St Albans pubs' April Fools' joke highlights rise in business rates

PUBLISHED: 15:15 02 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:20 02 April 2019

Sean Hughes, landlord of The Boot.

Sean Hughes, landlord of The Boot.

Archant

Two historic pubs in St Albans pretended to close on April Fools’ Day to demonstrate the effect of rising business rates on the high street.

The Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne SuslakThe Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne Suslak

Fences were erected around The Boot in Market Place, with notices explaining the detrimental effect increased business rates have had on local pubs, and signs also went up at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in Abbey Mill Lane.

The signs at The Boot said: ‘Pub closed due to unsustainable business rates’, ‘Another empty high street building’ and ‘New luxury flats?’. At Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, a sign explained the eighth century pub would be turned into residential properties with a luxury spa. To maintain the pretence before the midday reveal, Boot manager Marley Hart told the Herts Ad: “Due to the failure in the government policy with business rates, which is failing St Albans high street, we have unfortunately had to close at the start of the tax year.”

The Boot is a Grade II listed building which dates back to around 1500, and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is believed to be the oldest pub in Britain.

Sean Hughes, chairman of Save St Albans Pubs, said: “We felt we had to go to an extreme to get the message out. The amount of support we got from it was huge.

The Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne SuslakThe Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne Suslak

“This is the reality. Pubs like The Boot will not be able to keep trading with these rates. We need action or they will close.

“[The April Fool] was shocking, but how shocking would it be if that was the case? This is what will happen in the next two, three or four years so that’s why we had to go for something so dramatic.”

Save St Albans Pubs had a meeting on Tuesday with the BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association) and CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks to discuss business rates.

Rates rose in 2017 after a change in the way they are calculated, with a 280 per cent rise at The Boot and a 60 per cent rise at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

The Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne SuslakThe Boot in St Albans pretended to close down on April Fools' Day to raise awareness of business rates. Picture: Anne Suslak

Since the fake closure, many people have contacted the campaign asking how they can help.

Sean said: “We are pointing people to Anne Main. Email your MP and ask them to support local pubs. We are very much campaigning on behalf of small businesses. It’s not just pubs it’s restaurants and other businesses.”

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