‘If this crisis drags on, we would have to shut for good’ - Cambridgeshire pubs face growing debt fears due to coronavirus lockdown

Caragh and Jim Urquhart who run the Three Horseshoes pub in Comberton. Picture: THE THREE HORSESHOES

Caragh and Jim Urquhart who run the Three Horseshoes pub in Comberton. Picture: THE THREE HORSESHOES - Credit: Archant

Publicans fear growing debts may become insurmountable as rent and other payments are deferred but not cancelled throughout the coronavirus lockdown.

The Three Horseshoes pub in Comberton, the only pub in the village, which is at risk of shutting dow

The Three Horseshoes pub in Comberton, the only pub in the village, which is at risk of shutting down. Picture: THE THREE HORSESHOES - Credit: Archant

Pubs are closed on Government orders, with reports suggesting they could be one of the last industries to open again when restrictions ease.

Some pubcos – companies which specialise in owning and then renting or leasing pubs – have cancelled rent and other fees for tenants during this period, but others have offered only a deferral, meaning a growing bill awaits.

Caragh and Jim Urquhart, who run the Three Horseshoes pub in Comberton, are in such a position.

Mrs Urquhart said that, with payments of around £5,000 a month accruing – while the pub is closed and has no income – the situation may put Comberton’s only pub out of business.

She said: “We have put everything into running this pub, and don’t want to give up now, but we are running out of options.

“My husband has lived here all his life, and we want to continue as part of Comberton, but if this crisis drags on we would never be able to take on such a debt and would have to shut our doors for good.”

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The pair say they are seven years into a 10-year leasehold with pub owning company Ei, and say their rent and fees are usually linked to their revenue in trade.

“What Ei has told us is that our rent is deferred, which means ultimately we will still need to pay that,” Mrs Urquhart said.

“Our monthly outgoing to Ei is just under £5,000. If we are going to be closed for God knows how many months, when it comes to us opening our doors, we are going to be hit with a huge debt that needs to be paid, and we don’t have it – we have got no income.

“There have been no discussions about how we will have to pay it. All they have said is that, on an individual basis, a payment plan will be worked out.

“Everybody is in a really difficult situation and they are adding to the stress and worry of everybody. I just think that they have a responsibility here.

“The Government has been fantastic in trying to help us out with providing grants and being able to furlough staff.

“Everybody is taking a hit, but our landlord is not taking a hit. I think we are all in it together but they are not putting their hands in their pockets.

“If there is no pub open, there should be no rent.

“There are other pub landlords that have been able to do that – they have actually said to their tenants or to their leaseholders that it’s cancelled until further notice.

“So if they can do it, why can’t they (Ei)?”

A spokesperson for Ei Publican said: “We continue to communicate directly with our publicans at the Three Horseshoes in Comberton and, alongside Government support available, have advised them that their rent and charges are deferred for the foreseeable future.

“Our regional manager is working with them in order to best provide the right level of welfare and business assistance in readiness for when pubs are permitted to re-open for business.”

Alistair Cook, pubs officer for the Cambridge and District Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said the Three Horseshoes is not the only pub facing this challenge.

Mr Cook said: “Those companies who have already moved to ease pressure on publicans deserve to be praised, but others have left the sword of Damocles hanging over their tenants’ heads.

“Pubcos have claimed that the rates they charge are based on turnover. If that’s the case, then they shouldn’t be charging rent for weeks when a pub’s turnover is zero. They can’t have it both ways.”

The plight of the Three Horseshoes and others has been picked up by South Cambridgeshire’s MP, Anthony Browne.

Mr Browne is calling on pub owning companies across the area “to follow the example set by Everards, Adnams, Charles Wells, Admiral Taverns and others in cancelling rent for the time that the pubs are closed due to the shutdown”.

Mr Browne said: “It has never been easy to run a pub, and many villages are already left clinging to their last viable pub.

“In such an environment, it is unjust for pub owning companies to assume their tenants will withstand a complete loss of income in circumstances beyond all their control. We are all in this together.

“It is time for those pub owning companies still holding out to show some compassion and support their tenants, who have been keeping local pubs going and turning a profit for them for many years.

“I’m also asking all South Cambridgeshire residents to get behind our pubs.

“Get online and share stories and news about your local pubs, to not only encourage pub owning companies to step up to the plate, but to ensure our pubs remain part of our community.”