Punch Taverns CEO, Clive Chesser, addressed the Save The Roths campaign group who travelled to Burton-on-Trent from Aston Clinton today in search of answers regarding the imminent closure of their beloved 172-year-old pub The Rothschild Arms.
Punch CEO Clive Chesser said:
"Firstly and genuinely I want to welcome you up here to Punch. We do really respect that you've taken time out today to make the journey up here to let us know your views. We do know this is a difficult and emotional time and situation for you and also for us because there's no business that does more to support community pubs across the UK than Punch.
The last 12 months we've invested £33.5 million massively improving 284 pubs across England, Scotland and Wales and that's one in four of our pubs, 25% of our pub estate, and actually we plan to repeat the level of investment again next year in 2020.
No other pub company is investing at this level, particularly in independently run community pubs which is predominantly the pubs that we own. 40 of these pubs last year were in the south east, including Bucks, and we plan to invest a further £8 million in the south east region in 2020.
So as well as our investment in bricks and mortar you can see around you here in this building some of the evidence of our investment in training our publicans. So this includes this facility here which is a full training academy with cellar training and also down the corridor we've developed an industry leading development kitchen.
In the past year we've trained over 500 people here and again there's no other pub company that's investing in its publicans and its employees in this way.
We're making this investment against a backdrop of rising costs, smaller margins for all pubs and retail businesses. You'll all have read about some of the big names who have recently failed in the restaurant sector in the high street retail sector and pubs across the UK have been closing at an alarming rate for years, for the past decade. The latest reported numbers are ten pubs closing per week.
At Punch we are proud of our record of keeping pubs open and trading and only closing a handful of unviable pubs each year. We're proud of our support for 'Long Live The Local' and our track record in supporting local communities.
So we would have liked to have discussed with you in detail certain specific matters raised with us, however our lawyers have advised us not to comment on this matter further following receipt of a pre-action protocol letter from Liz, who's said that she doesn't mind me mentioning her in person on behalf of the local action group comprised of members of the Aston Clinton community, and I take it that many of you present are part of that, and the imminent subsequent commencement of a High Court proceedings by Liz herself.
So again, we respect this position but unfortunately it does limit the dialogue we're able to enter into. We fully understand that you're not happy with our decision to sell the Rothschild Arms but we stand by the decision that we've made and the process that we've followed.
I've reviewed the sales and planning process which has taken place over the past two years and I point you towards the key report which was undertaken by the valuation office agency on behalf of Aylesbury Vale District Council, which is a central government agency. The document is available on Aylesbury Vale District Council's planning portal and we've also got some copies here if you're not familiar with it.
I will draw your attention to the following conclusions in particular, and I quote from the report:
"Accordingly, we are of the view that the property has been suitably marketed by a recognised licenced property agent for a suitable length of time, at appropriate guide price."
There's a large amount of detail in the report that was considered in the planning process and approved by the planning inspectorate.
I would like to stress that since we exchanged contracts to sell the property several months ago, no further offers have been made to Punch for the property and this is perhaps contrary to local speculation, I don't know.
If High Court proceedings were not being commenced against Punch then we would have welcomed a discussion with you about the Rothschild Arms but unfortunately we're advised by our lawyers that we cannot enter into a Q&A session.
Thanks for listening."
See how it all began earlier today...