As part of the Government's commitment to the Great British pub, Community Pubs Minister Bob Neill today launched a review of restrictive covenants, a legal clause that can be used to prevent community pubs reopening as public houses following a sale.
Between 2004 and 2009 some 572 pubs are said to have been permanently lost following a sale with a restrictive covenant, potentially depriving thousands of regulars of an important community asset.
Now this is welcome - such covenants were used to fix local markets and protect remaining beer outlets:
"Andrew Buchanan, director of pub operations at Thwaites, said: “The company does not make decisions to dispose of pubs lightly.
“It does not employ restrictive covenants lightly either. In every case where Daniel Thwaites has employed a restrictive covenant, it has done so after much soul-searching and deliberation.
“The only motivation for Daniel Thwaites in this regard is to ‘de-pub’ areas where high pub density is detrimental to the survival of the trade as a whole.
“In conclusion, we can confirm that the pubs highlighted are being marketed with restrictive covenants."
I think that the days of such covenants are done. In Cullingworth, our two pubs have changed hands without restrictions and are now trading as free houses. Nevertheless the government review is welcome - if, as the numbers suggest, shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted (or in the case of Denholme's Black Bull, after the pub has been demolished).
However, there's a much bigger problem that the government should be reviewing - why the pubs, such vital community facilities we're told, are shutting. So it is odd that, while one part of the government smiles benighly at the pub's community value, at the social capital it brings, another part lauches an unprecedented assault on the economic drivers of the pub - drinking, food and smoking.
We know that the smoking ban - combined as it was with recession - provided the straw that broke the back of the community pub. Not the splendid gastropub but the local, the place people walked to for a couple of beers, a fag and a natter with mates. And now, having 'denormalised' smoking the Public Health fanatics are starting on drinking locked arm in arm with those people who think a liberalised licensing regime is the work of satan bringing down on us the dreaded "24 hour drinking" culture.
So thanks to Bob Neill for this initiaitve - it is welcome. But perhaps he could wander down the corridors of power and have a word with his colleague Anne Milton about calling the New Puritan dogs off!