“When you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves…. For you have lost the last of England”
There has been quite a furore surrounding the British pub scene of late, where ownership of certain pubs by Pubcos has been wielded on occasion like a three year old child, playing with a laptop (though probably with less chewed edges and drool). This is without the ardour experienced by some communities where buildings that housed former pubs are gutted, stripped or demolished to make way for new accommodation, be it ‘luxury’ (aren’t they all?) apartments, student accommodation or other housing. Some of these often ornate and unique premises are even just let left to rot and dilapidate, falling into incredibly sorry conditions.
Whilst many new and interesting micropubs are opening in places across the UK like former butchers, plumbers merchants, cafes and other local small retail premises, inner city areas have seen shifting development landscapes, with many pubs taking the brunt of gentrification. Landlords have been moved on by owners in order to progress a sale in the name of profits and the ever tightening purse strings which have been drawn asphyxiatingly tight during these austere times. More locally, Liverpool has seen many pubs removed permanently from the landscape, boarded up, gutted or demolished; some justifiably so and others in far less honourable circumstances.
The former Royal Hotel pub on Smithdown Road in the city is now a colony of the aforementioned ‘luxury’ apartments (for students), the ornate exterior has been preserved to a degree, but the interior is no doubt totally different now and where a community pub was present, the building remains empty during the summer months. Another pub in proximity with a similar story was the Railway on Wellington Road; another row of housing, with the only indication of the building’s former use is the sign hanging defiantly on the exterior facing the youth club across the road. This is a trend, which is repeated across many of the cities in the UK.
Recently, an excellent article on the fight to save a community pub in London was written by Tom Lamont for the Guardian. The Golden Lion was fought for by its landlord, David Murphy to save the drinking establishment from becoming yet more apartments under the stewardship (following procurement of planning permissions to raise the property value) of Tony Stark (not the one people like, from the Avengers). The article is a pretty long read, but it is deeply succinct in showing the plight many face under ownership from Pubcos, who are so engrossed in the bottom line and detached from their tenants, they refuse to see the inherent value of some of the properties they own on a community level.
You can see it here: [http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/oct/13/the-death-and-life-of-a-great-british-pub]
The situation is reflected somewhat by the scenario many in Liverpool will be familiar with for the Roscoe Head on Roscoe Street. The pub, managed by Carol Ross and having been in her family since the early 1980’s has also been present in the good pub guide since its inception (one of only five to have this honour) has been a regular haunt for cask beer and real ale enthusiasts for many a year.
The danger for the pub, in part, lies within the development plans in the wider area of Roscoe, Renshaw and Hardman Street. The area is owned by Unite, who develop student villages in city centres (and have a few already in Liverpool) and a question mark hovers over this situation as to whether longer term a small community pub is in keeping with the vision of the area. [http://www.yourmovemagazine.com/major-student-plan-revealed-for-city-centre-site/6988] Whilst the former multi-storey car park has been demolished and earthworks have started to the rear of the Roscoe Head, the pub is still in place, but surrounding properties could be vacated, demolished or even swallowed to make way for another large, concrete and glass hive along with its small convenience stores, pharmacies and laundrettes. Whilst this is a saddening thought for some (considering the relatively soulless cluster developments at the top end of Hardman Street nearly swallowed the Caledonia pub), there is a real issue here in the loss of unique architecture and community areas that provide real diversity and life in a city.
There have been two occasions of protest at the pub within the last few months, the first taking place on the 12 September 2015 and the most recent on 7th November. For the second of this the National Chairman of CAMRA, Colin Valentine came down from Scotland to attend and deliver some words of encouragement and discuss the situation at large. Another update from this second event was that despite a number of letters and messages being sent to Paul Roy, Chairman of NewRiver, not a single reply had been received to date. Although the Roscoe Head has been made an Asset of Community Value (ACV) by petition to the Local Authority, there are only limited guarantees about its future. This protection only applies if the property has an application submitted for planning to change the usage from a public house to another purpose, hence why the sale of the pub from Punch Taverns to NewRiver was not blocked.
At this stage, nothing is certain with the future of the Roscoe Head, but the current licensee seems to be remaining stoic and determined to hold on.