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Special report: Pub demise in Sussex is store delight
Community assets or dens of iniquity, a centre of social cohesion or the epicentre of antisocial behaviour, the local pub can have a positive and negative effect on the community it serves.
Often it is only when the pub is gone, that its true impact in the community is felt.
This month the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) warned that, on average, two pubs a week have been taken over by supermarket chains in the past two years.
Six of Sussex’s drinking establishments closed in that period and turned into purveyors of fresh veg, snacks and cheaper alcohol than was previously available on the premises.
While nationally Tesco is the industry leader in transforming pubs, with more than half the conversions in the past two years and three times the number of their leading competitor, the picture is much more varied in Sussex where the Co-op is also a regular regional pub transformer.
Camra chief executive Mike Benner argues pubs are being targeted by supermarket chains because of a loophole in planning lawwhich allows a pub to be converted without planning permission.
The organisation is urging the Government to step in and close this loophole – giving local communities a say in the future of their pubs.
He said: “Allowing pubs to be converted to supermarkets without planning permission is ludicrous and something which the Government needs to address as a matter of urgency.
“The big supermarket chains appear to be targeting pubs for conversion, despite the fact that these pubs are often profitable and popular.
“This behaviour shows a remarkable disregard for the wellbeing of communities that face losing their valued pubs – leaving local people powerless to step in.”
The loyalty that regulars feel towards their favourite pubs coupled with an anti-authoritarian dislike of large corporations means strong feelings have been stirred when the supermarket chains begin taking an interest in pubs.
Scores of residents objected to The Green Jackets in Shoreham being converted into a Tesco store in June 2012.
They argued the supermarket had been “underhand” in obtaining the site and there was a risk the retail giant would monopolise the area, with seven outlets already in Worthing.
They queried the need for the store considering there was a large superstore at Holmbush – less than a mile away.
St Mary’s councillor Rod Hutton opposed the initial decision to convert the pub but now has mixed feelings.
Speaking to The Argus this week, he said: “Once these pubs are gone, there’s no going back.
“Shoreham used to be awash with pubs but recently we have lost the Hebe, the Kings Head and the Morning Star.
“They were all part of our seafaring history so it is sad our heritage is disappearing.
“With the loss of the Green Jackets, people have had their journey time doubled to the nearest pub.
“With the Green Jacket we have lost a place to meet, we have lost a restaurant and we have lost the chance to sit quietly and have a social drink.
“The neighbourhood watch team used to meet there.
“What we have gained though is the supermarket has a social fund which donates money to good causes so it’s not all bad.
“People, myself included, don’t like change but the world moves on and it’s not all bad.”
There was considerably less public opposition when plans emerged in 2011 for the conversion of the fire-damaged and derelict Snipe Inn in Carden Avenue in Brighton.
A busy Sainsbury’s store with 20 employees is viewed as a considerable improvement to the area.
Anne Wright at neighbouring Uncle Sam’s Hamburger Express said: “As far as we are concerned, the supermarket coming in has certainly helped us.
“I don’t know whether we have had many more customers but it feels like it.
“When it was a pub there were problems with antisocial behaviour and it looked a little rundown, so it’smuch better now.
“A lot of older people go shopping there which is good because not everybody has a car and can make it up to Asda.”
Parish councillors vowed to “fight like hell” against Tesco’s advances to the Rising Sun in North Bersted near Bognor in 2012 but despite the fighting talk, the supermarket giant soon moved into the property.
The site had been home to a pub for more than a century and became a tourist attraction for stamp lovers thanks to an unlikely wager.
Then landlord Dicky Sharpe was challenged to cover part of the pub, which became known as the Stamp House, in 1882 by one of his regulars and carried out an incredible makeover using almost 77,000 stamps before resolving to complete the makeover in time for the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.
When Mr Sharpe had finally finished the pub was coated in two million stamps including a million threaded into ropes and others covering chairs, tables and even a bust of Edward VII.
The original building was demolished in 1957 but a pub remained on the site until 2011.
Patrick Hastings, chairman of North Bersted Parish Council said: “We were pretty powerless when Tesco announced their interest because they didn’t have to ask for a change of use.
“It had been a pub and apparently also a grocer’s, although not in my lifetime.
“That’s the lawand they could just go ahead with it.”
Despite the outcry at the time, Coun Hastings said the supermarket’s introduction to the area had not been as devastating as first feared.
He said: “The main problem is traffic with people accessing the site but we hope that Tesco will help alleviate that in some way.
“The impact it has had I don’t think has been vast or overly detrimental.
“It seems to be functioning quite well as a supermarket and while we are sorry to have lost the pub it was already closed before Tesco came in.
“We have another pub, The Royal Oak, which is the most historical building in the parish of North Bersted and I think if we lost that then we would be very upset about that but I suppose they have probably benefitted from The Rising Sun closing.”
One of the major concerns held by objectors to the move was that they feared independent traders in nearby Royal Parade would suffer in trying to compete with the all-mighty multinational.
Linda Charge, owner of Cake Magic, said: “We have not been particularly affected because we are such a specialist company but if we had been a sweet shop or a paper shop, I think we would have been affected in a big way.
“The trouble is these days, and it’s not really the fault of the pubs, it’s just the way it is that people can buy their alcohol from the supermarket, watch Sky on their big plasma TVs and stay in.”
The arrival of the Co-operative on to the site of The Hope in Spitalfield Lane, Chichester, was welcomed with open arms by residents.
Residents said The Hope, which had eight different landlords in five years, had a bad reputation and they had already objected to plans to expand the pub.
They said they would prefer for it to be turned into a convenience store – and their wish was duly granted.
Chichester city councillor Andrew Smith said: “The Hope hadn’t really operated as a pub for some while.
“When it was in its heyday, it was because of the university down the road so residents who weren’t students didn’t really mourn the loss of the pub.
“We have quite a few of these conversions including at Tangmere and East Wittering, it seems to be a Co-op tactic to buy up closed pubs.”