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The Vic's Progress

The Vic's ProgressIn Snippets and the Vic: June 2012 we said how delighted were to have called the Vic Public Inquiry wrongly when the Planning Inspector refused McCarthy and Stone's appeal to turn it into retirement apartments.

We concluded "The first hurdle will probably be to look at how - as a community group - they might raise the finance, and to embark on the process to develop a business plan that will make the Vic - and some community use of it - viable."

So it was with interest that we went along to a public meeting called by the group at the St Alban's Catholic Church Hall in Kilnhouse Lane.

Readers might wonder why the meeting was not held in the Vic.

The reason it seems, is that the Spirit Group - who own the pub - have said the Victoria Hotel Community Association is not allowed to hold its meetings in the Vic. We understand they have gone further and even said no-one wearing a 'Save the Vic' T-shirt may enter the premises. Nor can the group distribute leaflets in the premises.

We were shocked and saddened by this news.

The Spirit Group might have lost a big sum on a hoped-for and speculative 'change of use' option by McCarthy and Stone, but if The Vic is to remain as a pub, then its best bet is to attract members of the local community, not to alienate them. We also think Spirit are being short sighted in not embracing and working with the Victoria Hotel Community Association (VHCA) group.

If they plan to continue as a pub chain in the face of accelerating pub closures, they could do a lot worse than team up with folk who are looking to contribute to the cost of repair, refurbishment, and maintenance of the exterior and upper rooms that the pub is not using, and who are willing to organise events and attractions to bring people into both the pub and the rest of the building.

This attitude puts us in mind of the behemoths of the music recording industry who cling to their traditional business model of limited sales of high priced music recordings that are falling week by week, instead of embracing the future and adapting to it with low cost high volume music downloads over the internet. That mistake will eventually kill them off.

So it looks to us as though Sprit are stinging from the capital loss, and either they have thrown their dummy out of the pram, or they are in transition to become a property agent, not a Pub company.

The latter might have some basis as, we're told, they moved the Halfway House Pub on Squires Gate Lane into their 'John Barras' subsidiary, then promptly boarded it up.

They have recently moved The Vic into their John Barras subsidiary as well, so it's understandable if the VHCA  is nervous, and sees the need for speed.

Vic meeting

The VHCA Public meeting on 7 August had about 30 people attending. Mostly they seemed to be people who were already closely associated, but there were a few newcomers.

They went through the usual procedural matters, apologies and previous minutes, notable amongst which was confirmation of their status as Community Association with a constitution and so on, the appointment of an accountant, a change of Treasurer, and the pub's surrounding area in St Annes being broken down into 'beats' to encourage more volunteers to distribute paper-based news and information for those who were not email enabled.

As per its literature the aims of VHCA are:

  • To prevent the demolition of ‘The Vic’
  • To ensure the continuation of a public house on the site.
  • To repair and restore the fabric of the building.
  • To bring the upper floors (approx 2000 sq m) into use.
  • To provide space within the building for community activities and facilities.
  • To support and raise funds for local charities and local good causes.
    To ensure that profits from the pub are used to achieve the points above.

And of course, they have succeeded in their first aim.

Committee members spoke of the need to create a business plan and to secure funding.

They had already made contact with advisors regarding grant availability, and now wanted to speak with experts in localism, and with other groups that had already succeeded in acquiring a pub, together with people who have landlord experience. They are also producing a timeline to plan the steps they need to take.

So they seem to be going along the right road.

There was some discussion about the form that an organisation to acquire the Vic should take - and various options were outlined (Limited Company, Community Interest Company, Co-operative Association etc and the position of the Charity Commissioners on these matters)

Of these, the Co-operative Association seemed to us to pull the most supportive comments from the floor.

It was said that although McCarthy and Stone has allegedly offered around £900,000 for the development value of the site, the figures put to the Inspector at the Public Inquiry by the retail expert suggested that the value as a pub was about half this figure and in the depressed pub market, it was probably worth between £400,000 and £500,000 at best - and it could be less than that.

One suggestion was that if shares in the property could be sold for say £5,000 each as a co-operative venture, it would need only 100 people to raise the purchase price. One Committee member said they had already received more than a dozen pledges of this order when the Inquiry was on.

The meeting then opened to the floor, and questions and comments ranged widely.

In response to a question about the Spirit Group's current position it was said they had had offered the VHCA group the opportunity to make an offer before they put it on the open market, and to supply evidence that they already have the funding in place to complete the deal.

There was also some information from VHCA's attendance at the 'Police and Community Together' meeting, where they had taken comfort from the fact that there had been no incidents at the Vic in the whole of the time the PACT meetings had been operating. All the trouble came from the town centre pubs, and it was claimed that the Vic was self-policing in this regard.

'Brigadier' Ed Nash spoke about the parking issues that concerned him. He was especially critical of parking arrangements in St Alban's Road and the secondary shopping areas of Town Centre. Echoing that great military man George Bush Jr, he said he had "Declared War" on parking, adding that there would be 'on-the-spot' fines, plain clothes police checks, and he was going to put an end to the problems. He asked everyone there to take photographs of any offenders and to email them to him, and he would send them on to the police.

He also added that he was pushing as hard as possible for the Vic to be included on the list of properties that Fylde will prepare as part of the 'Community Right to Bid' under the Localism Act.

That's all well intentioned.

No doubt he does know quite a bit about some of the parking issues because he lives and has his business close to the secondary shopping area of the Square.

But we fear he might need to do a bit more homework about the Community Right to Bid process.

Readers can follow this link to a pdf file we found which is a simplified explanation of the Right to Bid process. It has a flowchart on page 2.

As is evident, the steps include the Borough Council preparing a list of assets of community value (and that seems to imply some sort of Fylde-wide survey to long-list a number of possible assets, not just a listing of one). It also requires the Council to notify the owners of each asset that a request for listing their asset as being something of community value has been made (That's assuming it meets the definition of an asset - which we think this pretty much think the Vic would).

The owner then has the right to make objection to the proposed listing, and if that objection is sustained, the asset will be removed from the listing.

So to us, it doesn't look as though you can simply say 'OK Get it listed' and that's it.

And it doesn't look as though it's going to be a quick thing.

And all of that is without considering any compensation that might be payable to the owner.

For those wanting more detail, please follow this link to the Guidance on the Localism Bill as it went to the House of Lords.

(WARNING NOTE: As ever, the definitive position is set out in the Act and Regulations which should be consulted, but which are much harder to follow)

St Eric's Department has also produced a micro website about the process.

A delay in starting the listing process might not be such a bad thing anyway. Once the asset is listed, a clock starts ticking on the six months it is 'protected' whilst the community raises the money. At the expiry of that period the owner is free to sell it.

As things stand at present, if something *appears likely* to be considered for such listing, we suspect few people would want to buy it - (they would run the risk it being taken from them in six months or so). So just the 'suspicion' of listing could cause something like 'planning blight'

In this situation, we could see that you're almost better off not having it actually listed (but making a lot of fuss and publicity about *wanting* to have it listed), because you're likely to have longer to raise the cash.

The public meeting ended with a final decision to buy a domain name and create a website for VHCA which was approved without demur. That web address is www.vhca.co.uk

Since that public meeting we hear there have been sub-group meetings of the Committee progressing various aspects of the work. They are looking at a feasibility study, a professional valuation, and the involvement of solicitors. We're told they are looking into a feasibility grant to help with professional costs.

There has been more discussion about the form of the bidding organisation, and further details are also being sought regarding a suggestion made by 'Brigadier' Nash that the St Annes Town Council should buy the building and lease it to VHCA. It seems he has in mind the loan that was already sanctioned for the Town Council's acquisition of the Public Offices, but which will not now come to fruition. We suspect that loan path is fraught with complications and won't materialise for VHCA.

We're told that the next phase is to try to bring the Spirit Group to work with the VHCA, and a working concept of co-operative purchase through shares, a heritage grant for building works, and community grants for facilities are firming up, so work will now begin on the purchase plan and acquisition of funding pledges, on a renovation plan to fund and repair urgent work to the exterior, and tradesman's pledges that were offered in preparation for the Inquiry. We're also hearing talk of Trustees being elected and a skills audit of supporters.

So after due democratic process, the group might soon be busy preparing pledge forms and a campaign to bring about its aims.

There's more to come no doubt.

Dated:  06 September 2012


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