Healey announces £4m pubs rescue package

PUBS minister John Healey has announced £4 million Government funding to prevent last orders being called on more ailing rural pubs.

Nearly 40 public houses close every week, causing a hangover of job losses and millions of pounds lost to the economy.

Rotherham’s branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) welcomed the announcement but noted that support had taken some time coming.

Wentworth MP Mr Healey’s practical 12-point plan to prop up community pubs willinclude new measures for helping communities to buy their struggling pubs.

“We need and can do more to support our pubs, which can be at the heart of a local community,” said Mr Healey. “This package of tough, practical measures aims to add some real support.”

Councils will be given new powers to intervene in the planning process before a pub is demolished. The idea is to create a “pause in the system” for the community to have its say on proposals.

Planning laws will be relaxed to allow publicans to branch out into new ventures—like gift and book shops—without needing planning permission.

Pub is the Hub, a specialist business advice service, will be given more than £1 million to help landlords keep running and diversify.

Restrictions preventing premises continuing as pubs once sold on will be banned.

Rob Edwards, pub preservation officer for the Rotherham branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “It can be seen both ways. It’s good that it’s now arrived, but it’s something that should have been thought about and acted upon a long time ago.

“A lot of pubs have closed down over the past two or three years, but in Rotherham it’s not so much the rural ones as the more urban ones.

“The pub companies charge a lot of money for people to rent, so at the moment you have to be pretty foolhardy or very determined to take it on.

“Just a couple of weeks ago I was wondering if something could be done at the Belvedere, which is near where I live, to see if 100 or 200 people would be interested in helping it re-open as a community-run pub.”

Mr Healey, who became Britain’s first pubs minister last month, said: “These measures are a much-needed shot in the arm for publicans in these tough times.”

“They will make it easier to diversify, lower costs and cut red tape when it comes to branching out.

“It is also a boost for local communities, giving them a greater stake in the future of their local pubs often so important in bringing people together."

A three-year pilot scheme of up to 50 community-run pubs will be launched through the Plunkett Foundation, a rural enterprise organisation.

It is hoped the project will help residents turn suffering pubs into successful community-owned ventures, delivering better services and benefits.

British Beer and Pub Association figures showed 2,365 pubs shut down in 2009, with a loss of 24,000 jobs in the sector.