Manchester’s nighttime economy advisor Sacha Lord is taking the row over the future of historic pub the Britons Protection to Major Andy Burnham. Lord has said that he is ‘very concerned’ over plans from the building’s owners, Star Pubs & Bars, to bring the pub back into its ‘managed portfolio’.
This would mean that the iconic Manchester pub, which sells over 360 whiskeys and boasts a range of real ales, would only be able to buy its stock from distributors approved by brewing giant Heineken, the owner of Star Pubs & Bars.
Such a move would render the Brits ‘unrecognizable’, its landlord Allan Hudd has told the Manchester Evening News. It comes after the owners of the Brits says it paid back in full all of the rent arrears demanded by Star Pubs that had built up while it was closed during lockdown.
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Pubs that are part of the company’s managed portfolio do not pay rent to Star Pubs, instead working on a turnover and profit share agreement rather than a lease agreement. But while rent payments at the Brits’, which has operated under a ‘market rent only’ arrangement, were deferred, it says it paid back £160,000 in full, despite not being allowed to trade during lockdown.
After it paid back the sum, the pub says it was then issued with what is known as a ‘hostile section 25 notice’ by Star, informing them of plans to end its lease and bring the pub back under Star’s control.
“I am very concerned to hear of the current situation at The Britons Protection, not least because it is a clear demonstration of the power that parent chains can exert over their tenants out of the blue,” said Lord.
“The premises was still charged full rent despite nationwide Covid-enforced lockdowns on the hospitality sector, and has only recently paid over £160,000 in these deferred rent payments, at a time when the industry is already struggling to recover. It is disappointing then to hear that only a few weeks later the landlords have received this hostile notice.
“I have spoken at length to the landlords and will be discussing the situation with Andy Burnham to see how and where we can support in this matter.”
Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central, had also been assisting Hudd and the pub’s owner Mark West, who also owns the City Arms, in negotiating with Heineken to retain its previous market rent only agreement with the brewery, rather than have the pub taken into the managed portfolio, a move which Hudd says wouldn’t fit with the pub’s trading ethos.
She told the Manchester Evening News: “I’m very disappointed with Heineken’s conduct. I do understand that breweries and commercial landlords, like Heineken in this case, were also under a lot of pressure during the pandemic, but I expected that everyone would take a bit of a haircut.
“They gave big discounts to those pubs that remained pub company tenants, but didn’t offer much of a discount at all for their commercial tenants, who’d chosen to opt out of being tied tenants. As I made clear to them during meetings and discussions during Covid, I expected more of Heineken in that context, and that more slack would have been given to some of their tenants.”
Hudd said: “The BP is known for having 360 whiskeys, it’s one of our biggest draws and what people come to the BP for. If I have to buy all my whiskey through Heineken, there are about 15 on their books.
“They’re not going to start working with the local wholesalers I use, or the wholesalers in Scotland I use. Imagine walking into the pub, and not seeing all those whiskeys there?
“I can’t see Heineken opening accounts and working with all these people for the sake of one unit. So the whiskey USP will disappear. With cask beer, Heineken don’t work with local breweries, because they’re a massive chain.
“So again, you’ll walk in and there won’t be local beer, because they’re not going to start working with local breweries for the sake of one site. So the two main draws that bring people to my pub are going to be gone.”
Owner Mark West added: “This pub needs passion, and someone who is able to invest in the passion of what the Britons is. The institution. I’m a custodian of this place, if there are not people fighting for the challenge and the cause of the Britons, and this turns into a generic managed house, it won’t be able to maintain what the fabric of this site is about .”
The pub has since appealed to the public for support on the matter, and has launched a crowdfund, hoping to raise £5,000 to fight the decision in court. The pub’s owner has also instructed legal firm Pannone Corporate to investigate its options.
A spokesperson for Pannone said: “I can confirm that I am instructed by Mark West, the tenant at the Briton’s Protection. Mr West is seeking to renew his lease which is opposed by his landlord Punch Partnerships (PTL) Limited, part of the Heineken Group.
“Mr West feels very strongly about his business, the unique offering it brings to the Manchester market and his loyal customers. He intends to pursue his statutory right to renew his lease in the most robust terms.”
In a previous statement, Star Pubs & Bars said: “Britons Protection is a beautiful, historic Manchester pub that appeals to both locals who love real ale and visitors looking to experience a traditional Mancunian Great British pub.
“We believe in its future and, now that the lease is coming to an end, we feel this is the ideal opportunity to review how the pub will be operated going forward to ensure its long-term sustainability.
“Britons Protection is the perfect fit for our Just Add Talent model, and we plan to build on the current offer whilst continuing to support the pub’s historic status and maintaining its focus on serving an interesting range of real ale and ciders.”
A representative for Star Pubs today said it had no further comment on the matter.
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