Concern over fate of Broads pub

Only weeks away from the start of the tourist season, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of one of the best known pubs on the Broads.

Only weeks away from the start of the tourist season, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of one of the best known pubs on the Broads.

Landlady Julie Mayhew has packed her bags at the Pleasure Boat Inn, at Hickling, near Yarmouth, ahead of threatened eviction proceedings over a �14,000 debt owed to Midlands-based pub company Enterprise Inns.

In previous years, the company has allowed her to pay off debts built up during slack winter trading over the summer, but this time she fears the worst and has already approached North Norfolk District Council about finding alternative accommodation.

Mrs Mayhew, 47, who has three young children, including a six-year-old, Nikita, who is battling a brain tumour, said her customer base had halved over the past two years because of the smoking ban and, more recently, the recession.

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Last October, decline in trade meant she had to close the post office and store, which she had taken over and tried to keep running at the pub after they had closed elsewhere in the village.

She said: 'The rent of �3,100 a month has always been difficult to find in the winter when boats can't get under the Potter Heigham bridge, but the situation has just got worse.

'We used to have live music on a Friday or Saturday night but that has ceased to be viable because customers just stand outside smoking while the band plays.'

She said they had been given a 28-day deadline to pay the �14,000 and that had passed. They had been told the next steps were an eviction order and then the bailiffs.

The pub entered village folklore when an 11-year-old Prince Charles stayed there with the Duke of Edinburgh in 1959 - and the then landlady told him off for a noisy pillow fight.

However, Mrs Mayhew, who took over five-and-a-half years ago from her father Fred Colston-Iles, fears that the pub and its history will be lost forever if she is evicted.

She said: 'I don't think the figures would stack up economically for anyone else taking over, and it is a reflection of what is happening all over the Broads.

'The Maltsters at Ranworth and Ferry Inn at Horning have recently closed and the tradition of riverside pubs is disappearing.'

Her partner Aaron Orton, 40, highlighted the impact of cheap alcohol in the supermarket. 'People can go to the supermarket and get a case of 24 cans of lager for �10 whereas we have to charge �3 a pint because of the price we pay to the brewery,' he said.

Customers led by villager Alan Tansley have started a petition to save the pub and sent a letter of protest to Enterprise Inns.

He said: 'The big pub companies are only concerned about the bottom line. They are not interested in local communities. There is a very worrying demise of riverside pubs.'

A spokesman for Enterprise Inn said: 'We have supported the Pleasure Boat in a number of ways over the last two years but regrettably, in this instance, we were left with no alternative to our current course of action. Having said that, there still remains an opportunity for further discussions, even at this late stage.

'Enterprise Inns have proactively supported many businesses both in East Anglia and across the UK and will continue to do so.'