Over the past couple of years we’ve spoken up on innumerable occasions for the local pub, stating and restating that it is a community asset to be treasured.
Nothing in the time since we launched the Love Your Local campaign has made us change our mind about that, although there remains a stream of bad news from the pub industry as old boozers continue to disappear and re-emerge as convenience stores or flats.
As we report today, there is some hope amid the despair – but only in isolated corners.
A theme is becoming apparent. Firstly, there are certain qualities that a pub must have. Decent, well-kept beers, a friendly landlord and a good atmosphere.
You won’t attract drinkers if all you’ve got to offer is cold Australian lager when, rather than £3 at the pumps, the same can be bought for 90p in a supermarket. It’s common sense.
But it’s also obvious that the pub company chains are killing the trade. They may in some cases support and use their scale to prop up pubs, for which we should give thanks. But the levy that landlords have to pay as part of the deal is crippling the industry.
While a free house will pay £70 a cask, a tied house has to shell out £120 or more. Landlords are being held over a barrel and bled dry, in a trade that rarely brings riches.
So the industry needs reforming. There has been talk about this in parliament for several years, but nothing gets done.
As a new year resolution, we’d like to see some changes to legislation to protect pubs.
Firstly, let’s have a change in the law that so a change from a pub to a supermarket or flats needs planning permission – and let’s see local councils given the power to turn down such applications on whichever grounds they choose.
Let’s see landlords given the right to buy themselves out of pubco contracts to become free houses should they choose, and let’s hope Camra’s recommendation for a pub ombudsman is listened to and introduced to make sure landlords get a fair deal from the pubcos.
Because if we don’t see action soon, it will be too late.