The clue is in the advert for the pubs which mentions “potential conversion/development opportunity”. The prices being asked – £500k for the Newmarket Road pubs and £750k for the Penny Ferry – reflect the values of the properties as housing conversions, not pubs. There are many smaller brewers – Milton, Elgoods and Batemans for instance – who would love a Cambridge pub but certainly not at these prices. Even in these credit crunchy times, developers will be licking their lips at the potential for turning these sites into well-located housing. They will need to get planning permission for change of use but as things stand the City Council planners will struggle to find a reason to turn this down. Unlike many urban authorities, the Council doesn’t have a planning policy designed to protect pubs which are important to local community life. CAMRA has written to the Council asking it to adopt such a policy; however, even if it agrees to do so, by the time anything is implemented it may be too late for these four pubs.

The situation for the Newmarket Road area would be especially dire. Recent times have already seen the closures of the BoxTree/Ancient Druids, Rose and Crown, Five Bells, Dog and Pheasant, Globe and Racehorse. Shutting another three pubs would leave just the Burleigh Arms, Seven Stars and Wrestlers to serve this huge area. Chesterton has already lost two of its five pubs so just the Haymakers and Green Dragon would survive.

Corinne Brown, who took over the Zebra last August, has already been told that the pub will be turned into flats. She has started an online petition to save her pub at Greene King spokesman said that following a review of their estate, they had decided that the pubs “no longer fit with our business model”. Given that their business model is presumably to sell their own beer in their own pubs this is difficult to follow but they’ll no doubt point out that as a commercial business they have a duty to their shareholders to make a quick buck, sorry, maximise revenue opportunities.

LATE NEWS: As Ale went to press, Greene King announced that the Zebra, Corner House and Bird in Hand had been withdrawn from sale, though the Penny Ferry remains on the market. CAMRA will however continue to press the Council to adapt its planning policies so that this kind of venture can be resisted in the future.
EVEN LATER NEWS: it seems the Penny Ferry and the former Dog & Pheasant have been sold for development.