Shock investigation reveals £45million overseas cash invested in our iconic pubs
PUBLISHED: 18:29 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:41 16 September 2016
Today the Ham&High is backing campaigners calling on the government to halt the decimation of our cherished local pubs by overseas developers.
It comes as our exclusive investigation reveals £45million of overseas cash was invested in seven iconic pubs in Hampstead, Highgate, Primrose Hill and Camden Town from 2010 to 2014.
The doors have since shut at all but one of the pubs.
The list of venues standing empty includes The Magdala pub in Hampstead - where the lastwomen to be hanged in Britain, Ruth Ellis, famously shot her lover, - iconic gay pub The Black Cap in Camden Town and Ye Olde White Bear in Hampstead.
Many of the pubs, including one-time celebrity haunt The Prince Albert, in Primrose Hill, have seen multiple planning bids to turn them into luxury flats.
Pubs and community campaigner Phil Cowan describes the flood of offshore cash as “part of a gold rush that is mining our communities of some of their most cherished assets and leaving behind soul-less dormitory towns bereft of meeting places”
“Essentially these people have no interest in maintaining these premises as businesses,” continued Mr Phil Cowan, who led the campaign to stop development of The Prince Albert.
“They are looking only to maximise profits and the best way for them to do that is by either reducing or eradicating the pubs entirely and replacing them with high value luxury housing.
“In the case of The Albert, which has been left to rot for nearly two years, the loss of the pub has had a knock on negative effect on other adjacent businesses.”
The top floors of The Albert were converted into flats shortly after it was bought by a shell company in the British Virgin Islands in 2014.
A second bid to build a house in the pub’s beer garden led to a heated community campaign to block the development supported by regulars including TV stars Dermot O’Leary and Matthew Wright.
Pubs campaigners say the anonymity surrounding offshore companies, who do not have to register an ultimate owner with the UK Land Registry, makes communication over the future of threatened pubs almost impossible.
Nigel Harris, who is involved with the ongoing campaign to save the iconic Black Cap pub, said: “It’s dangerous - not just because of the loss of the venues in Camden but if you take away the face of the people that are doing this how are we supposed to represent ourselves to them?
“They are taking away the chance of proper dialogue. There is no named person to talk to. It’s probably to avoid speaking to people like us.”
Weekly vigils have been held outside The Black Cap, where top drag acts including Lily Savage started their careers, since the doors closed last year
following unsuccessful attempts to turn the building into flats by offshore company Kicking Horse Ltd.
“When Kicking Horse bought The Black Cap it was one of the most profitable pubs in the country and we think it can be a profitable pub again,” said Mr
Harris. “We want to be in there making them money.”
Some of the local pubs bought by offshore speculators have been listed as Assets of Community Value following applications by the community.
This means they are subject to additional protection from development and the local community must be given an opportunity to bid for the pub if it is put up for sale.
But campaigners say this offers little safeguard if owners simply choose to close the doors and stop pulling pints or advertise pubs with multi-million pound price tags beyond the community’s reach.
Despite being listed as Assets of Community Value The Magdala and Ye Olde White Bear in Hampstead have both stood empty since being bought by shell companies in the British Virgin Islands.
Jessica Learmond-Criqui, of the Hampstead Shops Campaign Town Team, said the situation was “a scandal” and the impact on Hampstead “dramatic”.
“Much-loved pubs are disappearing from our neighbourhoods,” she said.
“While there are regulations to help convert pubs into Assets of Community Value, those regulations do not protect the pubs from aggressive takeover from companies that see a quick profit in closing down a pub and turning it into a residence in a desirable area.
“This practice needs to stop as our valued pubs are being rooted out of our community.”
She, and other local campaigners, have called for the government to take action to end the anonymity granted to offshore companies that buy property, including pubs, in the UK.
“There’s a very simple solution,” said Ms Learmond-Criqui. “I would call on the government - particularly the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government - to introduce rules to require owners of property, particularly on the high street and pubs, to register their ultimate owners and contact details.
“This register much be introduced because the angst to the community, who cannot access the owners, is ridiculous.”
A government spokesman said: “We’re backing the Great British pub with a £3.6m community support programme, and have already brought in stronger protections against them being converted or demolished.
“The government announced in May it will establish a public register of beneficial ownership for foreign companies who own or buy property in the UK, including pubs.”
NEXT WEEK: Why the secretive system of offshore property sales is in need of urgent reform