Ellie Hudspith St Albans Liberal Councillor and CAMRA employee addressed a meeting of the branch at the Horse & Groom Old Hatfield 18th July. She spoke about “The Liberals, pubs and beer in St Albans”.
Ellie started by reminding us that Liberal MP’s and councillors are very supportive of pubs even though it was the Liberals who introduced excise duty. Unfortunately in the last elections MP’s supportive of pubs had lost their seats Greg Mulholland and Charlotte Leslie being examples but new MP’s have taken their place.
Since she was elected to SADC (St Albans District Council) Ellie has had to declare an interest on several occasions, on planning matters she was surprised how many of the councillors were members of CAMRA. The most recent local plan has not been agreed but the one that is in situ does have a section pledging protection for pubs and it is her intention to keep and improve on this.
It is accepted that the demands for housing are the local planners top priority for if targets are not met the central government subsidy is cut. This should not mean that local amenities like pubs are sacrificed. Although planning protection has been increased for pubs ACV’s (Assets of Community Value ) are still very important as they give local residents the opportunity to purchase their pub if it comes on the market. Councils approach ACV’s differently and in St Albans the Legal Department not the Planning Department deal with applications. This is additional work over and above their normal workload and helps explain why there are delays in processing, this does not excuse cases like the John Bunyan at Coleman Green which is still waiting for a decision over eighteen months from the application.
There have also been problems with enormous business rates increases for St Albans Pubs and a major campaign was started by licensees in the City Ellie has been active in trying to get the increases reviewed and capped at 12.5%. A transitional relief pot of £110K has been allocated to St Albans but as yet due to disagreement between councillors none of this has been allocated as yet. In the meantime the publicans who had received national media coverage have gone quiet a proposed march through St Albans has been put on hold and we need an update from them on what they think is the best way forward. What must be remembered is that any payments will just be transitional the full business rates demands will have to be paid at some point in the future. The only way that pubs will be able to meet this extra taxation is to put up prices which will reduce sales and put even more pubs under threat of closure. The council does realise that a vibrant pub sector in the town is good for tourism, visitors and residents alike and Ellie will be campaigning to keep it that way.
Ellie got a round of thanks from those present and several questions were asked which have been incorporated in this report.