There are 18 pubs closing every week in the UK. The number of 'locals' has shrunk in the last 30 years from around 70,000 to 50,000. In London, over 1,300 pubs have closed in the last decade - including 400 that have been demolished. Unfortunately, a high number of these pubs are demolished or converted to other uses such as residential, retail, and professional services which radically alter community spaces and change the tone of the high street.
Measures in the Chancellor's budget - not just the cancellation of the 6p beer duty rise, but the further 1p cut, as well as the scrapping of the beer duty escalator- are a welcome step to help protect the livelihoods of our publicans. However, borough councils also need to step in with stricter planning policies that favour protecting pubs as community hubs.
My report, Keeping Local: How to Save London's Pubs as Community Resources, calls on borough councils to apply stringent criteria and ask specific questions when considering change of use or redevelopment including;
• Have all reasonable efforts been made to preserve the facility?
• Will the proposed alternative use affect the character of the neighbourhood?
• Has it been demonstrated that the local community no longer needs the pub?
• Are significant historical or cultural features threatened?
Councils should also set up town centre 'saturation zones', where new applications for off-licences can be vetoed by the community. With a shift of emphasis away from cheap off-license alcohol, these saturation zones could help cut binge drinking and create more of a level playing field for pubs encouraging social drinking in their local communities.
Good pubs are vital, vibrant centres for their communities. The social impact of the community minded pub impacts beyond its walls. It is a place where people can congregate safely as part of a community and can help rid our streets of anti-social drinking in public places, drunken violence and intimidation. As well as fostering a sense of community, the pub industry creates tens of thousands of local jobs and acts as 'anchors' drawing other businesses into the area.
The report Keeping Local: How to Save London's Pubs as Community Resources can be accessed here.