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Bonfire boys and girls with pints of Harveys supporting the Friends of the Lewes Arms campaign

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ROCKET FM Rocket FM Logo
23 October 2006
Greene King refuses
to think again

Following an early morning discussion programme on Rocket FM (the independent community radio station for Lewes, which broadcasts every year on 87.8Fm from 20th October to November 5th), the station issued the following press release:

Greene King this week refused to think again on ceasing to serve Harveys in the Lewes Arms. Interviewed this morning Greene King operations director Kris Gumbrell was asked if he was prepared to change his mind and let drinkers in the Lewes Arms keep their favourite tipple.

He told Rocket’s breakfast presenter Dino Bishop, “No. We are committed to this decision and we’re going forward with it. I think Harveys is a nice beer. But we are very proud of our own beers”.

Referring to the growing media interest in the campaign, led by Lewes Arms regulars, to keep Harveys, Dino Bishop asked if the issue was turning into a public relations disaster for the company. Mr Gumbrell responded, “No, I don’t think so. It demonstrates that people are still passionate about cask ale. The cask ale market is a tough business.”

He told listeners, “We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to give the customers what they want.” Pressed on how Greene King could square responding to their customers’ needs with their decision to withdraw the pub’s best selling drink, which outsells other beers stocked by four to one, Mr Gumbrell insisted, “Only some of the customers want Harveys. Not everybody in the pub drinks Harveys.”

Was Greene King fearful of losing custom from the Lewes Arms when Harveys goes? Said Mr Gumbrell, “It would be sad if we lost any of our customers … if they are not happy with the range we have got available within the Lewes Arms they will go somewhere else.”

Asked about research by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, that indicated 55% of respondents wanted to see at least one locally brewed beer in every pub, he responded ““People want a choice. That’s what the customers want but it’s not always easy to have a locally produced resident beer in place.”

Dino Bishop put across campaigners’ fears about how plans for investment would affect the Mount Place pub. “It’s about the pub and the beer doesn’t make the pub”, Mr Gumbrell recognised. He rejected rumours that out-of-keeping modernisation was planned. “We have no intention on changing the rule on mobile phones … we’re not going to make it a food driven business.”

Quizzed on the environmental impact of transporting Greene King beer from its brewery in Suffolk compared to the local brew, Mr Gumbrell revealed to listeners, “We don’t actually distribute to Lewes from Harveys, we actually distribute from our Kent depot. We try and do that as sensitively as we can.”

Following up on last week’s Sussex Express story about Greene King’s use of the town’s coat of arms on pump badges in the pub, the Rocket breakfast show presenter suggested that Greene King were being disingenuous in using the Lewes coat of arms on a beer brewed in Suffolk. “The coat of arms was purely there to represent the livery and we’ve certainly never had any problems or any representations from the council regarding the use of the pub sign”, responded Mr Gumbrell.

Asked if he had permission to use the coat of arms, the Greene King spokesman argued, “We’ve never sought to seek permission because actually when we researched this we couldn’t find that it was sole owned by them but we believe that we’ve used it fairly, because the beer is there to represent the pub not the area and the pub is liveried with the coat of arms of Lewes.”

Calling in to the programme, the Mayor of Lewes, Cllr Merlin Milner, said, “They should have done a bit of homework really.” He revealed to listeners that the Town Council had “received a letter from Greene King saying they had removed it for commercial reasons, which is a good cop-out. They didn’t want to get into legal wranglings.” He added: “We’ve written back again to still ask for an apology.”

Interviewed live in the Rocket studio, campaigner John May was asked for his reaction to the Greene King spokesman’s argument. He described his comments as “very predictable.”

“I’m glad that Mr Gumbrell wants to have a debate because this debate is going to go on and on. It’s going to become a much bigger issue nationally.”

The community radio station also interviewed Lewes MP Norman Baker on the issue. Said Mr Baker: “It’s a totemic thing … are we going to have the beer we want in a central pub in Lewes, or is the local brewery going to be pushed out by someone who’s coming in from a very long way away?”

Asked how Greene King responded to his discussions with them on the subject, he told listeners, “They were very touchy about it. They were clearly irritated by the whole thing and I would imagine that the reaction in Lewes was one that they hadn’t anticipated. I hope even at this stage that they’ll think again.”

Broadcaster Dino Bishop suggested it was time to bring in legislation along the lines of the ‘Guest Beer Right’ put forward by CAMRA – and that the MP could raise that in the House of Commons. “I’m certainly happy to raise that point”, said Mr Baker.

Speaking on behalf of those campaigning to keep Harveys, John May promised, “further action if Greene King proves to be completely intransigent on the issue.”

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