Supporting local pubs

Pubs are a vital part of the fabric of every local community and every local authority in Britain. As with local shops, post offices and schools, communities simply aren’t the same if they lose their pubs. They are also vital to local economies, supporting nearly 900,000 jobs, UK wide, and an essential part of the tourism, leisure and hospitality sector, right across the country.

Yet many pubs have struggled in recent years, with a net reduction in pub numbers of 8,000 over the past decade. Whilst changing lifestyles and leisure opportunities are partly responsible, national and local taxation and regulation has played a major role.

At national level, pubs have struggled under the burden of huge rises in beer duty and the unfair distribution of business rates. On beer duty, despite three, one penny cuts from 2013-15, we have seen a 39 per cent rise over the past ten years. Whilst pubs are diversifying, and increasing their sales of food, they still rely greatly on beer, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of all alcoholic  drinks sales.

Pubs also shoulder an unfair burden from business rates. They pay 2.8 per cent of the entire rates bill, despite accounting for just 0.5 per cent of business turnover. Wholesale reform is needed to reflect changes in the economy to ensure that others, in particular online business, pay a fairer share. We also need to see an extension of the new, pub-specific business rates relief, and its increase from £1,000 to £5,000, per year.  

Of course, pubs are also greatly affected by local, as well as national policies, as the issue of business rates itself demonstrates. It is vital that reliefs reach all pubs that greatly need this help. Whilst many local authorities have done a good job in ensuring pubs receive their reliefs, others have lagged behind.  It is also important that local authorities working on strategies for the local retention of business rates by 2020, think carefully how they can support their pubs. 

The local planning system too, has a major impact.  The Assets of Community Value (ACV) legislation introduced in 2012 offered some protection for pubs and gave local residents the ability to buy a threatened local asset and run it themselves.

Given the vital role of many pubs, this is something we support in principle. However, it is important that the legislation is not used in a way that overly burdens pubs. As it turns out, around half of all ACVs designated under the legislation are pubs. However, ACVs have been granted on premises where the pub owner had no intention of selling. The ACV listing, in creating potential barriers to a sale, can have a negative effect on the value of the property, which can often be its owner’s only major asset, as there are around 26,000 independently owned pubs in the country.

In 2015, the legislation was further strengthened through a requirement for pubs which were ACVs to apply for planning permission for a change-of-use. Some local authorities have also made use of what are called Article 4 Directions, requiring pubs to apply for planning permission even for minor alterations. This is very unhelpful, creating additional, costly burdens for operators.   All of these actions have been over-ridden by the changes to the Use Class Orders, through the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 which require all pubs to apply for planning permission to change their use (except to extend food-led activities).  We are therefore asking local authorities to think carefully before imposing an ACV listing and asking DCLG to strengthen the guidance, which is certainly in need of updating. 

Other authorities have sought to use the Government’s Late Night Levy legislation as a source of additional revenue adding to the tax burden for pubs. Despite the fact that pubs are now often operating more in the causal-dining market than as traditional drinking establishments, this acts as an additional tax on valuable local businesses. The introduction of several Late Night Levies has been disappointing, though thankfully, other authorities have reversed plans to pursue this course. One location has even abolished its levy, as it failed to raise the revenues intended.  

Despite these challenges, I see huge amounts of positive work between local authorities and pubs around the country. There is widespread recognition that pubs are a vital part of our high streets, and that supportive policies, through strong partnership working, is the best way forward.

We are seeing this through the introduction, in many local authorities, of Business Improvement Districts, and a host of other initiatives, such as local Pubwatch schemes, Best Bar None, and Purple Flag, where there is great coordination and positive work between the police, local authorities, and local businesses.  With a supportive policy framework, I am sure we can continue to see thriving pubs in every community, given the important contribution they make to local life and the economy. 

Brigid Simmonds OBE
Chief Executive, British Beer and Pub Association and cCLOA Member

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre – a real success story

James Foley, Commercial Director at Alliance Leisure, explains how, in partnership with Lancaster City Council, Alliance Leisure turned a failing leisure centre into a thriving physical activity hub.

Looking at Salt Ayre Leisure Centre now, it’s hard to believe that just two years ago the facility was facing many questions around its long term viability. The local community had largely turned its back on the centre and the tired, aged building was costing the local authority significant sums to maintain with a large subsidy in excess of half a million pounds a year. The situation was unsustainable and significant changes were required if the centre was to survive.

The team at Lancaster City Council, were determined to find a way to re-invigorate the site to encourage more of the community to participate in physical activity.

Alliance Leisure working with the Council as part of a newly secured 10-year development partnership agreement, was invited to discuss the possible regeneration of the leisure centre. Just one week after appointment, Alliance Leisure began scoping a development project to create a vibrant sport and physical activity hub which would inspire the whole community and increase engagement.

A phased approach to the development was adopted, with the final element of the project – a luxury spa – marking its completion and opening in October 2017. 

Today the centre is a hive of physical activity. Alliance Leisure led the project from concept stage to delivery working with specialist leisure contractor, Createability, and architects Bignell, Shacklady, Ewing as interior designers. 

The facility now hosts an impressive array of new activities including; a Les Mills immersive cycling experience, the Trip™; Europe’s first outdoor Flight Tower; an 80 station gym – equipped by principle supplier, Precor, adventure play area, XHeight climbing wall, barista-style café and spa.

As the first phase of the project was handed over early in 2017, Alliance Leisure and the council approached  the ukactive Research Institute to evaluate the economic and social impact of the £5 million investment. The findings have exceeded all expectations. 

Since the redevelopment, visits to the centre have increased by 72 per cent with the average number of visits a month, per person, increasing from 4 to 10. Gym attendance has increased by 83 per cent, and fitness class attendance by 83 per cent. The new Les Mill Immersive experience is attracting more than 5,000 visits alone. In addition, the classes on the gym floor are proving really popular with all ages. The new Queenax™ rig is attracting more than 800 class participants a week. In addition, the new adventure facilities, including XHeight and the Flight Tower, have generated more than 10,000 visits.

There has also been a shift in user demographics. Female usage has increased by 172 per cent, now representing 58 per cent of the membership, and the average age of members has fallen from 43.7 years to 37.9 years. 

It is also encouraging to report that the centre is now attracting visitors from further afield with people travelling by almost a kilometre further away to use the new facilities. 

Investing in physical spaces that inspire participation is vital, but the value in dedicating resource to ongoing staff training and centre promotion should not be underestimated. Alliance Leisure has also entered into a client support partnership with Lancaster City Council to provide support across a number of core functions including marketing, staff training and sales services to ensure the continued operational and financial success of the project.  

Salt Ayre is a real success story. Based on current usage levels and revenue generation, the centre is projected to be in a revenue-neutral position in less than three years. 

This project proves that if we create vibrant, inspiring spaces we can encourage participation at scale, across a wide range of demographic groups, adding fuel to ukactive’s appeal to government for a £1 billion investment in leisure stock. A more active community is a healthier community. Moving forwards, our leisure centres can play a central role in a preventative healthcare strategy. This is the only sustainable solution to the healthcare crisis across the UK.

If you would like to read more about the Salt Ayre Leisure Centre project or view a photo gallery, visit www.allianceleisure.co.uk/saltayre.

For more information on this project or to arrange an informal consultation with Alliance Leisure, please contact the office on 01278 444944. You can also follow Alliance Leisure on Twitter @allianceleisure.