London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern is being sold to a new owner. News of the sale comes just hours after campaigners fighting to secure its future announced that they had secured special protections for the venue from Lambeth Council.
The RVT dates back to the 1860s. It has been a favorite with gay customers for decades.
In 2014 it was bought by an Austrian property development firm, Immovate. Concerned that it might be closed and redeveloped as property, a campaign group sprung up, RVT Future.
It lobbied for the building to be listed as historically important.
Historic England granted this in 2016. It became the first gay bar to be granted a Grade II listing in specific recognition of its place in London’s LGBTI performance history.
That listing makes any redevelopment of the venue as anything but a bar very difficult. But it doesn’t stop the owners selling the Tavern to a mainstream company who could turn it into a straight venue. It also doesn’t stop a developer turning the upper floor offices and accommodation into flats.
To minimize the chances of this happening, RVT Future applied to Lambeth Council to grant the building sui generis classification. This would mean it must be preserved as an LGBTI performance space.
This was granted yesterday. The sui generis classification also ensures that if anyone wants to turn the second and third floors of the venue into apartments, they will have to mount a massive planning permission challenge.
However, it would appear that the application for sui generis was the final straw for Immovate – which has consistently declined to speak to the press. It reportedly put the business on the market last summer through Christie & Co, with a price tag of £4.1million.
RVT Future are committed to launching a community bid to purchase the venue and have launched a Fighting Fund to cover the legal and others costs associated with launching a community buy-out.
The group previously secured Asset of Community Value (ACV) status for the RVT. They say that if Immovate wish to sell the venue, they are obliged to make it possible for the community to bid for it.
But RVT Future claims Immovate has side-stepped this. They say Immovate has created a sub-company that owns the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. RVT Future believes Immovate is now selling shares in that company, rather than the venue itself. This would appear to mean they don’t have to comply with the rules around the sale of an Asset of Community Value.
There is no suggestion that this – or anything Immovate is doing – is illegal.
The bar was sold to Immovate by its previous co-owner, James Lindsay. He continues to operate the bar on a day-to-day basis through a five-year tenancy agreement. This morning, he posted a message to social media.
Official RVT Sui Generis statement from Chief Executive James Lindsay. pic.twitter.com/JloV7PqFX6
— Vauxhall_Tavern (@thervt) February 2, 2017
‘On behalf of Vauxhall Tavern London Ltd, I would like to thank all who supported the Sui Generis application.
‘Lambeth Council have now granted Royal Vauxhall Tavern Sui Generis status. This is indeed good news and as you are aware my company made a detailed letter of support on 30 June 2016 to Lambeth Council to support the application.
‘It is my understanding that the onward sale is at an advanced stage to a new owner who has committed to continue to trade RVT as a LGBT venue. Once I know more I will make a further statement.’
In response to this latest development, Rob Holley, co-chair, RVT Future told GSN, ‘Obviously we’re thrilled that Lambeth Council have officially designated the Royal Vauxhall Tavern an equal mix of pub, nightclub and cabaret, plus protected ancillary use of the accommodation .
‘This means the Tavern’s use must be balanced between these activities, and a new buyer couldn’t parachute in a chain franchise or convert the top floors into private residential.’
But he said that Immovate’s work-around, while perfectly legal, was ‘frustratingly sneaky’.
And he offered the owners another way forward – to sell to the community instead.
They have not informed Lambeth Council they are going to sell an Asset of Community Value.
‘We (RVT Future) are now ready to launch a community bid. The community group, made up of Tavern performers, promoters and punters, are ready to kick off the biggest community buy-out in Britain.
‘We want to bring The Royal Vauxhall Tavern into community ownership to safeguard its future for its hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.
Current tenant to depart
James Lindsay, in a phone call to GSN, said that he was not in a position yet to confirm the new owners of the Tavern. However, he said that once the sale was completed he would be served a six-month notice to terminate his five-year tenancy agreement and would cease to run the venue.
‘There’s a six-month termination clause and my position is clear: that will be enacted once the sale is completed. That will be a sad day for me.
‘However, the potential new owner has indicated that they will continue to operate it as an LGBT venue, which is great news, and they will continue to invest in it. From where I’m sitting, that’s a good place to be in.’
GSN has contacted Immovate and realtors Christie & Co for further comment.