Opinion: Magdala pub victory shows power of people

Cllr Oliver Cooper has praised the community and ACV status for helping save the Magdala pub.

Cllr Oliver Cooper has praised the community and ACV status for helping save the Magdala pub. - Credit: Jessica Frank-Keyes

Nestled by the side of Hampstead Heath, the Magdala pub is most infamous as “the Ruth Ellis pub”, where the last woman executed in Britain murdered her boyfriend back in 1955.

But for residents, South Hill Park's local pub and community venue is much more valuable than a grisly history, and this week could mark the culmination of a four-year battle to save it. Today (May 16), Camden is deciding whether to grant a licence for the pub to start pouring pints again.

Just two months ago, the Magdala faced a very different future. Camden was then deciding whether to allow the first floor to be converted into a flat, which would have threatened the already-small pub's very viability.

Fortunately, that application was refused. The main reason given was the Magdala's status as an Asset of Community Value - or ACV - which makes converting it to any use other than a pub much more difficult.

Hampstead's local councillors have written detailed letters backing the Hampstead Forum, South End Green Association, and the Save the Old White Bear groups' campaigns to protect or reopen several Hampstead pubs, from the Magdala to the King William IV.

It's not just pubs that have benefited. The protection of Belsize Park's Globe Tennis Club as an ACV in March 2018 broke a year-long deadlock during which Camden would not renew the club's lease. After the ACV status was granted, a 15-year lease was agreed: ensuring the Globe's future.

Even where campaigns haven't continued specific uses, they've preserved premises. The Well Walk Pottery's listing as an ACV guarantees its use for creative arts: prompting the proposal to reopen it as a children's puppet theatre and bookshop, which falls within the scope of the ACV listing.

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What unites all these institutions is that they benefit the wider community in ways that go above and beyond commercial gain.

ACVs are required to show they're used by the community as meeting venues, for community events, or for local groups or schools (although maybe not schools in the case of pubs!).

Since 2017, Camden Conservatives have pushed for this social benefit to be recognised through the council's business rates scheme, with ACVs getting 30 per cent off their rates. Due to the way the scheme works, only a third of the cost would have been borne by the council, but all the benefits retained by beloved local institutions.

Back at the Magdala, that would save the pub about half as much as that proposed first-floor flat could have been let for: a potential game-changer for its financial viability. This hasn't been adopted by Camden, but we hope it will soon.

Ultimately, however, status as an Asset of Community Value - with or without lower business rates - cannot guarantee the future of a pub or a tennis club or anything else.

The only thing that can do that is residents' patronage and business.

So if you want your pub to stay open, you have to visit it. Have a pint or a Sunday roast - hold your community group meetings and your Christmas parties there.

But at the same time, if the call goes up to defend them, heed that call - because those campaigns have made a huge difference to protecting our community.