A landlord forced to close his pub temporarily after breaching coronavirus rules has slammed council bosses and insist they’ve tried to make a scapegoat of him.
Steve Dunn’s boozer The Golden Lion was among a number of pubs visited by officials last weekend.
Infinity Bar in Carmarthen was hardest hit with a seven-day closure order, while the Railway Inn in Ammanford and Ammanford and District Miners Welfare Club were made to lock up their doors for 48 hours.
The Golden Lion, located on Lammas Street in Carmarthen town centre, was also hit with a 48-hour order.
They have since reopened, but have now hit back at the council’s decision to close them down for two days, calling it a “knee jerk reaction” brought about by what happened elsewhere in the county earlier this month, when a sports club in the village of Drefach hosted a presentation evening which led to a number of positive cases of coronavirus.
“We’ve been treated unfairly here,” said Golden Lion landlord Mr Dunn.
“We have on several occasions tried to contact Carmarthenshire Council for guidance and have had no clear guidelines sent to support us. Other pubs have been supported over previous weeks with improvement notices due to them struggling with the new rules, yet they called with us and within 15 hours we were closed down.
“It’s a knee jerk reaction to what happened in Drefach to make the council look like they are taking action, when in fact I have been asking them for meetings for the past three weeks.
“The council has visited us on numerous occasions and they never mentioned issues besides people queuing outside. Decisions are often based on individual perceptions so are often not consistent.
“Our track and trace system was checked five times by four different people and each check came back as being sufficient. But during last weekend’s inspection, the council picked fault with it, saying that customers should not fill in their own details because sometimes it was difficult to make out the phone numbers.
“But they have also said that they don’t want people using an app because it doesn’t guarantee that customers have signed in.
“They closed us down without giving us a chance to amend simple things. They are making an example of us to frighten other businesses.”
Mr Dunn believes pubs have not been given adequate guidance and that publicans have been left to research for themselves the correct and safest ways to reduce risks in these post-lockdown times.
The visit to the Golden Lion took place at around 12.20am on Sunday morning, but the pub was not shut down immediately – that notice was served more than 12 hours later on Sunday afternoon, a fact which the landlord suggests proves that any potential breaches were not as serious as made out.
A list of requirements was handed to the pub on Sunday, outlining a “robust management system” designed to control activities taking place at the premises. They included:
- markers to indicate where customers are to queue for the bar
- a change of layout
- a reduction in capacity
- the implementation of a one-way system and a means of controlling the use of toilets
- ensuring that people don’t stand when drinking or move around the premises
- ensuring that any background music remains at an appropriate level.
According to the landlord, the Golden Lion was in fact complying with all but one of those measures and had already rearranged furniture and removed seating to become compliant, action which reduced capacity from around 150, pre-lockdown, to between 70 and 80 people.
The pub has also reduced its opening hours – bringing forward closing time from 4am to 2am, something that Mr Dunn says has been a “blow to the business”.
He said there were 68 people at the premises during ‘peak-time’ on Saturday night, but that the council has now asked them to limit this in future to 60, a number that “appears to have been plucked out of thin air”.
The only requirement not in place was a one-way system, something that pub management had previously discussed with the council.
It was found, whilst conducting a risk assessment, that introducing such a system may actually increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission as it would encourage customers to enter and walk through two different rooms to use the toilets – a concern that a council licensing officer agreed with.
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“They want us to put up one extra screen and use signs directing people to the toilets, but a quick visit or call on Monday could have resolved these minor issues,” explained Mr Dunn.
“They could have, at worst, handed us a premises improvement notice as what they found here did not warrant a closure notice. They have set a precedent now and a warning to all that minor issues can warrant closure.
“Every hospitality business is in the same position; there is no clear and concise guidance for pubs on what can and cannot be done. It is all very vague, spread over 100-odd pages and open to interpretation.
“Local authorities should be providing appropriate information to licensees and I’m sure everyone would then be able to comply, and everyone would then be singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Carmarthenshire Council insisted that there were a “series of shortfalls” at the Golden Lion during the time that enforcement officers visited the pub shortly after midnight on Sunday morning.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “Our priority is supporting business to keep their customers safe. Council officers visited more than 15 premises on Saturday night and in the early hours of Sunday morning and found a series of shortfalls at the Golden Lion in contrast to most other settings in the town.
“We took robust action to enable the landlord to correct the shortfalls in and outside the setting which we understand he has now done, and we are pleased to see the premises re-opened. We will be visiting premises again in the coming days to ensure the measures all license holders have put in place are sustained.”