destruction of our nation’s pubs, the Prime Minister will instruct his Ministers to act”.