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The Save the Green Dragon Campaign is urging concerned members of the public to take part in a demonstration at 6pm on Wednesday, set to coincide with the signing in of a new Mayor of Enfield. 

Support for the campaign has been expressed by, among others, the Mayor of London.

save the green dragon demoPublication of correspondence between local councillors and a PR company has increased suspicions that the current and former owners have deliberately acted with a view to developing the site for housing or mixed housing/retail use and have not made any serious attempt to keep it in use as a pub.  However, no evidence has yet been produced to support allegations that the Council's refusal of Asset of Community Value status was a "stitch up" or that the Council's Planning Department is "in favour of development".

Tree clearance work on the Green Dragon site began last week, raising concerns that the owners are planning to bring in heavy demolition or construction equipment.

The demonstration

The demonstration will be held outside the Civic Centre in Silver Street, Enfield Town, between 6 and 7 pm on Wednesday 13th May - a time when most local councillors, key officers and local press will be present to witness the signing in of a new Mayor.

The organisers, Mike and Sharon McClean, are calling for a "family-friendly" demonstration, stating that "bad language will not be tolerated. Noise however is welcome - IN FACT: If anyone has a megaphone out there we'd love to hear from you!"

The Councillor and the PR company

As is evident from their Facebook page, the Save the Green Dragon Campaign has been doing some detective work about the background to the closure of the Green Dragon.  They have had some invaluable assistance from local councillors, notably Chase Ward Councillor Nick Dines.

Of particular interest is a post comprising email exchanges beween Nick Dines and Mark Allison, representing a public relations company with, under the circumstances, a most inappropriate name - Your Shout (you need to be a pub-goer to understand why this is inappropriate).  Subject to some tough questioning by Nick Dines, Allison's line of argument is clearly shown to be disingenuous and he repeatedly fails to answer some key questions.

In early April Allison was claiming that the Green Dragon had gone into liquidation and that at the time it was being actively marketed for sale as a pub.  In fact it was its then owners, Orchid Pubs and Restaurants, who were in administration, not the pub.  Orchid had a record of failing to invest properly in its properties, which subsequently had reverted to their previous owner, the large "PubCo" Enterprise Inns.

Allison further claimed that the new owners, Green Lanes investments, were only a small company.  Nick Dines pointed out that in order to buy the Green Dragon GLI must be in effect a front company for a bigger operator, since the pub's sale value in 2011 was £24 million.

Dines and the campaigners strongly suspect that the real owner of the Green Dragon is PPR Investments, a large company specialising in "pub conversion and development projects" and with a track record of closing and converting well loved pubs.  The same is true of the former owner Enterprise Inns, who are considered to be notorious for closing popular pubs, even when they are thriving businesses.

The weakness of Allison's arguments is typified by his laughable assertion that the building is now occupied by an "established homewares retailer", who they hope will "contribute to the vibrancy of the shopping centre".   The current distinctly downmarket shop is, in fact, clearly an interim arrangement, installed in a hurry in order to ensure that the pub was officially converted to retail use before new legislation protecting pubs came into effect in April.

Allison repeatedly failed to answer questions about who was behind GLI investments and whether there were plans to convert the first floor and above to residential use.

The PR man with a track record

Detective work has further uncovered the fact that Mark Allison is not just a PR consultant, but also Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance of Merton Council, who were investigated in 2011 over whether they broke planning rules in a £2.3 million deal to sell off a community pub to a housing developer. This pub was the Morden Tavern and was owned by Enterprise Inns.

The Facebook material strongly suggests that the Green Dragon could, given the right management, have been sold as a pub and continued in business.   Indeed, there was even someone trying to lease the pub via the Facebook page!  There are no other pubs anywhere along the road to Enfield Town and the area in between has thousands of households.

Was the Council's decision justified?

In my opinion, without knowing more details of the application, to what extent it did or did not satisfy the relevant criteria and how it was handled by Council officers, it is impossible to form a judgement on its correctness - though this view is not shared by everyone.  However, it does appear that Council officers can be criticised for failing to contact the applicants to ask them for further information which might have helped their case and to inform them about the line being taken by the owners.

A prominent supporter of the campaign is Boris Johnson, bur it is unclear whether he is properly informed about the case and is not just using it to boost his own popularity and that of the Conservative Party - in any case, he bears no reponsibility and has nothing to lose, unlike Enfield Council.

I'm more inclined to take note of the view of the Chairman of the North London Branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), who says that "The regulations make clear that assets should be registered if the asset has furthered the social interests of the community in the recent past and it's realistic to consider it could do so again within the next five years. Temporary use of the pub as a "shop" in no way precludes the possibility of it reopening it as a pub. Even if the change of use was legal, it could be changed back again."  CAMRA is the leading body that seeks to protect pubs and has considerable expertise in this area.

Regardless of the minutiae of the law on community assets, at root the problem is that we live in a country where businesses regard their sole purpose as maximisation of profit.  This has not always been the case.  Many of our famous companies and industries were in the past run not just for the sake of management and shareholders, but also with a view to benefiting employees, customers and the community in general.  Unfortunately, there is no sign that such an attitude will ever return.

Author's note

This article is based mainly on information on the Save the Green Dragon Campaign's Facebook page and is my summary and interpretation of much longer source material.  I recommend reading the Facebook posts in full.  The two most important threads are here and here.

 

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Garry Humphreys's Avatar
Garry Humphreys posted a reply #1207 14 May 2015 10:33
There were probably between 80-100 people at the demonstration outside the Civic Centre, including David Burrowes and (eventually) Joan Ryan, with Mike McClean as ringmaster. All pretty good-natured and (thankfully) with no signs of Rentamob. I'm not sure how many councillors actually passed through the demonstration into the main entrance - most of the recipients appeared to be guests of the new Mayor, and they seemed rather bemused by what was going on. However, some councillors did come outside to talk to us, including our own Bambos Charalambous, and it is clear that most if not all are on our side, so the problem is not with Elected Members as with staff in the Planning[?] Department.

Mike McClean is going to a meeting at the Civic Centre today, and will make the point that this is part of the wider issue of Enfield Council's attitude to the area's heritage and to important buildings, and to reiterate that developers seldom know anything at all about the areas in which they plan to operate. 'Communities, not developers' was one of the more constructive chants to be heard last evening!

All very worthwhile, but it remains to be seen what can be done. However, if it makes Enfield Council more aware of 'communities' rather than 'developers', that will be something.

My own little 'banner' said 'Be proud of Enfield's heritage!' - which shouldn't need to be said to local councillors but, I fear, is all too necessary given past history.