Top pub 'penalised for its own success'

AN AWARD-winning Suffolk pub is facing an uncertain future after its landlords were suddenly given a 70% increase in business rates and told they owed £16,500 in a backdated bill.

Richard Smith

AN AWARD-winning Suffolk pub is facing an uncertain future after its landlords were suddenly given a 70% increase in business rates and told they owed £16,500 in a backdated bill.

The Cherry Tree, in Cumberland Street, Woodbridge, now has the highest rateable value among seven pubs and two hotels in the town.

Landlords Geoff and Sheila Ford warned yesterdaythey were being unfairly punished after improving the Adnams-owned Grade II-listed building.

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The couple have been at the pub almost eight years during which hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on the conversion of a derelict barn into high quality bed and breakfast accommodation, a new kitchen and an improved garden.

Adnams has invested a substantial amount in the pub and Mr and Mrs Ford have also contributed to the financial backing. On Monday they were told they had won the best community pub award for Adnams pubs.

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But today the couple are deciding whether to appeal against their new rateable value and they are forced to consider their future at the Cherry Tree.

In 2000 the yearly rateable value was £10,250. It rose to £18,500 at the five-year review in 2005. In November 2005 the rateable value increased to £22,500 due to the renovation of the barn.

Inspectors recently visited the pub and the Valuation Office, an executive agency of HM Revenue and Customs, then set a backdated rateable value of £37,500 to take account of the new kitchen. In 2010 another rateable value will be fixed at the five-year review.

Businesses currently pay 0.462p in the pound on rateable value a year. Mr and Mrs Ford then have to pay rent to Adnams and they employ 15 full-time and eight part-time staff.

Mr Ford said: “We felt an increase of up to 25% would have been fair and reasonable for improving the kitchen facility.

“But it has been increased 67% and backdated to 2006 which now places the pub in debt at a difficult time.

“If we increased a pint of Adnams at the same rate it would rise from £2.80 to £4.67.

“This is giving our staff great concern for the viability of the pub and their careers. This is unreasonable and discourages businesses like ourselves from investing in our long term growth as opposed to simply drawing profits.”

They were told the Valuation Office wanted £16,500 in backdated rates to be paid during December and January, but the couple have negotiated a longer period.

John Gummer, Suffolk Coastal MP, told the couple he was amazed at the huge increase and he would contact the Valuation Office.

The Cherry Tree has been in the Good Beer Guide every year since 2003 and Emma Hibbert, spokeswoman for Adnams, said: “They are a shining example of successful pub tenants.

“There is a huge amount of pressure on pubs and these are the toughest trading conditions they will have seen in a long time and so to have something like this is extremely unhelpful.”

Mrs Ford said: “Our target was to run a pub that we would like to go into. This is now a pub that we would like to visit but we have been penalised for our success.”

A spokeswoman for the Valuation Office said: “The rateable value of pubs is determined by the open market rental value it would reach, which is in turn based on its trading potential.

“If changes are made that have an impact on the trading potential in any way, we are obliged to ensure the rateable value reflects this to make the system as fair as possible.”

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