PROPERTY bosses looking to build convenience stores on popular borough pub sites have offered cash to landlords in a bid to gain their support - the News can exclusively reveal.

NewRiver Retail, which wants to develop 11 Dudley pub sites with new Co-op stores, has offered money to licensees if they agree to co-operate with the plans and not halt their progress - according to letters sent out by the company. But by signing the agreement they are promising not to discuss the document.

The move has been branded "absolutely appalling" by the leader of Dudley's Conservative Party - councillor Patrick Harley - who is concerned about how the plans will affect the Bridge Inn and The Old Court House, both in Kingswinford.

He said: "To treat licensees in this manner - it's very draconian and unfair."

The letter starts off by saying: "You will work with us, co-operate with us and give us all the help we reasonably require to obtain detailed planning permission for the construction/creation of a convenience store in a form acceptable to us."

It also goes on to say: "You will not do anything which may prejudice or obstruct the submission or progress or any planning application we submit or any planning appeal we make.

"You will not tell anyone about this letter."

It finishes by offering a sum of money payable six weeks and ten days after the granting of planning permission (provided there has been no appeal).

NewRiver bosses would not reveal the exact amount of money offered but a spokesman for the property company , which has a portfolio of 202 pubs across the country suitable for conversion to other uses, confirmed the letter was sent out to tenants.

The spokesman added: "These are standard good will agreements which are offered to take account of any inconvenience caused to individual tenants during a planning application process.

"No-one was forced to sign any of these agreements but most tenants decided they would."

Cllr Harley added "It's not right to tell a licensee not to disagree – that’s extremely underhand.

"We don’t want that sort of business in Dudley. Businesses have to be transparent and open. If they are we’ll welcome them with open arms; if not they should stay away."

No-one from Marston's pub company was available to comment at time of going to press.

And a spokesman for Dudley planning authority confirmed that confidentiality agreements between landowners and purchasers have no bearing on the planning process.

The 11 borough pubs owned by NewRiver Retail and favoured to accommodate new convenience stores include: The Bird in Hand, Oldswinford, The Hare and Hounds, Wollescote; the Ashwood Inn, Wordsley; The Crown, Netherton; The Bridge Inn and The Old Court House, Kingswinford, the Hasbury Inn, Halesowen; The Round of Beef in Cradley; The Fiddlers Arms in Lower Gornal; The Maypole in Halesowen; and The Summerhouse at Woodsetton.