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'From trickle to a flood': Fears as another Shropshire pub looks lost

Campaigners fear a trickle of pub closures in Shropshire could become a flood if the Government does not provide more help.

The Plough, at Wall Under Haywood. Photo: Google.
The Plough, at Wall Under Haywood. Photo: Google.

The latest worries come as a rural pub in south Shropshire - The Plough, at Wall Under Heywood, near Church Stretton - looks set to be converted into a house after the owners said it is time to call it a day despite their best efforts.

Norrie Porter, public affairs officer at Shrewsbury and West Shropshire Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said: "We are worried that a trickle of closures will become a flood. Unless the Government give support to pubs this year we will see many more sad closures of pubs, and not only in rural areas but in villages and towns as well.

"The Government needs to reform VAT and business rates to put pubs on a more level playing field with supermarkets and make prices more affordable for customers who are themselves having to tighten their belts."

The Plough, at Wall Under Heywood

The Government has said businesses will get help with energy costs, and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced that a planned rise in alcohol duties will be cancelled.

Mr Porter said: "We welcome the decision to cancel the planned rise in alcohol duties, the introduction of a draught beer duty rate and the six-month cap on energy prices for non-domestic properties."

But campaigners say there is a need for more help.

Christopher and Rosemary Thomas, the owners of The Plough, at Wall Under Heywood, have applied to Shropshire Council to change its use into residential.

The Plough, at Wall Under Heywood

Mr Porter said: "Shrewsbury and West Shropshire branch regrets the permanent closure of The Plough at as a pub.

"The closure is indicative of the pressures on all pubs from increased costs and inflation, and the effects of inflation and economic downturn on customer numbers and spend per head.

"For rural pubs, these problems are made worse by the lamentable state of public transport in Shropshire, which, as well as affecting trade also makes it difficult to find staff, who need to have their own transport."

Nik Antona, the national chair of Camra, said "Licensees and pub goers will also want to see the energy cap extended for a two-year period for hospitality businesses, mirroring the household support scheme, to make sure our local pubs can survive and thrive in the months and years ahead."

Plough owners Christopher and Rosemary Thomas have told planners of their efforts to keep the pub running.

Their agent says three local pubs have all "struggled to survive in recent years and have all suffered significant trading losses".

They say The Plough has "suffered a trading loss each of the last eight years" and is now effectively closed.

"A change of use will enable the applicant to stem the severe and accumulating losses," says the agent.

"The problems of the public house trade, reflected here in the Apedale [valley] are a microcosm of the national and wider problems of the industry."

They add that latest national pub closure figures for first six months of 2022 have doubled, averaging 19 per week, 485 in total, compared with nine per week, 254 in the second half of 2021.

"In this struggle to continue in business The Plough has had a strong advantage in that the proprietor has had a life-long experience in the industry across the country and has sought to bring this experience to bear in seeking to promote and sustain the business," they add.

There has been no interest in selling the business, they say, because its losses make it "unsalable as commercial premises", and finding staff has been "without success" apart from one chef who wanted to be paid £48,500 a year.

In a statement the proprietors said: "The only possible use for The Plough was as a food orientated pub with ancillary drinking facilities which the local people have demonstrated they were not interested in supporting."

Instead, they say locals have supported a pop-up pub at the village hall.

"This has the merit of giving use and support to the village hall," they say. "This in turn ensures that The Plough is unlikely ever to reopen and serve the local community."

They add that the West Midlands has in the first half of 2022 had more pub closures than any other part of the UK and Shropshire closures represent a 20 per cent fall in the number of open pubs. But the county still has 58 pubs per 100,000 people which is well over the average of 106 pubs per 100,000 people, they claim.

The planning agent concludes: "These premises have had their day as a public house and it is demonstrable they are no longer required or a viable proposition in terms of their former public house use."

The change of use plan is available for comment on the Shropshire Council planning website.

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