Decision to remove Carnforth’s Canal Turn landlord Bill Johnston sparks outrage

THE Carnforth community has rallied around a popular local pub landlord after he was told he had three months to leave the premises.

The Canal Turn pub, located on Lancaster Road, has been operated by Bill Johnston since 2018 and under his supervision has been recognised for its atmosphere and service.

This included reaching the finals for ‘Best Local’ and ‘Best for Entertainment’ in the Great British Pub Awards 2019. It was the only pub in the county to do so.

On January 10, Mr Johnston received a three-month notice order from Punch Pubs and Co; the owners of the pub, despite having not reached the end of his initial five-year tenancy agreement.

Punch Pubs and Co are the property investment company with a chain of pubs across Britain who own the building, and through them The Canal Turn has to buy its beer.

Bill said in response to the notice: “We are all really upset and angry, as are our regulars and the local community as a whole. It’s really unethical business practice and we’ve 17 months still remaining under the current lease.

CARNFORTH: The Canal Turn Pub

CARNFORTH: The Canal Turn Pub

“If we’re evicted in 3 months the business that operates the pub will have to cease trading. We took out a Covid Bounce-back loan, and other commitments, in good faith to keep the business open and viable throughout the pandemic.

“Tax payers will be up to £150,000 out of pocket if we’re forced to close the company down. The only thing that’s keeping us going is the amazing support we’ve had from our customers and the local community.

“One of our regulars, Danny Matthews, set up an online petition and it’s more than 1,000 signatures in just a few days.

“We’re calling for the existing agreement to be fulfilled and, at the same time, negotiate a fair and viable tenancy agreement moving forward.

“Everyone’s support is incredible – thanks so much from the whole crew.”

The situation has led to the cancellation of several popular local events organised at the Canal Turn, including the Easter charity duck race.

The community has reacted with shock and outrage at the decision leading to a petition that more than 1000 people have signed in support of Bill.

BAR: The Canal Turn has been given community support since the announcement

BAR: The Canal Turn has been given community support since the announcement

MP David Morris has also sent a letter of support for the Turn, noting that since taking over Bill has brought about significant changes to the business.

Mr Morris wrote: “Since taking over at The Canal Turn, Mr Johnston has made significant improvements to the premises.

“He has achieved a five-star food inspection rating, built a solid team of eighteen local well respected staff, offered sponsorship to local teams and events, and established the premises as a local community hub for social groups and fund-raising activities.

“The Canal turn under Mr Johnston’s direction has become central to the Carnforth Community.

“I have received correspondence from locals who are extremely disappointed and upset by the potential loss of this facility, which has achieved awards and national recognition, and which has become so important to the social heart, prosperity and well-being of the Town.”

Carnforth Town Council have also expressed its disappointed with the situation.

The Council commented: “Carnforth Town Council is disappointed to learn that the landlord of the Canal Turn public house has been given 3 months’ notice to vacate the premises by Punch Inns.

“The Council must remain impartial and is unable to intervene with commercial disputes.

“The Public House has, in recent years, become an important community asset and popular local venue.

“The Town Council hopes that the matter can be resolved soon.”

BLUE: The Canal Turn located on Lancaster Road. Blue for the NHS during lockdown

BLUE: The Canal Turn located on Lancaster Road. Blue for the NHS during lockdown

The Punch and Co brewery are in contact with Bill, and the two parties have entered into discussions regarding the situation, with their last point of contact taking place on January 17.

Chief Operating Officer for Punch, Andy Spencer said, “We are aware of the situation at The Canal Turn and are respectful of the local community concerns.

“The Canal Turn remains an integral part of the Punch pubs portfolio, and we are in dialogue with the publican Bill, in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution.”

Regular customers to the Canal Turn have expressed their outrage over the treatment of their landlord, with several stating they intend to boycott the pub if he is removed.

LETTER: Mr Johnston released an informative statement online making sure customers were aware of the situation which was also put in the pub

LETTER: Mr Johnston released an informative statement online making sure customers were aware of the situation which was also put in the pub

Alan Holdsworth, a resident of Carnforth for 20-years, said: This pub is great. All the owners before this were not up to Bill’s standard.

“They’re not thinking about the local population who they are going to affect. I don’t understand what the carrot is that they see which could lead them to doing this.

“It is immoral what they are doing. It’s just unfair.”

Simon and Diane, who have lived in the area for 61 and 48 years respectively said: “We love the Canal Turn. It’s a home from home for so many people.

“No one else could replicate what Bill has done.

“The brewery isn’t thinking of the community and the locals.”

Regular customers Shamus and Liam said: “We’ve been coming in here for years and it’s a shame what they are doing.

“If worse comes to worse we won’t be coming back in.”

Concern has also been raised by members of staff for their future opportunities due to the decision.

One staff member said: “I would like to thank the Brewery for messing up my career opportunities. It is unfair for them to do this to him.”

Another said: “It is very unfair and it is very upsetting. We love this pub and it is a shame to see it treated this way.”

Another said: “It is very unfair, and it is very upsetting. We love this pub, and it is a shame to see it treated this way.”

DJ: Popular DJ Danny Matthews has spoken out in support of Mr Johnston

DJ: Popular DJ Danny Matthews has spoken out in support of Mr Johnston

Popular radio DJ, and host of the pub’s rock and roll bingo quiz nights Danny Matthews, best known for presenting on Heart – formerly The Bay, has said: “I don’t understand it all really. Bill has done such a great job and the pub hasn’t been liked this for years before him.

“It has gone from strength to strength.

“We have had to cut down on the quiz nights, and that is a source of income for me. As a freelancer I see jobs come and go, especially at the moment. This is one of my regular things, so it is affecting income.

“I only hope the brewery will do the right thing by Bill and the locals of this community.”

David Mountford, of the Forum of British Pubs, has spoken out in support of the Canal Turn and Bill.

“I see a lot of situations like this, and this is a direct result of the company model and the pubs codes that allow it to happen.

“This isn’t a particularly shocking case as it happens a lot around the country.

“We have lost 100,000 pubs in the last ten years and that doesn’t take into consideration the ones who have simply thrown their keys in and walked away.”

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