Gloucester’s MP Richard Graham has told both supermarket giant Morrisons and pubco Trust Inns it’s time to bring an end to their standoff and sort out the long closed Ridge & Furrow site in Abbeydale.
‘The situation is (politely) very frustrating’, Richard said, ‘and does nothing for the reputations of either business. Trust Inns say they’re waiting for news of their new rent, which is overdue, while Morrisons say they’re waiting for a variation of lease as Trust Inns has a potential alternative sub tenant. It is frankly absurd that they can’t sit down and sort this out together’.
Richard says the former pub has status given by the City Council as an asset of community value: ‘my earlier survey showed that many more people valued a pub than a petrol station and the campaigning group has made it clear they expect that to be honoured. However since the pub isn’t being sold the Community can’t bid for it so it would be useful to know if any group with pub or hospitality sector experience has approached the Trust Inns’ agent James Baker (Bristol) with firm interest.’
But the MP noted that the economics of a pub on the site were not easy: ‘Trust Inns say they would develop a new pub if they owned the site, but Morrisons doesn’t want to sell. If they sub lease there are at least three mouths to feed: Morrisons, Trust Inns and whomever becomes a sub tenant – plus a manager if the sub tenant is not going to do that him or herself. In my experience, with pub margins as they are, higher rateable values and tough drinking laws on drivers, it won’t be easy to make this pub profitable for so many layers, and on top there will now be a hefty capital outlay to get the place looking good again.’
So the MP believes that if there is no serious bid by a credible pub group, Trust Inns would be entitled to come up with an alternative plan which ‘should be put to the community and then to the Council Planning Committee. Residents and councillors would have to take a view on the best way forward. No-one wants to see an empty site for much longer.’
But Richard Graham said the immediate issue is a huge failure of communication between the two big companies, and with residents in Abbeydale and Abbeymead. ‘If you own a site, especially on a prominent site in a community which supports your supermarket, you have a duty to let people know your plan. If you don’t, and time drags on, then residents are rightly suspicious. I told Morrisons years ago they would not get a petrol station there and should think of a plan B. God knows they and their tenant Trust Inns have had long enough to sort this out’.
The MP added that he will highlight that this whole saga runs completely opposite to all of Morrisons’ original values: ‘it’s a story I’m afraid of corporate greed that starts with the Supermarket wanting to get the pub out for a much higher margin petrol station – but not being able to deliver on that. I will be writing to Morrisons’ Chief Executive to seek his help in getting this sorted and if that doesn’t work then I will hold a parliamentary debate on this ridiculous situation’.