Possible sale of Hollingbourne Pubs may hold key to the fate of the Village Hall.

Over the past few months there have been a number of media reports that EI Group PLC (formerly Enterprise Inns PLC) are to sell off their 412 properties which they do not manage. These could include the freeholds of the Dirty Habit, the Sugar Loaves, and the Windmill plus the Village Hall where the lease expired in August 2016.

The present Village Hall was opened in 1968 and replaced a Hall that was near All Saints’ Church and which burnt down. The Hall was built on land owned by Fremlins who granted a 28 year lease on a modest rent which was rolled over for a further 20 years by Whitbreads in 1996. At this point Hollingbourne Parish Council became the lessees although the administration of the Hall was delegated to the Village Hall Management Committee which continues to be the present arrangement.

Yesterday (21st November 2018) The Times published a report on the possible sale of their non-managed estate and the relevant section is reproduced below.

Britain’s biggest pub company yesterday unveiled its third share buyback in three years and hinted at a further return to shareholders.

Ei Group said that it would buy back £20 million of shares on top of the £20 million buyback started a year ago and completed in March and an earlier £25 million buyback launched in March 2016 and completed the following January.

Analysts are predicting that the former Enterprise Inns could return further funds to shareholders from the estimated £400 million of proceeds from the mooted sale of its commercial property division. In July it hired Rothschild to advise on options for the business and yesterday it confirmed that it had received indications of interest from potential buyers.

Its commercial properties are a collection of 412 free-of-tie pubs and other former pubs that have been converted to alternate use, including restaurants and convenience stores.

Asked whether some of the proceeds from a sale could go to shareholders, Simon Townsend, Ei’s chief executive, said: “Maybe.”

The launch of a fresh buyback came as the company reported a £1 million increase in underlying pre-tax profits to £122 million in the year to September 30, with flat underlying earnings of £287 million on the back of strong drink sales during the World Cup and warm summer weather.

Earlier this year when stories started appearing about the possible sell off, the Village Hall Committee made a tentative enquiry about buying the freehold but were rebuffed although the possibility of a new lease in October was mentioned by EI Group PLC. However October has come and gone and no lease has been offered. Meanwhile the present state of limbo means that the Village Hall Committee cannot apply for grants to improve the Hall because of the lack of security of tenure. The Village Hall is used almost daily for various local events and is a designated Community Asset.

At one point it appeared that EI Group PLC were holding off granting a lease because they owned the vehicle access rights to the proposed new development of ten houses alongside the Windmill Lane Public Footpath opposite the Village Hall. Although planning permission was granted in April 2018 despite strong local opposition,  no date for the start of works has been announced.

Pictured below is the Hollingbourne Village Hall with the Windmill PH car park on the left and the development site on the right.