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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 21st Aug 2015 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Another bandwagon, the beer scene, defeating an Asset of Community Value nomination and the superlative Bull’s Head, Repton
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Mark Brown and Colin Wellstead

Another day, another bandwagon by Paul Chase

I’ve generally tried to stay out of the tobacco debate, largely because I’m not a smoker and don’t feel strongly about smoking as such. But the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces has already impacted on pubs and has been one of the factors that have contributed to pubs closing. The smoking ban has now been extended from enclosed public spaces to banning smoking in enclosed private spaces – cars, when children are present. My belief is that the longer-term goal of “public health” is to ban smoking in the home when children are present, stopping-off along the way to test the water and condition public opinion to extending smoking bans more widely.

It seems another stopping-off point is smoking bans in open public spaces – and this is already proposed for beaches in Brighton and for city squares in Bristol. This is the kind of petty-gauleiter activity you get when “public health” is given to rinky-dink local government to play with. The latest public health sock puppet to jump on this particular bandwagon is the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). It is calling for the smoking ban to be extended to beer gardens, al fresco eating areas of restaurants, parks and outside school gates. RSPH goes on to say smoking should be seen as “abnormal” and people needing a “fix of nicotine” should use e-cigarettes.

According to the BBC, Shirley Cramer, RSPH’s chief executive, said: “Children are hugely receptive to the behaviour of the adults around them. The sight therefore of individuals smoking at prominent locations risks teaching them that smoking is a normal and safe habit. We believe that banning smoking in these locations via an exclusion zone could further de-normalise smoking, ensuring that it is seen as an abnormal activity and potentially, prevent children and young people from beginning in the future.”

The end-game here is to ban smoking at home – what could be a more prominent place in which to influence children than the home? But with 22% of men and 19% of women smoking regularly it is not for government to decide what is or is not “normal”, and then to threaten people with fines or imprisonment if they depart from the norm by breaking a legally enforceable ban – particularly one introduced at the insistence of a bunch of obsessive cranks who seek to write moral prescriptions for everyone else. There is no longer any pretence that such banning measures are there to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke – that was always just an excuse. The goal is “de-normalisation” as a kind of cultural form of prohibition.

Now where have I heard all this before? Well, think of the health lobby’s proposals on banning alcohol advertising. This is part of their strategy for de-normalising the drinking of beverage alcohol. Where smoking policy goes, alcohol policy is sure to follow. Smokers have been driven outside the pub, now they are being told that if they need a “nicotine fix” it must be from an e-cigarette. I’m beginning to think of smokers as a persecuted minority! But this measure can only discourage smokers from going to pubs.

Palcohol? One of the techniques that healthists use to de-normalise alcohol is to take the drinking of it completely out of its social and cultural context and say it is “just another drug”. In the United States we have seen the development of a powdered form of alcohol – a product called “Palcohol”. The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has approved this product, which, when mixed with six fluid ounces of water produces the same alcohol content as a standard mixed drink. The powders come in various flavours – vodka, rum and powderita – a margarita version.

I cannot imagine a worse development for our sector, or one that is more calculated to facilitate the portrayal of alcohol as just another drug. If you thought that healthists had a field day with “alcopops”, wait until powdered alcohol hits the shops. Once we separate ethyl alcohol from beverage alcohol – from the tradition of craft and flavour, and the use of natural ingredients then those of us who defend the drinking of beverage alcohol as a lawful and socially acceptable activity are placed in an untenable position.

Actually, when I said I can’t imagine a worse development for our sector than powdered alcohol – I take that back! We have also seen the development of alcohol vaping – inhale it as a vapour and it goes straight from the lungs to the brain and people get very drunk, very quickly. Currently the Home Office is consulting on whether powdered alcohol at least should be brought under the licensing regime. This type of product is already available online. I find myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of favouring a ban. Oh dear!
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy

The beer scene by Glynn Davis

It’s unlikely you’d have found the winner of last week’s CAMRA Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) at the other festival running in London during the same week, the London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF), and it would have been equally surprising to have found my favourite beer of the latter festival on any of the bars at GBBF.

Cwtch from Tiny Rebel Brewery is a cask conditioned chestnut coloured red ale that is a great example of a British brewed best bitter and was a worthy winner at GBBF based on the half pint I enjoyed at the festival. In contrast the beer that most set my palate alight and got me thinking the most (contemplative daydreaming might be more apt) at LCBF was Stockholm brewer Omnipollo with its keg beer Magic Number 90,000, which it describes as a blueberry pecan almond vanilla smoothie IPA.

I cannot imagine two beers that both evoke the differences in the two festivals and how beer is evolving in the UK to the point that we have a spectrum of beers that should suit every beer drinker and surely provide sufficient temptation to entice in new drinkers to give good old beer at least a fair sounding. Having attended most GBBF’s since 1988, when I dragged my mother into the Queens Hall in Leeds for a couple of pints when we randomly stumbled across the event while visiting the city, I have a place for it in my heart alongside all other beer drinkers of a certain maturity.

Since those days it has expanded massively and the crowds now attending testify to how it has played a major part in attracting an ever-broadening array of people to beer. The range of beer styles and breweries’ wares on offer has also grown massively. Of the beers tried there were some exceptionally good brews notably Tyne Bank Cherry Stout and Green Jack Orange Wheat as well as Cwtch. But equally a few of the other beers I tried were a little lacklustre. This will absolutely be down to the tough task the organisers have of getting these beers into their best condition for the event.

They are live beers (with a limited shelf life) and most will have travelled some distance, been kept on site at the festival for a few more days, and then been handled in very different conditions to what they are accustomed to in the typical pub cellar. This undoubted upheaval does not mean you will get a duff beer, but it does increase the chances it won’t be as great a drop as the brewer intended and what you’d likely find in the better pubs that the brewery supplies. When cask is good, it’s world-beating. But when it’s not good, it can be pretty ordinary. This can be all down to that issue of conditioning.

Among the best beers I sampled at GBBF were on the foreign beer bars – especially the Czech beers such as Opat Grapefruit and Strahov IPA. What helped make them stand out was their tip-top conditioning. Yes, they’ve travelled over from the Czech Republic but the fact they are keg beers (with carbon dioxide added into the brew), they are always effervescent (sometimes too much so it has to be said). Because these beers are robust in their barrels it enables them to be served just as the brewer intended. And at GBBF there were some top brewers represented who served top-notch beers.

Across town the exact same could be said of LCBF where some of the UK’s newer brewers were represented such as Magic Rock, Beavertown, and Wild Beer Company as well as a smattering of overseas names such as Omnipollo and Lervig from Oslo. Whereas keg beers are the rare beasts at GBBF, they are the only beasts at LCBF. Hence there was at least a consistency among the beers I tried on my visit. Each was delivered close to the condition the brewer intended.

As such the Magic Number 90,000 really did contain subtle blueberry, pecan and almond notes in an almost smoothie consistency with an IPA bitterness in the finish – just as described on the label. The same could be said of the other beers sampled including the Magic Rock Bearded Lady Chocolate Orange (aged in Grand Marnier barrels), and the Wild Beer Company Fyne & Mild that contained cucumber and mint.

As a beer writer I’m continuously looking out for interesting developments such as new techniques and innovative flavour combinations, which just happens to be where the newer keg brewers are often plying their trade. And as it stands this is very much the domain of LCBF. However, this is no way intended as an expression of a preference I might have for one festival over another. It is more about simply outlining an overriding interest in being able to drink a beer in as near-as-dammit the condition that the brewers intended it to be consumed. This is surely good for drinkers, brewers and festival organisers. It’s all about the conditioning, stupid.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

Defeating an Asset of Community Value nomination by Mark Brown

Following CAMRA’s (Campaign for Real Ale) launch of an initiative in July, calling upon its members to nominate their local pub as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), you may have concerns about the future of your pub estate. Because an ACV automatically receives planning protection, the option to convert, demolish or sell a pub for development could be lost. So where the development value attached to a pub requires protecting, or lies in the pub’s potential future demolition or change of use, it is even more important than before to either respond properly to a nomination to list a pub as an ACV, or to pursue a review.

Effective opposition: This year alone we have already defeated a number of ACV nominations with written comments at the nomination stage. Although each nomination must be responded to on its merits or demerits – and these are likely to be numerous – a pattern has emerged which indicates how ACV nominations can be analysed and effectively resisted.

Know your nominator: Only parish councils and unincorporated bodies can make a “community nomination”. If the parish council has not resolved to make the nomination at the request of community members, then is it a community nomination at all? If a group has made the nomination then its constitution needs checking to see whether or not its membership has adopted it, and evidence of the membership consenting to be bound by the constitution also requires checking. If the body is an unincorporated association, then its constitution must also satisfy the legal requirements of an unincorporated association.

Are the tests satisfied on the evidence? We have seen a lot of nominations, and found that sometimes the nomination is inappropriate. For example we recently resisted a nomination for a property (formerly a pub), which was a trading destination restaurant with a small bar used occasionally by some locals. The nomination was rejected. Often there is land associated with the pub, or the upper parts, which have not been used in connection with the pub and should not be part of the nomination in the first place. The evidence presented to say that it has been of social use, and may be used as such in the future, is usually weak, unfocused and/or badly presented. Where this is the case not only can the evidence be attacked for its vagueness, but opposing emphasis can also be placed on alternative community facilities available in the locality.

Play all your cards at the nomination stage: Don’t hold back with the council. It might not want the property to be listed if you put them on notice of the fact that the ACV listing will damage the value of the property proposed to be included. When the ACV legislation was first introduced, a central pot was created for local authorities to dip into for compensation claims. However it is not clear where the funding will come from.

Only one bite at the cherry: The issues with the ACV system are numerous, namely it presents a low threshold for government-backed interference with private property rights. If unchecked then councils tend to rubber stamp the nominations. The planning impact on value is becoming increasingly significant. The purpose of listing – to enable community bodies to bid and acquire the ACV – is not being achieved. Less than 10% of community bids have been successful.

Can ACVs be used in an offensive move against owners? The Guardian reported in May all 19 pubs in Otley, West Yorkshire, were listed as ACVs following a blanket nomination – pre-dating CAMRA’s intention to have 3,000 pubs “protected” by listing them as ACVs in July. In June, the Evening Standard ran a story about how Southwark Council had stepped in to list two historic pubs as ACVs. Both pubs had been closed because the same council had revoked their premises licences – so much for the social wellbeing and interest of the local community! These cases appear to fly in the face of common sense and the notion of community nomination being for the social wellbeing and interest of the local community. This begs the question: could someone nominate and get an entire tranche of pubs listed, in far-flung locations, in an offensive/defensive move against the owners?

Abusive nominations: In the 12th (believe it or not) sitting of the Public Bill Committee, on 10 February 2011, Andrew Stunnell, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said in a discussion as to whether private land should be capable of listing as an asset of community value. He said: “We are introducing a new provision that is long overdue in the eyes of many communities around the country. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the provision is proportionate. It does not state that someone who wants to be a bit awkward can claim that something has community value so that it gets on the list; there is a process. That process is designed to ensure that we do not have vexatious, silly, or inappropriate nominations, included on the register.”

The legislation was passed with:
1. No mention of motive for nominating pubs
2. The requirement that the nomination be a “community nomination”
3. A very low threshold for councils to get over to determine that land is of community value

The problem lies in what constitutes a community nomination. In St Gabriel Properties Limited versus London Borough of Lewisham & Another (January 2015), Judge Warren said he thought CAMRA South East London branch was able to make a community nomination because “a proper application of the regulations, in my judgment, treats organisations such as this in a hybrid way”. This enables branches of an organisation such as CAMRA with national reach, because of the nature of its membership, to organise and make effective community nominations where they have a sufficient local connection.

What view do councils take of this? The decision in St Gabriel Properties was not challenged and in a number of respects it ought to have been. We have been involved in a number of recent ACV cases and have access to unpublished reports and decisions of councils that throw some light on the issues not dealt with in St Gabriel Properties and these include: the nature of the nomination, whether it is a community nomination, the identity and status of the “body” making the nomination and how a nomination is made

Each case has to be decided on its particular facts and a better reading of St Gabriel Properties is that it only really decides that CAMRA could be a national body and, subject to a number of conditions, a local one as well. Clearly, the critical factor in dealing with strategic nominations can be careful deployment of the correct legal arguments to help shape the council’s view of whether a true community nomination has been made at all. At the same time, one of the more surprising aspects of cases so far is how willing councils appear to be to list properties considering there is no right to appeal a refusal to list – with the knock-on effect of a council having potentially (in certain circumstances) to face the cost of paying out compensation. Again, the presentation of subtle representations in objection to a nomination can be persuasive There will undoubtedly be more to report as CAMRA’s campaign gathers momentum.
Mark Brown is a solicitor at law firm Freeths

The Bull’s Head at Repton remains superlative by Colin Wellstead

It is now six years since we left the hustle and bustle of the Home Counties to “retire” to sleepy Dorset, just down the road from the then not invented but now extremely famous and popular “Broadchurch”. The difference it has made to the town/area is another story! Life is very different here on the pub and restaurant front – very few managed houses (in fact just one JD Wetherspoon), no chains and a town still dominated by a family brewer, at least in terms of pub ownership.

We still eat and drink out a fair bit and Bridport, the supposedly Notting Hill-by-the-Sea is well known for its excellent local produce, not least its fish and shellfish, alongside good local ales from a number of small breweries. We even have three butchers, who all seem to be thriving, in a town with a population of about 13,500. On a recent visit to a country pub just three miles from Bridport, I was charged £3.20 for a glass of Diet Coke. I watched the barman pour it out of a 1.5 litre bottle and presented to me in a dirty glass (effervescence aplenty on the sides of the glass) without ice or lemon – not even offered it. When I queried the price, especially served out of a large bottle I was told: “Blame Palmers”, the aforementioned family brewer. I didn’t accept this but he wasn’t bothered. Needless to say we left shortly afterwards, with my wife’s coke and my pint unfinished, never to return.

Around Bridport we don’t have too many award-winning pubs and restaurants although we are home to the very first Stable restaurant, a small group bought last year by Fuller’s and now set to roll out. It is a very successful quality pizza offering with local produce and excellent it is, too. It is often a place to take visitors to Bridport, often with the children returning home with friends. We even lost Dorset’s only Michelin star restaurant, Sienna, earlier this year in nearby Dorchester although, if our first visit to its successor is anything to go, by we may, hopefully, have a new one soon, albeit in the same property.

A short time ago we were babysitting the grandchildren near Nottingham and it was my wife’s birthday so we were looking for a family friendly pub/restaurant. We have previously passed the highly regarded Bull’s Head at Repton and this was suggested as a potential and duly booked. What a tremendous experience from start to finish. I have previously read of great things in various media, including Propel, but my expectations were not only met but also totally exceeded.

Upon arrival the staff were all excellent even with the hiccup of a requested wine not being available – surprising, particularly as they honestly admitted it was a new wine list. Maybe it even made them a bit more human. I particularly liked the complimentary bread and vinegars/ oils and the lemon sorbet was a really great touch, between starter and main and again complimentary. The grandchildren’s garlic bread was, they said, the best they ever had and it did hit the spot. We adults shared a selection of their brilliant Yakitori “sticks”, skewers of different and tasty meats and fish as well as vegetarian. Novel but extremely tasty; I understand the pizzas have been copied by many, including large corporate operators, and these will surely follow?

There are a few complaints on TripAdvisor about the two kitchens at the site and, if ordering off the two menus, there is no guarantee of the food arriving at the same time but the staff made this perfectly clear at the outset and again when ordering. We decided to go for the pizzas and they were brilliant and, in my view, vastly superior to the Stable, where, I reiterate, they are exceptionally good. There was more choice and all five we had were full of quality toppings, flavours and cooked to perfection. I appreciate it is all subjective but Simon Emeny, the Fuller’s chief executive, reckoned the Stables were the best ever pizzas he’d ever tasted, but I beg to differ.

We only had room for one desert, shared, and their innovative gelato didn’t disappoint. Needless to say it was packed on a Tuesday evening but this didn’t hinder the service and overall experience. The pricing was absolutely spot on, not the cheapest but great value for money. We certainly got what we paid for! After my recent experiences in Dorset is it any wonder that the Bull’s Head wins so many plaudits and restored my faith in this great trade. It is so often about the location but equally important are the operators and the standards they set.
Colin Wellstead is a property sector veteran who retired a few years ago
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