Oxford Liberal Democrats have suggested that the Lamb and Flag pub, which was owned by St John’s College, could be turned into an asset of community value.

The scheme would involve a community group buying the historic pub to prevent any potential future owners from demolishing the venue or changing the building’s use without planning permission. 

Last month, St John’s College announced that the pub, which opened in 1566, had become unviable and would be closing due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The news was greeted with dismay by groups such as the Campaign for Real Ale and Oxford Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran.

At the time, St John’s Deputy Bursar said the pub had been “hard hit by the pandemic” and that  “the college, as a charity, is not allowed to financially support a loss-making business that is not part of its core charitable objectives”. 

The pub was famously frequented by literary legends such as JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis. It was also said to have inspired parts of Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure.

Now the Liberal Democrat councillor and city council opposition leader Andrew Gant has also stated his desire to see the long term future of the pub secured. Speaking to the Oxford Mail, he described the Lamb and Flag as a “historic institution” and pledged that he would work to ensure the pub had not “pulled its last pint because of the pandemic”. 

The Liberal Democrats have also launched a wider campaign to try and prevent other Oxford pubs from closing due to the pandemic. A petition has been set up asking for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to be extended for as long as social distancing remains in place.

In response to speculation about the future of the pub, St John’s has said: “Following Lamb & Flag (Oxford) Limited’s announcement that the company will close and cease trading at the pub effective 31 January 2021, St John’s College has received a number of enquiries about future operations at the pub. The College is encouraged by the support and appreciation shown for The Lamb & Flag, which confirm the special place it holds in Oxford’s history. 

“The pub will remain in the College’s ownership and the focus now is to work to look beyond the present situation and ensure the pub’s long-term future is secured.

“Given the challenges the College faces during the COVID-19 restrictions, the College is not in a position to discuss future commercial arrangements for the pub at this stage. However, despite the immediate uncertainties, the College remains optimistic for the longer term future of the Lamb & Flag pub.”

Image: oxfordmaps.

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