Queen Victoria Update
The Parish Council received 85 responses to the Queen Victoria questionnaires which represents about 30% of the village. The main outcome from the responses was that people would like the Queen Victoria to remain a pub. There was also general enthusiasm (86% of respondents) for a village shop/post office to be incorporated and over half of the returns liked the idea of including a tea room/cafe.
8 people expressed an interest in being part of a Steering Group and 4 of those accepted the invitation to attend a meeting to discuss if they wanted to progress the purchase of the pub. This Steering Group then promptly investigated the options further which included discussions with the brewery and selling agent; considering funding goals; how it would be possible to run the business as a community etc
Even with about half of the questionnaire respondents expressing an interest in buying shares or making donations the calculation of possible income resulted in a maximum sum of about £40k. The reality of raising the remaining funds was investigated but with over £600k required including for VAT, Stamp Duty plus stock, business rates, maintenance etc it was ultimately considered too much of a challenge and there was a high risk that it would not be possible to raise the required funds by the December deadline.
It was decided that given the agents/brewery have told us that there had been good interest from a number of possible purchasers who want to buy it as a pub, and understanding that the brewery want to sell it as a pub, it is in the best interests of the pub and the village to allow a sale to progress. The Steering Group/Parish Council will be keen to engage with the new owners to help encourage community support but no bid will be made for the property.
What was noted from the public meeting, questionnaires and subsequent discussions of the steering group was that there is strong support for the Queen Victoria to be enabled by new owners to have a vibrant life as a community-orientated pub. That is the message that has been passed on to the agent including for instance, that there is regret in the village that we don’t have a village shop. And further suggested that the village is not large enough to justify the whole site being given over to a shop and so perhaps a small part of the site could be allocated to that, thereby going some way to creating the community ‘hub’ that so many indicated they would respond to. This of course will be down to the new owners to consider how that may fit into their business model.
To conclude, having looked into various options, considered the questionnaire responses and explored how the funding could be achieved, the steering group has decided that it would be impractical (a) to put together an eligible community group by the 11th August deadline and (b) for any such community group to be confident about raising the funds to put together an attractive bid to purchase. This decision is taken with some regret, but the last thing that residents wish to do is to waste the time of prospective purchasers of the Queen Victoria over the next several months. Residents will not, therefore, be triggering the second moratorium period (ending 31st December 2022) and the Parish Council have written to Maldon District Council to confirm this. We are not aware of any other community groups showing interest.
The Parish Council is pleased to have engaged with the community, offering information, opportunity and the platform to facilitate discussion about the Queen Victoria as an Asset of Community Value. Thanks to the Steering Group for their time in considering the options and coming to a decision. Fingers crossed that we can now look forward to seeing the Queen Victoria re-opening under new ownership.
Notes from Queen Victoria Public Meeting
There were approximately 40 people present.
Welcome and introduction from Cllr. James Rushton.
The Queen Victoria is up for sale by Gray and Sons having not found a tenant. In order for the village to have a say, The Parish Council decided to register it as an Asset of Community Value. This triggered a moratorium period in which an eligible community group has until 11th August to submit a Right To Bid for the property. This would result in the Community Group having 1st option to raise money and buy the pub by the 31st December.
The Queen Victoria is undoubtedly a community asset in the centre of the village, inside the Conservation Area.
The price is £450,000 + VAT. There is a 50% overage clause in place to deter developers which means 50% of any profits made by redevelopment would be payable to Gray’s. There is no purchasing tie. The Parish Council understands from the agents Christies, that there has been some positive interest from those wishing to buy it for a food-led drinking establishment and also interest from 2 branded shops.
If a Community Right to Bid was established there would be on-going discussions with Christies/Gray’s to see if any proposals from them could fulfil a suitable brief. Gray’s appear to want to sell it as a pub with a food offering.
It was explained that following the meeting a Village wide questionnaire would be distributed to establish if there is support and if a group could come forward to put a bid together.
The Parish Council are facilitating the debate but will not be the ones to take it forward.
A discussion followed with those present and the following is a summary of comments made:
- Could a community group take on the tenancy from Gray’s?
- Low footfall in small village. Needs to be a destination pub so people will travel.
- Free houses do not benefit from wholesale profits so margins are low and it’s difficult to make profit.
- Could work if larger business took it on so they have multiple sites
- Volunteers are enthusiastic to start with but then the novelty wears off.
- Needs a live/work couple to take it on
- Flat could be rented out
- Previous experience of a landlord with a large beer garden is that he did make money.
- The QV has struggled to make money for several years.
- Previous experience of a landlord – it is hard work but it is possible to make money but if you are paying staff it is very difficult to make profit.
- Risk that volunteers will drink the profits.
- Licensee will need to take legal responsibility; this would be a big responsibility for a volunteer
- The market has changed over recent years and especially with Covid and cost of living crisis
- Lunchtime drinkers have dwindled
- Risk a branded food outlet could take it over.
- Big competition for food offerings in the local area. Is there space for another restaurant style pub which would be in competition with The Bell.
- Building itself may not be structurally sound and needs a lot of work so more investment would be required to get it up to scratch.
- Any sale would be subject to a construction survey which would show up any problems and then the price could be negotiated.
- Considered to be over-priced
- Could be subject to a change of use, which Maldon District Council would decide and they might have difficulty preventing a change of use if the right case was presented to the committee. Times have changed.
- Several years back when The Bell applied for a change of use this was not accepted as a legitimate reason and once sold it went from strength to strength. MDC did not accept the argument then so why wouldn’t they make the same call for the Vic.
- The reason the Queen Vic hasn’t worked is down to individuals.
- Would a local group have any power to stop branded chains?
- Hate to see it lost as a licensed public house. Hope with the right owner/investment it can be a viable business.
- Opportunity for business to be developed into a destination pub/restaurant.
- The village shop was lost, you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone, need to try and keep the Queen Vic as a drinkers pub because the Bell is not for drinking.
- Need to remember additional funding for solicitors, stamp duty etc. Plus running costs need to be covered.
- Once sold the village will have no control. Circumstances change.
- Could be viable with the right people running it with imagination and hard work. Such as clubs use during the daytime which brings in more trade. Diverse offerings.
- Needs to be different to the Bell. Needs pub grub/sandwiches which used to work. Sometimes there were 40/50 covers on Friday/Saturdays but that was 20 years ago.
- Anti-social problems may need dealing with which would be difficult for volunteers.
- If we could form a group this would give us leverage over any deal.
- Best scenario is if someone is lined up and then the village supports them.
- What price does it become viable?
- Prefer a business to houses. Needs to be a restaurant.
- Community pubs can be partly owned by shareholders who then commit because they have a vested interest.
- A brewing pub could work as these draw in people and it may then stand a chance. There was general enthusiasm for this idea.
- Is anyone willing to lead a community group?
- The Plunket Foundation specialises in these types of community business and can provide advice and information.
- There are various grants available including a Government Community Ownership fund with up to £250,000 match funding available if you match certain criteria.
- Discussion regarding how many would be willing to own shares?
- Approx. 265 properties in the village with approx. 450 registered electors.
- Business plan is needed to understand if there is a way forward
- Could the village be the landlord and then take on tenants?
- Risk that more and more money will be needed
- There are people who would want to support it if someone is willing to run it.
- Need to support it as a community
A village questionnaire will be distributed to establish support, ideas and to see if any volunteers come forward. Agreed to ask Gray’s about the option to rent it as tenants.