'Norwich will lose its locals': Publicans' fears on staying shut until May

Bar stools up on tables in a closed pub in New Cross, south London, following the government ordered

Will Norwich lose some of its pubs for good if they have to stay closed until May - and will they get bought up by big chains? - Credit: PA

Independent pub owners in Norfolk fear losing their businesses to large chains if they have to stay closed much longer.

Many say they will back a closure until May if all restrictions were then lifted. But they want a plan of action rolled out and promises of more financial support.

close up of man

Ian Stamp, chairman of Norwich & District Camra. - Credit: Ian Stamp

But their biggest worry is many pubs won't survive that long - and be bought up at rock bottom prices by national chains like Wetherspoon.

The cut-price pub giant plans to raise £93.7m, some of which is for the acquisition of pubs. The former boss of Greene King has also set up a £200m fund to buy up smaller pubs and inns forced to close because of the pandemic.

Fears are mounting after scientific advice stated pubs and restaurants should stay shut until May. In response, the hospitality sector has warned it would kill off more businesses. 

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Ian Stamp, chairman of Norwich & District Camra, Campaign for Real Ale, said: "We hope people won't come out of pubs but there are funds being set up to buy up pubs in distress.

"It means pubs will stay as pubs but what we want are local independent businesses, that is what we really treasure, not pubs on industrial estates. They aren't really pubs, yes you can buy a drink there but we don't want all our local independent businesses taken over by big chains."

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He called on the government to issue a plan of reopening based on criteria met by pubs and to pay up money promised to help with the loss of Christmas sales.

Nearly three quarters of pubs have still not received the £1,000 grant promised by the prime minister in December.

"In the summer pubs were not seen as a vector of transmission, publicans have got no certainty and they are getting fed up with losing sleep over what's going to happen in the next three months.

"Some pubs aren't even getting the money through promised in December because the local council hasn't been given it, and VAT needs to be deferred again or scrapped as there is no way people can afford to pay these bills.

Phil Cutter, landlord of The Murderers at Timberhill. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Phil Cutter, landlord of The Murderers at Timber Hill. - Credit: Copyright: Archant

"Pubs pay more tax than any other business because they pay a duty on their main product, beer. This equates to 70p-80p a pint."

Phil Cutter, who runs the Murderers, Timber Hill, said: "I worked out it costs me £2,500 every time I have to close in wasted beer and food which has to be thrown away.

"If we can reopen in May with no restrictions it would be better than opening in March and then having to close again.

"Government grants are a step in the right direction but there is a lot hindering businesses even before we get to reopen. I put my claim in for business interference and my insurance firm has told me they won't pay out."

Marcus Pearcey, who runs the Oak Bar and Terrace, Oaklands, Norwich, said: "No business in the world can sustain being shut for nearly a year.

"If they are going to keep us closed, there needs to be more help with fixed costs. If we are kept shut we are going to have to look at cutting more people. Yes, we are doing a few takeaways but the numbers of people coming into the food hall are dropping as people are just sitting at home, scared."

Dawn Hopkins, vice chairwoman of the Campaign for Pubs, and a landlady at The Rose, Norwich, said: "We need a plan of action. If we have to stay closed until May, but with less restrictions, that would be better than letting us open in March but in tiers which was so hard to operate. We need VAT deferred as well as other bills as if you reopen but are facing debt, this is going to be really difficult."

Paul Sandford, who runs the Railway Tavern, Dereham: "The costs we've incurred opening and closing are ridiculous. But once we reopen, it's getting the numbers of people back in to pubs to make it viable."

The pub that's never managed to open 

The recently refurbished Compleat Angler in Norwich which is run by landlord Ben Woof.PHOTO BY SIM

Ben Woof, who never actually managed to reopen the King's Head in Hethersett because of bad timing as a result of lockdown. - Credit: Simon Finlay

Two publicans even more frustrated than ever are the ones who tried to reopen the King's Head in Hethersett, Norwich after it was closed for 18 months.

Justin Harvey and Ben Woof were due to relaunch the pub last November but at first had to postpone the big day to give them more time to get it ready. 

Then came the news of a second lockdown and the cancellation of a second reopening date of November 7. And then its December opening got hampered because it could only open if it was serving food. Then came the third lockdown.

The Ei owned Kings Head in Hethersett has been closed for four months. Photo: Archant

The Kings Head in Hethersett. - Credit: Archant

Mr Woof, who is also general manager at the Green Dragon, Wymondham, said: "We actually never opened the King's Head but the team is ready and chomping at the bit. We don't all have a pot of gold at the end of our garden so we need more financial help. I do support reopening in May if we could do so with no restrictions."

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