THREE popular pubs are changing hands.

Nick Griffin, managing director of pub company Pleisure, is reluctantly handing the keys of all three back to the landlord company, the Ei Group, after losing a legal battle for Pleisure to continue managing the pubs.

The Great Eastern in Trafalgar Street, The Office in Sydney Street and The St James in St James’s Street will become managed houses, and Mr Griffin expects them to be under the control of the Ei Group’s Bermondsey Pubs by the end of the year.

Mr Griffin, who has been running pubs in Brighton since 1992, said: “It is sad as it’s been the majority of my working life, but we had to move on.

“It would have been death by a thousand cuts if we’d carried on.

“Every time they take one pub off you, you’ve got less money coming in and you end up having to make redundancies at the others.

“Plus, my legal fees were astronomical.”

Earlier this year more than 5,000 people signed an online petition to save The Great Eastern from being taken back into the landlord company’s hands, as regulars feared their pub would lose its atmosphere.

Mr Griffin, whose Pleisure company has been running The Great Eastern for more than 20 years, said he had been overwhelmed.

He said: “I was quite taken aback by the support we had, as it was huge. When you’ve invested so much time in the pubs you don’t want to just let them go to ruin.”

Mr Griffin believes publicans need greater support in the face of high rents, business rates and beer duty, and has vowed to support pubs across the country which are under threat.

He said: “One in six rate-paying businesses have had bailiffs this year nationally.

“That’s going to affect pubs more than everyone else, particularly in city centres.

Mr Griffin has launched a national organisation called the Licensees Association to represent “pub people” and act as a campaigning body for independent publicans and small pub companies.

The association will campaign on business rates, beer duty and the Retail Price Index, which Mr Griffin said can lead to higher rents for pubs.

He said: “People who run pubs work ridiculously long hours.

“It’s a 365 day a year job.

“Dealing with landlords and government is a pain in the proverbial, and it takes time. These are people who are not time-rich.”

The Ei Group, formerly known as Enterprise Inns, is the largest pub company in the UK with more than 4,000 managed properties, which are predominantly run as leased and tenanted pubs.

The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange and last year had a net income of £72 million.

Mr Griffin said the Ei Group would be “stupid” to make changes to The Office or The Great Eastern as they are so popular.

An Ei Group spokesman said: “We are pleased to report that following the conclusion of positive and amicable discussions with Pleisure Ltd, The Great Eastern, together with two other pubs they operate in Brighton, will transition across to Bermondsey Pubs, who operate a number of highly successful venues across the country.

“Bermondsey Pubs is fully committed to ensuring The Great Eastern, an historic and much-loved pub, remains an integral part of Brighton’s community and they look forward to welcoming guests old and new.”