Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This is a great piece of news for Camberwell SE5 (;, a community which desperately needs substantial investment in services infrastructure and leisure provision and which absolutely NEEDS the ante in its pubs to be upped in order to attract more people to the area at night.

Take this away for a moment from the turgid industry debate about free versus tied, loosening the AWP tie, rent concessions and discounts to lessees, mediation, and competition inquiries. Here a story unfurls which graphically describes a typical example of how pubco indolvement in the pub industry has serially failed to serve communities and the consumer with sustainable pubs providing local social hubs, businesses which act as anchors for investment in other parts of local services. This story is written across the landscape of Britain, largely untold, largely obscured by the easy to remember soundbite rhetoric as pumped out by BBPA of pubs closing because of government in form of: duty; tax; red tape; smoking ban; supermarket pricing; business rates etc basically ANYTHING that avoids drawing attention to the ownership, tenure and custodianship of the national pub stock.

Currently two pubs in prime locations locally are shut, both freshly failed pubco fri leases; one Enterprise the other S&N Pub Enterprises. Behind the scenes in both buildings there is shocking evidence of the utter failure of pubco tenure over least 20 years. There has been NO essential investment in the infrastructure of either building; mechanical and electrical services in both sites are at least a decade past their shelf life. Internal decor and f&f is simply not fit for purpose with the private accommodation and cellarage unfit for human habitation or work. The entire buildings in each case are in desperate need of upgrading, from top to bottom, to contemporary building code, neither is in any way in fit condition to be re let without £100K or so investment in bare essentials.

The Grove is an important part of this story. It USED to be the busiest pub in Camberwell. Unarguably it is THE prime site in Camberwell. It sits in the middle of sourth wast London's best heeled residential enclaves and the people who get it right here will, effectively, be able to print money out of their endeavours. The Grove has suffered, since its Taylor Walker heaving hairy leather biker and goth days of the early 80's, a series of inappropriate arms length corporate concept refurbishments all of which got the site very wrong. The most recent of this series of bad decisions was the aqcuisition of the freehold by Youngs about three years ago who proceeded to implement a lavish refurbishment that totally missed the plot at this location, resulting in an unattractive business that failed to capture any local imagination. An example of relatively big business chucking money down the drain through not knowing its elbow from its posterior when it comes to giving communities what they need or want.

Enter stage centre GRAND UNION. It's been clear for a while that they have developed a form of symbiotic relationship with Youngs; Grand Union has a good concept, understands people and the communities their businesses are in, has a good, simple concept and is able to train and deliver well. Grand Union need to expand, they need sites, they are fairly new to the market and need investment in order to achieve this. Youngs, traditionally a family brewer with a managed and short tenure tenanted estate, with a lot of property in fairly prime locations, recently freed from its family shackles and desperately wanting climb on the highly profitable fri tied pubco lease route as espoused by Punch, Enterprise et al.

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